Regional experts say Tel Aviv's threats are aimed at deterring the Biden administration from re-entering the Iran nuclear deal.
In recent days, Israel has threatened Iran with military action over their nuclear facilities, adding to the string of Israeli efforts to curtail President Joe Biden’s hopes of diplomacy with Iran.
Israel’s military chief Aviv Kochavi recently said that he is preparing Israel Defence Forces (IDF) to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities if necessary, and expressed his discontent with Biden’s intentions to return to the Iran nuclear deal.
Kochavi’s statement is not the first warning of this kind from Israel. Only weeks ago, Tzachi Hanegbi, an ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, made similar threats.
Iranian officials have dismissed these as ‘psychological warfare’.
Reza Nasri, an international lawyer and foreign policy analyst, told TRT World, “As far as Iran's concerned, Israel's military threats are not significant from an ‘operational’ standpoint. They don't make sense from a strategic perspective either”.
“Any attack on Iran's nuclear facilities would not only cause Iran and the so-called ‘Axis of Resistance’ to retaliate in a significant manner on Israeli territory but it would prompt Iran to revise its current defence doctrine - which currently calls for operating within the non-proliferation regime - to withdraw from the NPT and pursue nuclear armament. So, it would be very unwise for Israel to provoke Iran in such a manner” Nasri adds.
Recent military warnings by Israel are perceived to be a part of a framework to deter Biden from re-entering the Iran nuclear deal.
Nazri says, “These threats are not really addressed to Iran. Rather, they're addressed to the Biden administration”.
Reza Nasri told TRT World the purpose behind these menaces are to send a “strong signal that Israel would know no boundaries” when it comes to opposing the deal.
Israel’s military threats indicate wider implications for the peace and stability of the region.
“Netanyahu is telling president Biden that Israel would not hesitate to drag the U.S and the entire region into another war if Washington engages in any kind of rapprochement with Iran” Nasri adds.
While the international community welcomed the 2015 deal, Israel and critics of the project questioned Iran’s commitment, arguing that the agreement permits Iran to weaponise their atomic programme.
Iran, however, has denied claims that they are developing a nuclear weapon.
Israel’s early work under Obama and Trump
Israel’s efforts to intervene and halt U.S. nuclear diplomacy with Iran is not a new phenomenon.
Speaking to TRT World, Iran and Middle East analyst Sina Toossi says Prime Minister Netanyahu “did everything in his power to prevent the deal from materializing” during former President Barack Obama’s presidency.
After years of intensive negotiations and Israel’s efforts to curtail them, in July 2015 the Iran nuclear deal came to life – it was formally known as the ‘Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action’ (JCPOA).
Toossi called it a “historic defeat” for Israel’s lobby in Washington.
The 2015 Iran nuclear deal was welcomed by the international community, however, former U.S. President Donald Trump labelled it as “one of the worst deals” in history.
During his 2016 presidential campaign, Trump threatened to abandon the diplomatic project.
Toossi describes Trump’s rise to have “greatly changed Israel's fortunes”.
“Netanyahu decisively influenced Trump and his policies towards Iran and the Middle East, effectively getting carte blanche from the U.S. president” he says.
In 2018, Trump withdrew the U.S. from the deal and crippled the Iranian economy with sanctions.
Biden described Trump as acting “recklessly”. In an op-ed for CNN, he wrote: “If Iran returns to strict compliance with the nuclear deal, the United States would rejoin the agreement as a starting point for follow-on negotiations”.
The question of ‘returning to compliance’
Iran announced that it was beginning to enrich uranium by up to 20 percent, significantly higher than the 3.5 percent permitted under the nuclear deal. Iran began to lift the restraints after Trump withdrew from the deal in 2018.
The Biden administration has said that Iran must comply before they gather a strategy to revive the nuclear deal.
Iran, on the other hand, has argued they have not violated the deal.
“Iran is allowed ‘to cease performing its commitments in whole or in part’ under Article 36 of the JCPOA as a remedial measure in order to compel other parties to get back to compliance. This is precisely what Iran started to do a year after the U.S withdrew from the accord: It ceased performing its commitments ‘in part’. So, the question of ‘returning to compliance’ is irrelevant when it comes to Iran” Nasri tells TRT World.
Biden and Israeli pressure
Next month the U.S. is expecting Mossad chief Yossi Cohen to present Israel’s demands, in what would become a newer version of the original agreement.
Iran on the other hand has repeatedly asserted that they will not accept new changes nor new participants to the deal.
The pressures on Iran “to accept additional commitments beyond the original agreement as a condition for U.S. return to compliance” is a hurdle to reviving the nuclear deal, according to Middle East security and nuclear policy specialist, Seyed Hossein Mousavian.
Israel’s determination to prevent Biden from returning to the 2015 nuclear deal raises the question over whether the new American President will cave in to pressure from Israel.
Nasri told TRT World “There is this perception in Israel that they can easily influence Washington into devising policies that are primarily meant to benefit Israel rather than the United States itself. Netanyahu is on record saying ‘I know what America is. America is a thing you can move very easily’”.
“The U.S public opinion is much less sympathetic to Israeli and Saudi caprices, the Democrat Party - which supports a return to the deal - now controls both houses of Congress, and president Biden is much less prone than many of his predecessors to compromise U.S interests in face of Israeli pressure,” Nasri adds.
Robert Malley and the prospects for a deal
This week Robert Malley, who helped negotiate the 2015 nuclear deal, was announced as Biden’s Iran envoy.
This appointment is a “very positive move,” Nasri tells TRT World.
Malley views Iran as a “consequential actor within the context of the region - not as the caricatural villain - and seems to believe that a comprehensive and sustainable solution would require validating Iran's legitimate security concerns and threat perception” Nasri adds.
Biden’s appointment of Malley is a “significant sign” that Biden is serious about returning to the Iran nuclear deal, says Toossi.
The decision to nominate Malley, however, faced some challenges.
Toossi told TRT World, “Hardline ‘pro-Israel’ groups and activists launched a coordinated smear campaign to scuttle his nomination”.
Despite this, the President went forward with appointing him as his Iran envoy.
“Much of Biden’s national security team are former Obama officials who negotiated the agreement. There are no insurmountable obstacles for Biden returning to the deal, only political costs. The national security team Biden has formed shows that he is willing to bear this political cost to revamp America's approach to Iran and the Middle East” Toossi adds.
Iran 2021 elections and the nuclear deal
TRT World asked Sina Toossi how a return to the nuclear deal, or a failure to revive it, might impact Iran’s upcoming elections in June.
“The moderate-reformist camp of President Hassan Rouhani staked all its political capital on negotiating the nuclear deal in 2015,” he explains. “Trump’s abrogation of the deal politically decimated Rouhani and his allies and vindicated Tehran’s hardliners, who were always wary of trusting the United States”.
“Iran's empowered conservatives are likely to win the upcoming Iranian presidential election in any case, but a U.S. return to the nuclear deal will give Tehran’s moderates a fighting chance in the election and give them renewed credibility in Iranian politics,” he adds.
Iran staunchly believes the U.S. should return to compliance and take the first step.
Nasri told TRT World that once it does so, “Iran will then naturally end the remedial measures and operate its nuclear program again within limits set by the JCPOA. This would be the right course of action”.