‘Israel will not be Czechoslovakia” was a key phrase in former prime minister Ariel Sharon’s speech in 2001, expressing Israel’s increasing concern that the United States intended to advance relations with the Arab world at the expense of vital Israeli interests. To put it mildly, the administration wasn’t pleased with the analogy with the Munich Agreement. The present purported contacts with Iran on the nuclear issue have now reminded some observers of the former situation.
While the sincerity of US President Joe Biden’s position, i.e. that the United States will not allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons, is not in doubt, there is a lack of clarity with regards to the international supervision of what actually goes on in Iran, such as, for example, the construction of a new underground nuclear facility next to Natanz – and no less importantly – what means, if any, Washington might use if Tehran were to violate its obligations.
To underscore this one could cite a recent quotation by former senior State Department official Dennis Ross, who is well versed in Iran’s intentions and plans as well as in affairs in Washington, to wit – that the Biden administration does not have the appetite for a new crisis in the Middle East. Although the Biden administration does not ignore the aggressive and terroristic nature of the regime in Iran, historians might nonetheless notice some relevance of the present contacts with Iran to the concerns expressed at the time by Ariel Sharon; though Britain and France did in 1938 recognize the threat of Nazi Germany, they preferred to postpone taking a stand warning Germany of the consequences if it went ahead with its aggressive designs.
At first, the meetings between US and Iranian diplomats were mostly clandestine, taking place, like during former president Barack Obama’s term, in Oman. But after reaching the stage of narrowing the gaps, both sides became more informative; the US probably did so in order to act in advance to allay opposition from America’s Middle Eastern allies, from members of Congress, and from the press.
According to ostensibly authorized sources, the proposed agreements involve an Iranian commitment not to enrich uranium beyond 90%, a level sufficient for producing a nuclear bomb, albeit without specifying for how long (even enrichment of 60% is close to that objective); Iran will release imprisoned Americans, stop attacks by its proxies on American contractors in Syria and Iraq, “tighten” its cooperation with the international inspectors and refrain from selling missiles and other weapons to Russia. Israel wasn’t mentioned nor was Iran’s long-range missile program. In return, the US will release $20b. frozen by the sanctions on Iran – for “humanitarian purposes” (humor not intended).
America's forgetten its own advice
THE AMERICAN negotiators seem to have ignored former US Secretary of State James Baker’s dictum “money is fungible,” i.e., that in effect Iran will have no difficulty replacing the amount unfrozen with other funds and continue bankrolling its and its proxies’ military and terroristic activities, including those of Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Islamic Jihad. Limitations on the export of Iranian oil will also be eased and perhaps removed entirely.
The “pro-agreement with Iran” lobby in America meanwhile is not sitting on its hands. So we have leftist Jewish American news editor Peter Beinart in The New York Times explicitly blaming the US for Iran becoming part of an “axis of authoritarians” comprising China and Russia.
In order to avoid submitting the emerging agreement for approval by the Senate as required by law, the idea is to classify the agreed terms with Tehran as “understandings,” a definition convenient also to the Iranians should they, as one may expect, go back on any or all of their commitments. As a Western expert commented: “None of this is aimed at reaching a groundbreaking agreement, but rather an attempt to buy time and to alleviate the current tension.” “Buying time” is also the key term in connection with the approaching US presidential elections.
The above also clarifies the reasons for the continuous postponements of the meeting between Biden and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – not Israel’s judicial reform, not the Palestinian issues – but the administration’s preference that at this sensitive stage of the talks with Iran, an Israeli prime minister enjoying a special standing with large parts of Congress and having open access to the media, should be as far as possible from the center of decisions.
At this point, the proposed accord seems still to be in abeyance and one can only speculate whether Rob Malley, the US top envoy for Iran, was put on leave two weeks ago because he had been too forthcoming to the Iranians – or not enough.
Be this as it may, Israel, as Maj.-Gen. (res.) Amos Gilad, chairman of the Herzeliya Conference wrote: “all the attention of the country’s decision-makers at this time should be focused on creating a strategic response to Iran” – this indeed also being the preference of Netanyahu.
The government’s official position is that an agreement with Iran – depending on its contents – will not obligate Israel, but the potential implications of this policy cannot avoid certain questions. In the past, Netanyahu had successfully focused on raising and coordinating global opposition to Iran’s nuclear program – but as to developing a possible Israeli independent course of action, any decision cannot completely disregard the role of the US, whether in providing assistance or as an active partner – but conversely, also as a possible hindrance.
Former president Donald Trump’s strategy of forcing Iran to abandon its nuclear plans in order to avoid complete economic and political collapse could eventually have succeeded, but following the change of administrations in the US in 2020, this option is off the agenda. The former head of strategy at Israel’s General Staff, has stated in a recent interview that while Israel has operational plans to derail Iran’s nuclear project, these would also have to take into consideration the active or passive role of the US, in addition to possible consequences for Israel’s relations with its current and future Arab partners. Decision-making will not be the easiest of Netanyahu’s tasks.