With the swearing-in of the latest Netanyahu government, Israel will embark on a new course in foreign policy—and just in time. For the past year-and-a-half of the Bennett-Lapid-Gantz government, Israel’s foreign policy ceased to be independent. In the days and weeks before Naftali Bennett, Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz formed their coalition, they committed themselves to a policy of “no surprises” for the Biden administration. The promise, which became the basis for the government’s actions in the months that followed, meant that under their stewardship, Israel subordinated its foreign policy to the White House. It took no action of which the administration disapproved and either supported every administration policy or avoided taking any steps to substantively undermine President Joe Biden’s actions in the region, whether in relation to Iran or the Palestinians, Saudi Arabia or Lebanon or elsewhere.
As the Biden administration aggressively pursued its strategy of realigning the U.S. away from Israel and the Sunni Arab states by legitimizing Iran’s nuclear weapons program and enriching the regime through nuclear diplomacy, Israel stood on the sidelines. It occasionally clucked its opposition to the contents of the deal being negotiated, but it supported the Biden administration’s slavish, indeed fanatical commitment to strategic appeasement of Iran in exchange for temporary and substantively insignificant nuclear concessions on Iran’s part.
In August, Iran seemingly ended the negotiations when it rejected the U.S.’s European-transmitted “final offer” and came back with still more demands for U.S. concessions. Iran’s key demand was for the U.S. and the International Atomic Energy Agency to close the U.N. nuclear watchdog’s investigation into three nuclear sites that Iran had failed to declare. Iran’s failure was a material breach of both the 2015 nuclear deal and of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, of which it is a signatory. Iran also demanded that Biden’s restoration of the U.S. commitment to the 2015 deal be binding on future U.S. administrations. Since there is no way for Biden to legally agree to Iran’s second demand, and acceptance of Iran’s first demand would involve the destruction of the NPT, which has formed the basis for global non-proliferation efforts for the past 50 years, the Biden administration tried its hand at holding out for a better offer. Negotiations were suspended.
Bennett and Lapid insist that the failure of Iran’s ultimatum in August was their doing. But no one takes them seriously, with good reason. Throughout the months preceding Iran’s rejection of the administration’s “final offer,” Bennett and Lapid could barely get Biden to take their calls. When emissaries like former National Security Advisor Eyal Hulata were dispatched to Washington to speak with Biden’s underlings, they weren’t praised as allies standing with the Biden administration despite its hostile policies. The administration officials barraged them with demands for concessions to the Palestinians. Hulata and other senior officials, like Bennett, Gantz and Lapid themselves, were hard-pressed to find anyone in the Biden White House, Pentagon or State Department to talk with about Israel’s concerns over the administration’s capitulation to Iran.
A month after Iran ended the negotiations, regime forces in Tehran murdered Mahsa Amini for failing to wear her headscarf in the manner dictated by the regime’s misogynist regulations. Amini’s death sparked the freedom revolution that has been ongoing for more than a hundred days.
The force and staying power of Iran’s young revolutionaries caught the Biden administration by surprise. Rather than recognize that the events on the ground in Iran represent the first viable prospect for regime change since the Islamic revolution of 1979, the administration has treated it as a regrettable distraction. Instead of supporting the revolutionaries and helping them to bring down a regime that has been waging war against the United States for 43 years, the administration diminishes the significance of events on the ground and steadfastly refuses to walk away from its strategy of appeasement and capitulation to the regime as it murders and tortures its young opponents.
The administration insists that the nuclear talks are on the back burner. But a report at MEMRI.org Tuesday revealed that the talks are actually heating up. On Dec. 26, Iranian Majlis National Security and Foreign Policy Committee member Javad Karimi-Ghodusi told an Iranian news outlet that European and Iranian negotiators met at a summit in Amman, Jordan earlier this month. There, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian, his deputy and Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri, French President Emmanuel Macron and the E.U.’s High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell moved forward with the nuclear talks. The Biden administration was not physically present in the discussion, but according to Karimi-Ghodusi, it was partner to the agreements reached.
At a press conference after the meeting, Amir-Abdollahian said, “An opportunity was created to discuss additional issues connected to the nuclear talks. … We informed [Macron and Borrell] that if they respect our red lines, we are willing to take the final steps in order to arrive at an agreement.”
Karimi-Ghodousi said that, in Amman, the Biden administration and the International Atomic Energy Agency acquiesced to both of Iran’s chief demands. They will close the IAEA’s investigation of the three nuclear sites that Iran failed to disclose, and the Biden administration will make its economic concessions binding on its successors at least in the commercial arena.
