[planning aggression] Israel threatens to forge own path on Iran if US revives nuclear deal

Benjamin Netanyahu with Israeli US Ambassador Gilad Erdan (AFP

MEE Staff

Middle East Eye  /  February 16, 2021

Ambassador Gilad Erdan says if US were to lift ‘crippling’ sanctions, Iran will have ‘no real incentive to negotiate’.

The Israeli government has warned the Biden administration that it will not engage with Washington on Iran if the US returns to the nuclear deal with Tehran, reiterating warnings against lifting sanctions on the Islamic Republic.

Gilad Erdan, Israel’s ambassador to the US, stressed on Tuesday that without sanctions and a “credible military threat”, Iran will have no motive to negotiate over its nuclear programme.

US President Joe Biden has repeatedly stated his intention to return to the multilateral deal, which saw Iran scale back its nuclear programme in exchange for lifting sanctions against its economy. 

Former President Donald Trump had nixed the deal and embarked in a maximum pressure campaign of sanctions against Iran – steps that were cheered on by Israel.

For years, the Israeli government has been sounding the alarm about Iran’s nuclear programme and is suspected to have carried cyber operations against Iranian atomic facilities in coordination with Washington. 

Despite the apparent disagreement about the Iran deal, the Biden administration had said it would consult with the Israeli government on “all matters of regional security”.

But Erdan suggested that if the US returns to the nuclear agreement, Israel will forge its own policies on Iran without involving Washington.

“We will not be able to be part of such a process if the new administration returns to that deal,” Erdan told Israel’s Army Radio.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has opposed a US return to the deal, warning last year that Israel will have an “uncompromising policy” towards Tehran. 

On Tuesday, Erdan echoed the Israeli stance against lifting US sanctions. 

“It would appear that only crippling sanctions – keeping the current sanctions and even adding new sanctions – combined with a credible military threat that Iran fears might bring Iran to real negotiations with western countries that might ultimately produce a deal truly capable of preventing it breaking ahead [to nuclear arms],” Erdan said.

“Essentially, the moment it removes the sanctions the Iranians will have no real incentive to negotiate and reach a deal that is truly capable of ruling out nuclear capabilities.”

Proponents of the agreement, however, argue that the deal successfully curbed Iran’s nuclear programme, while Trump’s maximum pressure harmed ordinary Iranians without advancing US policy goals. Iran has more nuclear material now than when the US was in compliance with the pact, they say.

Looming deadlines

While Biden has said he intends to return to the nuclear deal, the president maintains that Iran must first return to its obligations under the agreement with world powers including China, the European Union, France, Germany, Russia and the United Kingdom.

Tehran, which has begun stockpiling and enriching uranium beyond the limits outlined in the agreement, has said Washington must make the first move by lifting sanctions.

Iranian officials also warned that looming deadlines, including a law that goes into effect on 21 February that would restrict inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency unless US sanctions are lifted, may narrow the window of opportunity for returning to the agreement.

Iran will hold presidential elections in June, and the only declared candidate in the election, Hossein Dehghan, has said Washington must lift sanctions before returning to the negotiating table.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu, who is up for re-election next month, finds himself at a difficult juncture.

He has revived tough rhetoric against Iran while not yet having direct communication with Biden, signalling a departure from the Trump administration’s approach to Israel.

The White House, however, has denied the delay is a snub, with senior Biden administration officials contacting their Israeli counterparts.