Will Biden sacrifice Israel over Iran? - opinion

The Biden administration might be prepared to sacrifice a strong strategic alliance with Israel if it were to oppose the US return to the Iran deal.

THEN-US vice president Joe Biden and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem in 2016. (photo credit: DEBBIE HILL/REUTERS)
THEN-US vice president Joe Biden and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem in 2016.
(photo credit: DEBBIE HILL/REUTERS)
Since the current negotiations among the major powers signatory to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action began with Iran and the participation of the US in 2015, I keep reading analyses and reports of a growing mismatch between American and Israeli positions on the US return to the nuclear deal.
I have even been led to imagine that the Biden administration might sacrifice a strong strategic alliance with Israel if it were to oppose his position on returning to the deal.
There are several Western reports of clear messages from the US, described by some as “surprise orders” for Israel to stop its attempts to derail the ongoing negotiations in Vienna with Iran. Washington may be very concerned by the comments of Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi.
Ashkenazi said his country would “do everything” to ensure that Iran does not have nuclear weapons. Similar – if not harsher – statements were made by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Other reports have pointed to a widening gap between American and Israeli positions on how to deal with the Iranian threat.
There may be a lack of trust, transparency and coordination between the two sides. But they want to avoid a public rift between the two allies, as happened during the negotiations that led to the signing of the 2015 agreement, the same sources said.
One report quotes Israeli officials as saying that in a recent meeting with his US counterparts, national security adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat expressed Tel Aviv’s concern that the Biden administration was not concretely taking Israel’s viewpoint into account.
On the other hand, according to Israeli officials, the US side has expressed concern about Israel’s involvement in military and intelligence operations against Iran without full coordination with Washington.
Clearly, one reason for Israel’s concern is that it is not fully aware and informed of what is happening in the Vienna negotiations, and what the US has proposed in those negotiations to persuade the Iranian mullahs to stop violating the terms of the nuclear deal. How does the White House plan to lift sanctions on Iran in exchange for Iran’s commitment to the deal?
Based on analysis of available and published information, the frequency of recent visits between US and Israeli officials, particularly at the military and intelligence levels, reflects the Biden administration’s desire not to anger the Israeli ally. But this does not preclude the possibility of a split around President Joe Biden’s views.
The latter shows strong support for the need to reach an agreement on his country’s return to the nuclear deal, which many see as an unwarranted “rush” by the US. This opens the door for the mullahs to tighten and impose their terms at the negotiating table. This is despite the fact that they need a deal guaranteeing the lifting of US sanctions imposed by former president Donald Trump more than the US.
Looking at the atmosphere of US-Israeli relations, one must separate Biden’s strong and stated commitment to the security of the Israeli ally from his relationship with Netanyahu.
In this sense, the delay in contacting Netanyahu should not be taken as an indicator of Biden’s relationship with Israel. But it does not diminish the concern in Israeli circles that the experience of the 2015 agreement might repeat itself.
All the more so if we know that the present American foreign relations and national security officials were among the architects of this agreement. I have no doubt that the mullahs of Iran are playing on the line of disagreement between the US and Israel. Although they know the depth of this alliance, they continue to try to destabilize it.
Indeed, Israel is most concerned about the uncertainty surrounding the level of secrecy in Iran’s nuclear program. It fears that there are Iranian plans to enrich uranium in secret facilities, safe from inspection.
Biden’s team, starting with National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, Secretary of State Tony Blinken and Iran Chief Robert Malley, all agree that returning to the nuclear deal is imperative. This, they say, is the only way to deal with the Iranian nuclear threat and to turn attention to the Chinese challenge.
But Israel is also entitled to be concerned about this dynamic. This is because the agreement that everyone is seeking to return to is a Trojan horse that the mullahs of Iran have used over the past five years to expand and intervene grossly in several countries, and to extend their geopolitical influence in the Middle East.
It is also because the agreement is full of loopholes and does not address all sources of Iranian threat. Add to this the aggressive intentions and considerations of geographic proximity, especially after the stationing of Iranian militias in Syria, and we can easily understand Israel’s concerns.
These concerns are very similar to the Gulf Cooperation Council countries’ concerns about Iran’s nuclear program. During his recent visit to Israel, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin emphasized the US’s full commitment to Israel’s security, noting its position as a strategic partner.
Bilateral relations, he added, are important to stabilize the Middle East. Israeli political and security circles are well aware of this. But the experience of the 2015 agreement casts a shadow over relations.
The question here is not really about whether Prime Minister Netanyahu is exploiting the Iranian issue politically or not, for the simple reason that Israel’s intelligence and cyber-military operations to reduce the Iranian threat require consensus at the highest level of Israeli security and military and cannot come from a political level alone.
The question now: is Israel poised to derail the agreement signed in Vienna with sudden military action against Iran’s nuclear facilities, which increasingly risks involving the US administration in a war of necessity against the mullahs?
This question resonates in the minds of some observers, and I think that avoiding this is linked to the policy of the Biden administration. Experts and specialists believe that it is more committed to Israel’s long-term security. That is regardless of anything that former president Trump has achieved on this front.
But what is certain on this issue is that Biden will not risk angering his Israeli partners. However, results are not just a matter of intentions. Rather, it is necessary to listen properly to the views of fellow countries in order to formulate a strategic approach that meets the requirements and interests of all parties.

The writer is a UAE political analyst and former Federal National Council candidate.