Former Mossad officer and PM Naftali Bennett’s national security adviser and head of Israel’s National Security Council Eyal Hulata is meeting on Tuesday with top US officials in Washington DC, who, according to Reuters, are going to reassure him that although the Biden administration is determined to continue diplomatic negotiations with Iran, should these efforts fail, it would seek “other avenues” to prevent Tehran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
An official who asked to remain anonymous told Reuters that former President Donald Trump’s termination of the 2015 nuclear agreements with Iran cut the time until Iran’s nuclear “breakout,” meaning when it will have enough enriched uranium to build a nuclear device, from about 12 months to “a few months.”
The same official repeated President Joe Biden’s promise to the visiting Bennett last August, the official said that if the diplomatic path were to fail, “obviously … there are other avenues to pursue, and we are fully committed to ensuring that Iran never develops a nuclear weapon.”
In his speech before the UN General Assembly on September 27, PM Bennett made clear Israel’s position regarding Iran’s nuclear designs:
“Over the past few years, Iran has made a major leap forward, in its nuclear R&D, in its production capacity, and in its enrichment. Iran’s nuclear weapon program is at a critical point. All red lines have been crossed. Inspections ignored. All wishful thinking has proven false. Iran is violating the IAEA’s safeguard agreements and it’s getting away with it. They harass inspectors and sabotage their investigations and they’re getting away with it. They enrich Uranium to the level of 60 percent, which is one step short of weapons-grade material and they’re getting away with it. Evidence which clearly proves Iran’s intentions for nuclear weapons in secret sites in Turquzabad, Teheran & Marivan is ignored.”
Bennett then made the case for an Israeli intervention when all else fails, since, as he put it, “Iran’s nuclear program has hit a watershed moment, and so has our tolerance.”
“Words do not stop centrifuges from spinning,” the PM continued. “There are those in the world who seem to view Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons as an inevitable reality, or they’ve just become tired of hearing about it. Israel doesn’t have that privilege. We will not tire. We will not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon.”
He stated: “I want to tell you something: Iran is much weaker, much more vulnerable than it seems. Its economy is sinking, its regime is rotten and divorced from the younger generation, its corrupt government fails to even bring water to large parts of the country. The weaker they are, the more extreme they go. If we put our heads to it, if we’re serious about stopping it, if we use all our resourcefulness, we can prevail. And that’s what we’re going to do.”
Bennett’s critics in Israel—of which he has more than a few—noted that with all his threats, the PM never actually challenged Biden’s decision to go back to the talks, reversing Trump’s policy. Clearly, the PM is reluctant to renew the open clashes between his predecessor and the Obama-Biden administration that culminated in PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s challenge of President Obama’s position in an appearance before Congress.
Undoubtedly, the Biden administration’s willingness to commit to “alternative” means should the Iran talks fail is part of its message to Iran, much more so than to Israel. And the message has been received, as the Iranians have been flexing their muscles since the end of last week, threatening to deal harshly with US intervention in the region (and scaring the daylights out of their neighboring Azerbaijan with sudden military exercises along its border).
The anonymous Biden official who spoke to Reuters also mentioned the disagreement between the White House and Bennett over “further expansion of Jewish settlements on occupied land that the Palestinians want for a future state,” suggesting the administration would like the PM to “refrain from actions that could be seen as ‘provocative’ and undermine efforts to achieve a two-state solution.”
And so a strategy emerges, a kind of two-punch approach to the right-wing prime minister who heads a government that’s packed with left-wing ministers eager to push the two-state solution. The US will trade veiled threats against Iran in return for Israel’s reneging on the promise to add a measly couple thousand Jewish homes in Judea and Samaria.
Should be interesting.