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If The Iran Nuclear Deal Is Revived, Will Israel Back Down?

As the eighth round of indirect negotiations in Vienna seem to show positivity and the possibility for a revival of the 2015 Nuclear Deal, between Iran and the West, Israel is voicing concerns. However, it is unlikely Tel Aviv has the power to act.

On February 20, speaking to Jewish leaders in the United States, Israeli Prime Minister, Naftali Bennett, proclaimed that Israel still maintains the right to “defend itself” and that a revived Iran Nuclear Deal would mean a “more violent” Middle East. Yet, despite the over reporting of Bennett’s latest hyperbolic condemnation of the Nuclear Deal, the opposition seems weaker than ever when it comes to both the pro-Israel Lobby in Washington and Israel itself.

Bennett spoke as if the deal happening was out of his hands, or at least this is what his statements seemed to indicate. Much unlike the audacious approach of his predecessor, Benjamin Netanyahu, who in 2015 addressed congress in the United States without even telling the sitting President Barack Obama. In fact, it may have been the vicious attacks launched by the Israeli political establishment and the AIPAC Lobby in 2015 that have now rendered the Lobby limited in its ability to openly oppose the nuclear deal revival efforts.

In 2015, prior to the historic Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the AIPAC Lobby was extremely vocal in its bid to kill the deal but ultimately failed. Benjamin Netanyahu’s snub of Barack Obama seemed to even create a schism inside Washington on the kind of support Israel should be receiving from the US — specifically inside the Democratic Party establishment. This meant that for the pro-Israel Lobby, which has long been the strongest lobbying group in Washington when it comes to foreign policy issues, that it almost had to walk on eggshells when came to the Biden administrations inauguration of JCPOA revival talks. According to Haaretz News, a position paper belonging to AIPAC has been distributed around Washington, but publicly the group has been relatively silent and inactive.

This instance really highlights the fact that the United States does have the ability to put its own business ahead of the Israel Lobby, especially on an issue like the JCPOA. The reason for this is that although Israel is certainly a key partner for the United States, they won’t always go ahead with their goals when they don’t align with its own. For the neoliberal establishment in the Democratic Party, they seem to value their connection with the European Union very strongly, as well as the NATO alliance. When it comes to the neoconservatives in the Republican Party, certainly under the Trump administration, they seemed to have sidelined NATO and been more interested in building ties with Western powers outside of the EU.

Although the Europeans will not go against US sanctions on Iran, the US government knows that Europe seeks to do trade with Iran. As we are seeing currently in the case of the confrontation between the United States and Russia, vis-a-vis Ukraine, the US is very much interested in strengthening its NATO alliance. This need to strengthen the alliance with the Europeans may well be factoring into the US’ decision to now broker a deal with Iran to revive the JCPOA.

Although Israel is a top priority for the Biden administration, it does not appear to come above NATO and the EU on this issue. Additionally, the US knows that Tel Aviv’s grievances with Tehran are not truly over nuclear weapons — because the JCPOA is the best bet to ensure Iran doesn’t possess the material to produce the bomb — its grievances are with Iran’s alliances and non-nuclear weapons capabilities. Iran’s weapons and alliances are the true strategic threat to the Israelis. The reason Israel wants the JCPOA axed is because it does not want to tolerate the Islamic Republic thriving economically whilst it maintains its current foreign policy. Tel Aviv seeks to be unchallenged regionally, it does not want a country which fundamentally disapproves of it as a settler colonial state and takes an anti-colonialist stance regionally.

So in this case, the Israel Lobby and Tel Aviv’s politicians are really being put in their place. Meaning that the only real option left for the Israelis is to launch direct attacks on Iran, which it has threatened to do. However, Israeli officials admitted to the New York Times that Israel is not prepared for a scenario under which they would strike Iran’s nuclear facilities. This is in part due to Tel Aviv understanding that a war with Iran will be a multi-front war.

‘The National Institute for Security Studies’ in Israel concluded in a report it released early last year, entitled ‘Nothing Remains The Same’, that in the case of a multi-front war with its enemies in Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Iran, Gaza and Lebanon it is ill-prepared. Israeli analysts have argued that their government seeks a “controlled escalation” with Iran, but as an Israeli diplomatic source told Al-Monitor, on the condition of anonymity, “The problem is that the ability to control deterioration is limited and you could find yourself deep inside a war at any given moment, without meaning to go there”.

Lebanese Hezbollah is also yet to respond to Israel’s killing of one of its members, Ali Kamel Mohsen, in an unprovoked airstrike which struck the Damascus International Airport in Syria in 2020. This is in addition to a member shot dead during a protest at the Lebanon-Israel border during the 11-day war between Palestinians and Israelis, in May of 2021. Hezbollah’s Secretary General, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, remarked in his latest speech that the group — said to be over 100,000 armed fighters strong — is ready for Israeli escalation and has been developing its own drone and missile capacities inside Lebanon itself.

Without going any further into all the potential for military escalations on multiple fronts, it’s clear that the military option is not a smart route for Israel. So for now, there really isn’t any rational option for them when it comes to stopping the deal, and past efforts under former Israeli PM Netanyahu only truly served as self sabotage. None of this is good for an Israeli government that already stands on shaky legs and is desperate for symbolic wins.

Robert Inlakesh
Robert Inlakesh is a documentary filmmaker, journalist, writer, Middle-East analyst & news correspondent for The Last American Vagabond.
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