OpinionU.S.-Israel Relations

Prime Minister Bennett: Please summon the courage to ask the hard question

And tactfully inform the U.S. president and secretary of state that negotiating “a longer, stronger deal” with Iran is clearly impossible.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett holds a presss conference in Jerusalem on Aug. 18, 2021. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett holds a presss conference in Jerusalem on Aug. 18, 2021. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Sarah N. Stern
Sarah N. Stern
Sarah N. Stern is the founder and president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET), a think tank that specializes in the Middle East. She is the author of Saudi Arabia and the Global Terrorist Network (2011).  

If I had just a few minutes to speak with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett before his initial meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday, I would tell him this moment might be the most critical in the existence of the State of Israel since its founding. If Biden follows the premier’s advice, the United States might be able to overcome the international opprobrium that has resulted from the precipitous and chaotic Afghanistan withdrawal. I would let him know that the following actions would be a surefire way to regain American respectability among the community of nations. And if the prime minister plays his cards right—albeit, with maximal sensitivity, tact and diplomacy—the president just might appreciate and act on his advice.

Of course, I would start by telling Bennett that according to the International Atomic Energy Administration (IAEA), Iran is already producing highly enriched uranium at 60 percent—way beyond the level that was outlined in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), better known as the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal. In September 2020, the IAEA said Iran had already exceeded 10 times their limit, and the IAEA has been unable to access many of the sites, including the major site of Natanz, in order to do its job.

Even outgoing Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (erroneously considered “moderate” in the wishful thinking of the West) stated this past July that Iran can now easily turn that into the 90 percent purification level necessary for weapons-grade uranium.

As former director of the CIA James Woolsey had once explained to me, the higher the level of enrichment, the faster to get to weapons-grade uranium.

I would very tactfully inform the president and secretary of state that negotiating “a longer, stronger deal” with Iran is clearly impossible. One of the major flaws involves Iranian missile development, and the new hardline President Ebrahim Raisi clearly stated in his first news conference since winning the election that there will be absolutely no negotiations on missile development.

During that same news conference, he categorically stated that he would never meet with America.

To have negotiations, both sides must look directly into one another’s eyes. The United States, throughout the negotiating process in Vienna, has been humiliated by Iran, which would not even allow them to be in the same room, and had to rely on the other P5 + 1 interlocutors (Russia, China, Britain, France, plus Germany) for any transfer of information.

Likewise, there is only a minuscule possibility that the sunset clauses in the JCPOA will be a subject of negotiations. One of those sunsets—the International Arms Embargo, or U.N. Security Council Resolution 2231—passed on Oct. 18, 2020, with very little fanfare.

Approximately two short years from now, in October of 2023, the United States and Europe will lift their sanctions against Iran. And by October 2025, all restrictions on Iran are to be terminated, and “the Iranian file will be closed.” These resolutions are actually somewhat tougher than the JCPOA because they included the work on missile development.

Iran has summarily ignored this treaty, as evidenced by the aerial images of clandestine work in Natanz.

I would explain to Prime Minister Bennett that the region has almost overnight become an infinitely more dangerous place since the Aug. 15 Afghan withdrawal. I would point to the statements from the Hamas leadership “congratulating the Taliban movement for its brave leadership which culminated after a long struggle of 20 years.”

The government of Pakistan—the world’s fifth-most populous country—now under Taliban control, is feeling triumphant. One cannot help but get goosebumps over the fact that Pakistan already has a nuclear bomb.

Russia, after nine years of an unsuccessful campaign against the Taliban, is feeling emboldened at “the American defeat,” and making moves to establish diplomatic ties. And, of course, China—true to its essentially greedy nature—is ready to pounce on the almost $3 trillion in mineral reserves.

Although Biden boasted in his press conference on Friday, “I have seen no question of our credibility from our allies around the world,” is it possible that he is so much in a cocoon of “Yes men” that he is not briefed about the devastating comments coming from some of our closest allies?

Britain, in particular, had reason to feel embittered. After all, they supplied a force second only to ours and lost 454 soldiers in battle in Afghanistan. Rory Stewart, a former British Cabinet Minister who had served in Afghanistan for many years, said about Biden: “He hasn’t just humiliated America’s Afghan allies. He has humiliated his Western allies by demonstrating their incompetence.”

Chairman of the German Parliament’s Foreign Relations Committee Norbert Röttgen stated “with a heavy heart and with horror over what is happening, the early withdrawal was a serious and far-reaching miscalculation by the current administration. This does fundamental damage to the political and moral credibility of the West.”

But none are feeling more abandoned than the interpreters and others who worked with U.S. forces and the 18 million Afghan women who began to experience the wonderful feeling of having reached a sort of enlightenment from under the shackles and chadors of the Taliban.

Our friends and allies in the Middle East, including Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Morocco, feel a profound sense of betrayal.

Does Biden’s rhetoric of “America is back” mean at the abandonment of all the commitments and promises that have been made to them? What of the pledge that “Iran will not be allowed to get a bomb on my watch”?

One of the many things we have given up on is intelligence on the ground in Afghanistan, which will soon become a haven for Al-Qaeda, ISIS and many other terrorist groups.

And now we come to the point of practical steps: Israel, with its stellar intelligence agencies, such as the Mossad, can be America and the West’s “eyes and ears.” As evidence of that, Bennett will have to go no further than Israel’s stunning 2018 raid on the nuclear warehouse in Tehran, when they were able to take 110,000 nuclear-related documents in broad daylight.

Israel is also a formidable superpower, along with the other two in the Middle East, Turkey and Iran. Our Sunni allies do not trust Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as far as they can throw him because they know he envisions himself as “Suleiman the Magnificent,” with illusions of re-establishing the Ottoman Empire throughout the region and the world. They are shivering for their lives against the Iranian nuclear threat at least as much as Israel is.

The Abraham Accords remain strong and robust. It might be impossible, given Biden’s tenacious insistence on Iran negotiations, but he could honestly boast “America is back” if the United States joined a coalition with Israel and Gulf Arab allies to attack the Iranian nuclear facilities.

Time is not on our side. We have a very short window in which America could redeem its international standing, and Israel, our Arab allies and the Western world as we know it could breathe a little easier.

I know it is hard, Prime Minister Bennett, but we have absolutely everything to lose. Please summon up the courage to ask the hard question.

Sarah N. Stern is founder and president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET), a pro-Israel and pro-American think tank and policy institute in Washington, D.C.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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