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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Israeli PM urges “coercive measures” against Iran nuclear program

Israeli PM Bennett urges " coercive measures" against Iran nuclear program and claims that it as an existential threat as talks on JCPOA take a backseat due to delays in Biden administration and the advent of "hardliner" Iranian government under Ebrahim Raisi. Though the Israeli government pressures US to adopt a more hawkish stance, US inclination initially is towards negotiations with Iran.

Israeli PM Naftali Bennett urges “coercive measures” against Iran nuclear program and claims that its very existence is at stake. As the chances that the talks on the revival of Iran Nuclear Deal or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) appear slim given the advent of hard-liner conservative Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in power, Israeli leaders demand urgent action from the US or “Plan B” which is a more coercive manifestation of their “Plan A” against Iran.

Iran nuclear program an existential threat to Israel

By voicing threats coming from Iran, Israeli leaders warned that Iran is just months away from possessing a nuclear weapon. By now, Tehran enriches uranium up to 60 percent – well above the permitted 3.67 percent and only one step away from the 90 percent required to build an atomic bomb.

The United States and Israel have formed a high-level team to tackle the Iran nuclear issue, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett announced last week after meeting President Joe Biden.

“The immediate follow-up was to form a joint team based on the joint objectives of rolling Iran back into their box and preventing Iran from ever being able to break out a nuclear weapon,” Bennett said.

“We set up a joint team with our national security adviser and America’s, and we’re working very hard, and the cooperation is great… The president was very clear about he won’t accept Iran going nuclear, now or in the future.”

“Other options” if Iran nuclear program talks fail, says Biden

In light of the lack of progress on the negotiations with Iran on a return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Biden said during his meeting with Bennett at the White House that “other options” would be possible if the diplomatic approach with Tehran failed.

Israel’s Minister of Defense Benny Gantz, meanwhile, urged the international community to develop a “Plan B” to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons as prospects of returning to the 2015 nuclear deal dwindle.

“Iran is only two months away from acquiring the materials necessary for a nuclear weapon,” Gantz told dozens of ambassadors and envoys at an August 25 briefing.

Iran intends to “destroy” Israel, claim Israeli leaders

“Iran has the intention to destroy Israel and is working on developing the means to do so,” Gantz said. “Israel has the means to act and will not hesitate to do so. I do not rule out the possibility that Israel will have to take action in the future in order to prevent a nuclear Iran.”

“What is referred to as Plan B actually appears to be Israel’s Plan A – coercive measures that likely will draw the US and Iran into a broader war that will see the balance in the region shift dramatically in the direction of Israel while forestalling any US-Iran rapprochement for years if not decades,” Trita Parsi, executive vice president of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, told Al Jazeera.

Iran nuclear program aggravating Middle Eastern Crisis

The dispute over the international nuclear agreement with Iran remains one of the primary reasons for the tensions in the Middle East, which have increased in recent years. Israel continues to feel its very existence is threatened by Iran’s nuclear programme, while the former secretly harbors nuclear weapons.

Mehdi Hasan, a prominent anchor at Al-Jazeera, in an interview with Israeli Diplomat Danny Ayalon in October 2020, explicated that according to experts, Israel harbors nuclear weapons between 80 to 400. Also, he highlighted that there is a United Nations Security Council Resolution 487 in 1981, “calls upon Israel urgently to place its nuclear facilities under the safeguard of IAEA” which Israel hadn’t done as yet.

Read more: Can the Iran nuclear deal survive as Iran violates uranium thresholds

Stumbling blocks in resuming Iran nuclear program talks

As the US unilaterally terminated the agreement in 2018, whereupon Iran restarted its uranium enrichment and restricted international inspections of its nuclear facilities.

Since April, the other contracting parties – China, Germany, France, Britain and Russia – have attempted to get the two sides to return to the deal. However, a fundamental issue hampering negotiations remains.

“On substantial matters, a key stumbling block is the US request for Iran to guarantee it will agree to renegotiate the JCPOA once the US rejoins, and the Iranian demand for a guarantee that the US does not re-quit the deal,” said Parsi.

Also, the diplomatic efforts have stalled over a renewal of the JCPOA, “due to the delay of the Biden administration starting the talks, diplomacy has gotten entangled in the Iranian elections, and it is unclear when the new Iranian government will agree to resume dialogue in Vienna,” he said.

Moreover, there are voicing concerns among officials in Washington that the change in power from moderate President Hassan Rohani to hardliner Ebrahim Raisi would impact the negotiations.

“There are fears that the new conservative Iranian government under Raisi will adopt a tougher stance and even seek to change the format of the talks,” said Parsi.

Indeed, it is now apparent that President Raisi is not planning a swift return to the negotiating table. Rather, Iran’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Hossein Amirabdollahian said last week it would take the new government two or three months to define its position. He assured that Tehran would not flee from the negotiating table.

News reports, meanwhile, say there may be talks on the sidelines of International Atomic Energy Agency’s next conference on September 21.

Read more: Return of Iran nuclear deal depends on their commitment: Rouhani

Are other options apart from renegotiation on Iran nuclear deal workable?

“It is hard to imagine any other realistic scenario than through negotiations to revive the JCPOA. The United States still enforces draconian sanctions against Iran, which are clearly not working, and a military option would be unacceptable, not just to the progressive wing of the Democratic Party but most of the top Pentagon brass, who have engaged in enough war games and other scenarios to recognise that there is no workable military solution.” Stephen Zunes, professor of politics and chair of the Middle Eastern Studies programme at the University of San Francisco, told Al Jazeera.

For Israel, too, a similar problem arises with its threats against Iran.

“The Israelis presumably recognise a military option would also be counterproductive, but perhaps they believe that repeating this threat might get the Americans to push a harder line against Iran,” added Zunes.

Hawkish or conciliatory stance on Iran nuclear program?

At the end of the day much of this depends on the Biden administration. As Israel pressures Washington to reconsider its position by adopting a more hawkish, situation on ground elucidates that apparently Secretary of State Antony Blinken seems committed to at least try and bring about the negotiations.

Read more: Biden to soon make his decision on Iran nuclear deal