It is mpossible to assess Israel’s position on Iran’s nuclear threat before the conclusion of the Vienna negotiations, whether the talks end up with declaring the ongoing seventh round a failure, reaching partial or full agreement on the return of the US and Iran to their 2015 Joint Plan of Action commitments, or even announcing the continuation of negotiations for further rounds. The latter is not unlikely.
From Israel’s perspective, the worst-case scenario in Vienna is a partial agreement or a mutual commitment to freeze uranium enrichment, already taking place in Iran, in exchange for a partial freeze of US sanctions. This means leaving the situation unchanged and deferring Iran’s access to military nuclear capability without reducing that ambition and containing the threat.
Even worse, the negotiations could bring things back to the point at which former President Trump withdrew in 2018 by simply reviving the nuclear agreement. This gives Iran certain strategic advantages and keeps it away from dealing with sensitive issues like its missile program, sectarian expansion, and funding and supplying drones to militias.
International reactions testify to Israel’s diplomatic breakthroughs in coordinating and reaching an understanding with the European side on the threats facing the Jewish state. It has coordinated with France.
To shake Iran’s “dream” requires extreme solutions and thinking outside the box. In fact, the urgent acquisition of nuclear weapons might not be an immediate Iranian demand under the current international conditions.
It also received important commitments from the British side. British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss stated in a joint article with her Israeli counterpart Yair Lapid, who recently visited London, that Britain and Israel would work “day and night” to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power.
Time was running out, increasing the need to work closely with partners and friends to thwart Tehran’s ambitions, the ministers said in a joint article in the Telegraph. The Israeli government’s current strategy against Iran’s nuclear threat appears to be not just threatening the military option. It does not reveal the true orientation of the Israeli government.
In other words, there is a deliberate ambiguity about Israel’s position or its next action, regardless of whether the Vienna negotiations result in an agreement, regardless of their content, or whether they fail. This in itself is an important bargaining chip against all parties to the negotiations, both Iran and Israel’s Western allies.
No one disputes that there was a US-Israeli agreement already on next steps. At least this is what emerges from recent official documents and statements. Israeli diplomacy has also overcome a temporary dispute with France.
It has also managed to build a strong common position with Britain, as mentioned earlier. Nevertheless, Israel has maintained pressure on the atmosphere of the Vienna negotiations to ensure that a formula is found that meets its aspirations. Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett stated that Israel was not obligated to accept a possible withdrawal of the nuclear agreement signed with Iran.
This statement represents the culmination of Israeli pressure in this regard. Agitating with war and going to extremes under a brinkmanship policy is likely to have limited impact on Iranian decision makers, who in turn recognize that Israel’s calculus for deciding to launch a military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities is very complex.
First, there is the operational aspect of delivering a potential strike precisely and efficiently. And there are consequences of that strike and the cost of the Iranian response through the militias scattered around Israel in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and the Palestinian Authority territories.
This means that the likelihood of a multilateral military conflict is high and the security of the Israeli people is not guaranteed. Iran, which often speaks of a “shocking response” to a possible Israeli attack, does not seem to be giving up its nuclear dreams.
It feels it is close to the bomb, and its leadership believes nuclear weapons are a powerful deterrent against those it considers “enemies” of the Iranian regime. For them, this issue is part of the ideological commitments associated with the regime’s ideology and origins.
This means that the international community is going in circles. To shake Iran’s “dream” requires extreme solutions and thinking outside the box. In fact, the urgent acquisition of nuclear weapons might not be an immediate Iranian demand under the current international conditions.
Analysis of the facts and similar historical experiences suggests that a single foot in the nuclear club could satisfy the Iranian regime at the present time. Successful completion of the nuclear process will await a political decision and will not require additional technical studies. Advanced centrifuges can be brought on line at any time to accumulate more enriched uranium.
Thus, the goal of immediate deterrence of Tehran may already have been achieved. Moreover, Iran is more concerned about covert operations against its nuclear program than direct military operations, not because of its ability to deter a military attack, but because it knows it can respond to that and trigger a regional conflict.
Such operations are less likely to achieve the goal of destroying Iran’s nuclear program than clandestine cyber espionage operations in terms of targeting Iran’s nuclear facilities or at least postponing its nuclear ambitions. This is demonstrated by the numerous covert operations that have been conducted in Iran in recent years - and we all have a good idea who is behiind them.
Dr. Salem AlKetbi is a UAE political analyst and former Federal National Council candidate.