Israel’s ‘shadow war’ and its plans to sabotage the Iran nuclear deal | Nuclear Energy News


US President Joe Biden is pushing to restore the Iran nuclear deal and weeks of talks in Austria appear to be paying off.

Israel, however, continues to see its security threatened by a potentially nuclear Iran and tries to thwart the negotiations in any way it can.

Mossad spy agency chief Yossi Cohen – a close confidant of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – met with Biden on Friday and, according to a media report, urged the US president not to enter into the nuclear deal unless “improvements” are made.

An unnamed senior Israeli official reportedly said Biden responded that the United States “was not close” to reverting to the deal with Iran, Axios reported.

However, Israel’s opposition to the nuclear deal appears to go beyond words, with Iran accusing it of murdering its leading nuclear scientist and sabotaging its main nuclear facility Natanz in a series of attacks. Israel has neither confirmed nor denied its involvement.

Benny Gantz, Israel’s defense minister, said in March that his country had made plans to strike Iranian targets if Tehran continued its nuclear escalation.

Simon Mabon, professor of international politics at Lancaster University, told Al Jazeera that in Israel, and particularly within the government, warmongering elements will continue to play a leading role in Tehran’s nuclear program.

“Those who support Netanyahu’s point of view on the Iranian regime are convinced that the Islamic Republic cannot be deterred by conventional forms of deterrence and that a military strike is necessary,” Mabon said.

“ Considerable damage ”

Yaniv Voller, senior lecturer in Middle East politics at the University of Kent, said Israel’s efforts against Iran’s nuclear program – often described as “shadow war” – should continue given positive developments in Vienna after Tehran’s recent negotiations with world powers over the nuclear deal.

However, Voller said a hot war remains unlikely despite Israel’s best efforts.

“I don’t think the shadow war will turn into a full-fledged conflict between Israel and Iran. A greater risk is a local conflict between Israel and Iran’s proxies in the region, especially Hezbollah, ”Voller told Al Jazeera.

“It could be reminiscent of summer 2006, but with the potential to be even more devastating. Neither side has an interest in making the situation worse, but, of course, conflicts sometimes turn up. “

Israel’s history, however, indicates a propensity for potential preemptive attacks to protect itself, and such a move cannot be ruled out if a new nuclear deal is struck, Voller added.

“There are those in Israel who are calling for a preemptive strike. However, there are also no less influential voices that highlight the risks and challenges, ”he said.

He argued that, as the latest incidents have shown, Israel’s option to effectively target the program is much broader than just a preemptive attack.

“In any case, some of the actions related to Israel and the United States have already caused considerable damage to Iran’s nuclear program, so a preemptive strike is not necessarily the only viable option to delay Iran’s nuclear program. . “

“ Error of historical proportions ”

After 12 years of talks, the US, UK, China, Russia and France as well as Germany adopted the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in 2015 to monitor and limit the nuclear program Iranian.

In return, the United Nations, the European Union and the United States gradually lifted their devastating economic sanctions against Iran.

Netanyahu opposed the deal ab initio and even ignored Israel’s traditional bipartisan stance on US politics when he addressed the US Congress, targeting not only the JCPOA but also the US president of the era, Barack Obama.

However, in addition to becoming persona non grata for many Democrats and Obama, Netanyahu fell short of his goal.

On April 2, 2015, the actors involved accepted the JCPOA. Tehran will now subject its nuclear program to inspections until 2025.

Obama called the deal “historic” while Netanyahu called it “a mistake of historic proportions.”

Netanyahu’s position came as no surprise as the deal included some rather controversial aspects that were difficult to reconcile with Israel’s security concerns.

Moreover, while the JCPOA extended the time it takes for Iran to manufacture a nuclear weapon, it did not eliminate Iran’s future nuclear capabilities since the regime had already obtained the requisite know-how and the Iran was allowed to maintain its nuclear infrastructure.

This raises the question of what the 2015 JCPOA achieved.

“The original JCPOA postponed Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Moreover, he also exposed Iran’s weakness to international pressure, because although Iran did try to use the deal to buy time, it did so because the sanctions were detrimental to it. its economy, ”Voller said.

