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A new nuclear deal with Iran threatens Israel

Senior officials in Jerusalem are concerned about Israel’s inability to influence the Biden administration and Congress on the Iranian nuclear issue.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei tours an exhibition in Tehran on Iran's nuclear industry, June 11, 2023. Source: Twitter.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei tours an exhibition in Tehran on Iran's nuclear industry, June 11, 2023. Source: Twitter.
Yoni Ben Menachem
Yoni Ben Menachem, a veteran Arab affairs and diplomatic commentator for Israel Radio and Television, is a senior Middle East analyst for the Jerusalem Center. He served as director general and chief editor of the Israel Broadcasting Authority.

While the United States and Iran have denied ongoing negotiations for a temporary nuclear agreement, Jerusalem isn’t buying it. It is believed that two Arab countries, including Oman, are mediating between Washington and Tehran. Israel is deeply concerned about the potential outcome of these negotiations, even if they take a long time to materialize.

According to senior officials in Jerusalem, National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi and Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer expressed their concerns following their recent meeting with U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan in Washington.

Israeli sources claim that the secret nuclear negotiations between the United States and Iran are based on the principle of “less for less.” This means reaching a temporary agreement on only specific issues that both parties can agree upon. In this case, the focus is on Iran halting uranium enrichment in exchange for the release of several hundred billion dollars in frozen Iranian funds.

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu also addressed this topic during a phone conversation with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who had just concluded a visit to Saudi Arabia. Netanyahu conveyed Israel’s opposition to any U.S. agreement with Iran and emphasized that such an agreement would not bind Israel.

Jerusalem fears that the Biden administration may condition the promotion of normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia on Israel’s acceptance of a new nuclear agreement between the superpowers and Iran.

Last week, Blinken met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh, where they discussed various matters, including the potential normalization between Saudi Arabia and Israel.

Saudi officials have indicated that there are significant obstacles to advancing the issue. The Americans are hesitant to meet Saudi conditions, which include supplying a uranium enrichment facility, providing F-35 aircraft and giving Saudi Arabia the same guarantees as a NATO member state.

The Palestinian issue also poses significant obstacles. During Blinken’s visit to Saudi Arabia, Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan said: “We believe that normalization with Israel will benefit everyone, but without peace for the Palestinian people and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, the gains from normalization with Israel will be limited.”

Senior officials in Jerusalem are concerned about Israel’s inability to influence the Biden administration and Congress regarding the Iranian nuclear threat. With the Democratic Party, which has been critical of the Israeli government’s policies, especially on the Palestinian issue, in control of the White House and the Senate, Israel will struggle to rally opposition in Congress against a new nuclear agreement.

Additionally, European countries such as Germany, France, and Great Britain are not likely to oppose such an agreement.

An interim nuclear agreement between Iran and the world powers poses several dangers to Israel:

First, the agreement is expected to lift Western sanctions against Iran. This would immediately provide $20 billion to the Islamic Republic, with several hundred billion to follow. With this influx of funds, Iran could strengthen its military capabilities and those of its proxies in the Middle East.

Second, while Iran may pause uranium enrichment, it is already on the nuclear threshold. During the term of the agreement, it will likely continue to develop nuclear weapons technology, as well as its ballistic missile program. It may also use the time to harden its nuclear facilities against military attack.

A nuclear agreement would provide cover for these activities, as it would render an Israeli strike more problematic.

However, some senior officials in the Israeli security establishment believe that a new temporary nuclear agreement between Iran and the major powers might be the lesser of two evils compared to the current situation, in which Iran continues to pursue its nuclear ambitions unchecked.

Originally published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

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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