Israel is aware of the situation. Earlier this week, Haaretz reported that the IDF General Staff has concluded the administration is still committed to reaching a nuclear deal and that the Pentagon supports this position. Rather than stand up to the administration and make clear that continued appeasement of the regime makes absolutely no sense both in light of the regime’s nuclear capabilities and the revolution on the streets from one end of Iran to the other, the now former Lapid-Gantz government continued toeing Biden’s line until it finally left office on Thursday.
The most prominent institution promoting the administration’s position in recent weeks and months has been IDF intelligence. Maj. Gen. Aharon Haliva, who heads the Military Intelligence Directorate, and his head of research Brig. Gen. Amit Sa’ar, wholeheartedly supported Lapid’s decision, two weeks before the election, to agree to a Biden administration-dictated gas deal with Lebanon—which Iran controls through its Hezbollah proxy. Under the terms of the deal, Israel surrendered economic and territorial waters to Lebanon along with the natural gas field located in those waters. Israel’s capitulation put billions of dollars in gas concessions into Hezbollah’s hands and gave Iran-Hezbollah a foothold in the eastern Mediterranean.
As for Iran itself, on Dec. 4, Sa’ar’s department held a conference on the freedom revolution that they invited Reuters to cover. Sa’ar said that the revolution is doomed to fail. His statement was reported prominently in the Iranian and U.S. media. It demoralized the revolutionaries and justified the Biden administration’s refusal to support them.
This week, Israel Hayom reported that, as Netanyahu and his ministers put the final touches on their coalition deals, IDF intelligence determined that it is in Israel’s interest to initiate a new nuclear deal with Iran for the U.S. and Europe to advance. The message was clear: As far as the outgoing government and its allies in the IDF are concerned, Israel’s foreign policy should continue to be subordinate to the Biden administration. As a consequence, the thrust of Israel’s policy towards Iran should be capitulationist rather than confrontational.
This brings us to Netanyahu and his national security team. All senior members of it—from Defense Minister Yoav Galant to Foreign Minister Eli Cohen to Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer—are unified in their belief that Israel’s foreign policy must be independent in general and towards Iran in particular. While Netanyahu and his team are eager to work with the Biden administration where possible, they have no compunction about opposing the administration when necessary. Where Bennett, Lapid and Gantz opted for subservience to Washington, Netanyahu and his team believe that Israel’s foreign policies should be directed towards the unswerving pursuit of the national interest.
Over the course of the campaign, and in a steadily escalating fashion as he prepared to return to office, Netanyahu has spoken enthusiastically about the prospect of reaching a peace agreement that will formalize Israel’s relations with Saudi Arabia. Those still sub rosa relations were the foundation of the Abraham Accords.
The rationale for a Saudi deal is overwhelming for both countries. Leaving aside the economic potential of such an agreement—which is massive—the strategic implications are a game changer. An Israeli-Saudi normalization agreement, like the agreements Israel concluded with the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan in 2020, is a means to withstand the Biden administration’s realignment away from America’s allies and towards Iran. By strengthening its bilateral ties with the Arab states bordering Iran and other key states in the region, Israel expands its strategic footprint and is capable of developing defensive and offensive capabilities by working in cooperation with likeminded governments. By working with Israel openly, Saudi Arabia sends a clear message to Iran and its people that Saudi Arabia will not be cowed into submission by the regime that is currently brutalizing its youth.
Netanyahu has already made a statement in support of the revolutionaries in Iran. At this point, with most experts assessing that Iran has crossed the nuclear threshold and has enough enriched uranium to produce up to four bombs per month, it is obvious that Biden’s nuclear diplomacy has nothing to do with nuclear non-proliferation.
There are only two ways to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear-armed state—direct action targeting Iran’s nuclear installations and regime change. Netanyahu’s willingness to stand up to the Biden administration and stand with the Iranian people and Israel’s regional partners makes regime change more likely, and direct action against Iran’s nuclear installations more likely to succeed.
Over the two months since the Israeli elections, the opposition and its supporters on the Israeli and American Jewish left have stirred up hysteria by claiming that the most significant distinction between the Lapid-Gantz government and the Netanyahu government centers on social policies related to non-religious Jews. This claim is false, and maliciously so. The Netanyahu government has no intention—and never had any intention—of curtailing the civil rights of non-religious Jews. Their goal is to expand civil and individual rights, by among other things, placing checks and balances on Israel’s hyper-activist Supreme Court and state prosecution.
There are many differences between the previous government and the Netanyahu government. None of them have to do with civil rights. The main distinction is that the Netanyahu government has made securing Israel’s national interests its central goal in foreign and domestic policy. Its predecessors were primarily interested in getting along with the hostile Biden administration, under all conditions. Netanyahu and his ministers will work with the Biden administration enthusiastically, when possible.
Caroline Glick is an award-winning columnist and author of The Israeli Solution: A One-State Plan for Peace in the Middle East.
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