Bibi Netanyahu has proven time and again that he is poison when it comes to Iran. He wants a war with Iran. He wants regime change with Iran. I’d even venture to say that he wants Iran to develop nuclear weapons. Though that may seem a strange claim to some, it’s not. Because, if Israel can show incontrovertible proof that Iran has renounced its pledge not to develop WMD and is pursuing and manufacturing a bomb, then he will find it much easier to accomplish his other objectives outline above.
Netanyahu has sabotaged the previous JCPOA agreement. He spied on U.S. communications during the talks. He addressed a Joint Session of Congress without a presidential consultation or invitation; during which he excoriated Pres. Obama’s plan to negotiate a deal with Iran. He’s manufactured numerous dog-and-pony-show exhibitions of questionable evidence that Iran has gone or is going nuclear.
Now both Biden and Blinken have made a big show of consulting all the parties in the region who’ve adamantly opposed such an agreement: UAE, Saudi Arabia and Israel among others. To what end? Can the U.S. assuage their concerns? Can it put enough provisions into a new agreement that they would join in? In other words, can it bring Iran to its knees and make it beg for mercy? Because, yes, those are the only provisions (see below) which would satisfy them.
Netanyahu, bypassing newly arrived Israeli ambassador, Gilad Erdan, is sending his Mossad chief, Yossi Cohen to Washington for talks with the U.S. officials including the new CIA chief. Yossi Melman even joked that Cohen will effectively become ambassador to the U.S. and represent it in all significant security negotiations, while Erdan will remain a figurehead.
Cohen, of course, has much blood on his hands having recently orchestrated the assassination of the founder of Iran’s nuclear program, Moshen Farizadeh. That may be deliberate on Bibi’s part; sending his guy who lurks in Iranian bazaars with a knife between his teeth (as Ariel Sharon said approvingly of Meir Dagan, when he appointed him to lead Mossad). The message: if you don’t have the balls to do this right, Cohen can tell you how to do it. And if you still won’t, then he’ll tell you what we’re prepared to do, if you lack resolve.
Cohen goes to Washington with these maximalist demands:
Cohen will say that if the US rejoins the nuclear deal, Iran must halt enriching uranium; stop producing advanced centrifuges; cease supporting terror groups, foremost Lebanon’s Hezbollah; end its military presence in Iraq, Syria and Yemen; stop terror activity against Israeli targets overseas; and grant full access to the IAEA on all aspects of its nuclear program.
Almost all of these are non-starters. The original nuclear deal didn’t prohibit Iran from enriching uranium. It prohibited it from enriching it beyond 4.5%. It didn’t prohibit Iran from using or developing new centrifuge models, though it did restrict the number of centrifuges in use. The demands involving Iran’s relations with neighboring countries are outrageous. Why should Iran end its support for its Shiite neighbors when Israel itself is engaged in, if anything, even more intensive invasions of the sovereignty of its neighbors in the region? From Sudan to Iraq and everywhere in between, Israel has sent its war planes and assassins to wreak havoc on anyone who threatens its dominance in the region. When Israel is prepared to end its interventions, then it will have to right to demand the same of Iran.
It would be an excellent idea for negotiators to propose just such a comprehensive solution to the mounting regional instability and bloodshed. But of course, it would demand that Israel renounce decades of military interventionist policy, which it is highly unlikely to do without serious international pressure.
Listen to Israeli settler-national security hawk, Yaakov Amidror, a close confidant of Netanyahu:
In a situation where the United States returns to the old nuclear agreement with Iran, Israel will have no choice but to act military against Iran to prevent it from manufacturing a nuclear weapon.”
How, dealing with an administration with clear plans to return to an agreement…, does Israel maneuver in a way that it manages to maintain military freedom of movement vis-a-vis Iran.”
“The previous agreement, signed during Obama’s term, did not meet the need of preventing Iran from moving closer to the breakthrough point in achieving nuclear capability. Before signing the agreement, the Obama administration changed its policy from dismantling the Iranian capability to postponing the project and tracking it. We think this was a terrible agreement.
According to Amidror, the American choice to return to the old agreement without making essential changes will put all options back on the table as far as Israel is concerned, “everything that Israel knows how to do.” He said, “If it turns out that the American moves make it possible for the Iranians to move closer to a bomb, the military option must be prepared…
Of course, Amidror lies in key points above. The original nuclear deal did indeed significantly delay Iran’s achieving nuclear capability. It did so for the entire 15 year length of the agreement. Nor did Obama ever promise the U.S. would “dismantle Iranian capability.” He said we would prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, which is what that deal did for a considerable period of time. As is usual with Israeli leaders, they butcher facts and arrange them to suit their own interests.
Now, you can take Amidror’s posturing two ways. Either he’s bluffing as Netanyahu has in the past, and attempting to gain maximum leverage by claiming to go all Curtis LeMay on the Iranians. So that Biden, he hopes, will shudder in fright and give Israel everything it’s demanding in order to avoid nuclear Armageddon. Or alternatively, the Israeli hawks are warning us of precisely what they intend to do, and will do.
My advice is to expect the first, but plan for the second in case Netanyahu in crazy enough to do it. In other words, Joe Biden and Tony Blinken should essentially ignore Israel and go about procuring the best deal it can. Of course, this would mean taking Israel’s interests into account wherever possible. But it would not mean getting on bended knee before Netanyahu. It would not mean walking away from an otherwise good deal just because a Saudi warmonger who’s killed tens of thousands in Yemen, and an Israeli warmonger who’s treated Gaza, Lebanon, Syria and Iran as his personal punching bag, tell him to do so.
Remember, we’re negotiating a deal to satisfy American interests and those of other signatory countries. We’re not negotiating on behalf of Israel. We’re not obligated to get Israel everything it wants out of this.
And when that deal is finalized, if Israel and the Saudis do attack Iran, the U.S. must respond vigorously and forcefully. Aid must be severed. Ambassadors summoned home. All diplomatic and security contacts must be severed. UN Security Council resolutions must condemn the assault as a violation of international law. And sanctions must be considered.
If we do any less, then we are not serious about seeking to maintain stability in the region. We might as well wash our hands of any engagement there and let all the Sunni and Shia states and their allies fight it out amongst themselves. And may the worst butcher win.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.