For Israel, however, this was insufficient.

View of damaged building after fire broke out at Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility in July 2020 [Atomic Energy Organization of Iran/WANA via Reuters]

“Existential threat?

Unsurprisingly, Netanyahu applauded US President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the deal in 2018 – even though the pullout allowed Iran to expand its nuclear stockpile and cut the time it now needs to become a power. nuclear.

But with Biden’s victory in November, the JCPOA is back on the table.

“Like everyone else involved, it seems Washington is primarily interested in buying time, with the hope that by delaying Iran long enough to acquire nuclear capability it might see regime change,” Voller said. .

“Most people in Washington are not interested in seeing Iran become a nuclear power, which could spark a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.”

However, much like the 2015 JCPOA, the US plan to revitalize the deal is not satisfactory for Israel, Mabon said.

“Much like the Arab Gulf States, Israeli leaders view the JCPOA with great concern, fearing that the deal is insufficient to prevent uranium enrichment.”

Israel’s continued opposition raises the question of whether the JCPOA is being used as a political coup by Netanyahu, or whether it actually poses a threat to Israel’s security.

This question is difficult to assess and the topic in Israel may be more complicated than Netanyahu suggests, Mabon said.

“Israeli officials routinely argue that Iran’s nuclear ambitions pose an existential threat to the state. Yet Israeli views on Iran’s nuclear program are more complex than initially thought. Many senior officials in state security institutions have spoken out against the bellicose rhetoric employed by Netanyahu, saying the threats have been exaggerated, ”he said.

Voller shares this sentiment. “The Israeli security establishment is not a monolith. Israeli voices called on Netanyahu to engage with the original JCPOA, on the assumption that he was buying time from Israel. “

Nuclear agreement 2.0

Voller also pointed out the main problem that a “JCPOA 2.0” will have to solve.

“Israel saw, and continues to see, the JCPOA as a path to a [armed] Iran, ”he said.

One cannot be surprised by Israel’s reluctance towards the deal. Iran’s current breaches of the deal exacerbate that concern, even though the measures could be leveraging, not sinister intentions, Mabon argued.

“While Iran has consistently pushed back IAEA inspectors, this is perhaps more part of a larger posture ahead of a new round of negotiations,” he said. “In this vein, it seems clear that all parties with a vested interest in this issue are trying to position themselves as strongly as possible before future negotiations.”

Tehran has consistently denied the pursuit of nuclear weapons, and its record on transparency has been criticized.

Israel – with its own undeclared arsenal of nuclear weapons – wondered why the country with the world’s fourth-largest oil reserves and second-largest natural gas reserves remains so focused on an alleged civilian nuclear program to secure the energy of the country.

For Israel, the question remains whether Iran can be trusted not to use its nuclear latency – the technological ability to develop a nuclear weapon in a short period of time.

Netanyahu remains convinced that Iran will continue to fight for nuclear weapons and has never completely ceased its efforts. For Israel, buying time and hoping for regime change cannot be the last resort.

“As we have seen in recent weeks, the Obama-initiated JCPOA did not prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear threshold state,” Voller said.

“The question of whether a nuclear Iran poses an existential threat to Israel has, of course, been a subject of heated debate, inside and outside Israel. But when it comes to the JCPOA, it seems Israel’s concerns about the deal have turned out to be pretty accurate. “

The upcoming presidential elections in June could see Iranian extremists taking the country back from reformists. In such a scenario, the issues surrounding Iran’s nuclear capabilities will become more crucial than ever.

Netanyahu will rightly recall how a former extremist, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, not only advanced the Iranian agenda, but openly called Israel a “shameful stain” that should be “wiped off the face of the map.”

The West will have its hands full in Vienna if it seeks to strike a deal based on simply saving time. It seems to Israel that the “fix or remove” credo will remain the basic requirement and should not be ignored by Washington, analysts say.

Iran is an actor that has made no secret of its antipathy for Israel. The risk of a nuclear-weaponized Iran is a gamble for Israel, as the upcoming Iranian elections could again change the dynamics in the Middle East significantly, observers suggest.

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