Israeli Efforts to Impact US-Iran Talks Unlikely to Make Dent
Possible sweeping sanctions relief reported as Vienna talks continue
The United States is ready to remove a long list of sanctions imposed by the previous administration on Iran, in an attempt to entice the Islamic Republic to return to compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal, the Associated Press revealed on Wednesday.
The news comes even as Israel’s top security brass winds up its visit to Washington, a last-ditch effort to impact President Joe Biden’s stance on Iran.
According to the AP report, the US, currently holding indirect talks with Iranian officials in Vienna, is open to lifting any sanctions not included in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which was ditched by then-President Donald Trump in 2018.
These include limitations imposed by Trump on Tehran’s banking and financial sector, oil and infrastructure industries, and shipping companies.
The Americans are hurtling toward an agreement, and once they’ve decided they’re going there, there’s no stopping them
“The Americans are hurtling toward an agreement, and once they’ve decided they’re going there, there’s no stopping them,” Jacob Nagel, Israel’s former national security adviser, told The Media Line.
“You can’t simply return to the original deal, the changes that have occurred since 2015 don’t allow that. It’s a totally different ballgame now. Everyone talks about the silly uranium enrichment from 20% to 60% purity. That doesn’t interest me in the least.”
According to Nagel, who till 2017 led the Israeli team in charge of JCPOA-related policies, “the problems are the advanced underground centrifuges, the weapons systems that no one is handling, and Iran’s myriad violations of the pact that the IAEA has reported and the world has done nothing about.”
“Anyone who says a renewed deal will be stronger and longer is misleading, because the Iranians have no interest to do so [once sanctions are lifted], and that’s what we told [the US] last time.”
Israel’s diplomatic blitz this week included meetings between Yossi Cohen, the director of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency, and senior administration officials such as CIA chief William Burns and Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
On Tuesday, Israel’s National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat sat down with his American counterpart, Jake Sullivan.
Israelis are talking to the wall. It doesn’t matter what my successor [Ben-Shabbat] does, the only ones who can prevent a deal are the Iranians, and I wouldn’t count on them
Israel’s Ambassador to the US Gilad Erdan and top State Department officials also attended the high-level meeting, held at the Israeli Embassy in Washington.
The flurry of consultations comes amid growing concerns in Jerusalem that an agreement between the US and Iran on a mutual return to compliance with the abandoned nuclear pact has become a fait accompli.
“Israelis are talking to the wall,” Nagel notes dejectedly. “It doesn’t matter what my successor [Ben-Shabbat] does, the only ones who can prevent a deal are the Iranians, and I wouldn’t count on them.
They made that deal, they believe it’s good, and they’ll return to it. To them, a flawed agreement is better than no agreement at all
“These are the same players from 2015,” he says about the American officials leading the Iran negotiations. “When I headed the Israeli team, I dealt with them. They made that deal, they believe it’s good, and they’ll return to it. To them, a flawed agreement is better than no agreement at all.”
This week the sides launched the third round of indirect talks in Vienna, with American and Iranian envoys conducting negotiations via European mediators.
On Wednesday, Bloomberg reported that a senior delegation of American diplomats, including National Security Council’s Middle East policy coordinator Brett McGurk and State Department counselor Derek Chollet, will visit a handful of Middle East countries this week in an effort to assuage US allies’ concerns over Iranian resurgence.
According to the White House, Tuesday’s sit-down with Ben-Shabbat, in which the Israeli team was updated on the advancements made in the Austrian capital, continued “the close bilateral consultations between the two governments on a range of regional issues.”
The two allies discussed their serious concerns regarding Iran’s nuclear program, the statement said, as the US representatives emphasized their interest in “consulting closely with Israel” on the Iranian issue and stressed President Biden’s unwavering support for Israel’s right to defend itself.
The only thing left for Israel is to explain its position, to make clear that it doesn’t consider itself constrained by any US-Iranian understandings, and that it will continue to defend itself
In addition, an interagency working group was established, whose task it will be to monitor “the growing threat of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and Precision Guided Missiles” produced by Iran and provided to its proxies in the region.
“The only thing left for Israel is to explain its position, to make clear that it doesn’t consider itself constrained by any US-Iranian understandings, and that it will continue to defend itself,” Nagel concludes.
Jerusalem and Washington “must remain friends,” he insists. “We don’t have to fight over everything.”
Israel has opposed any return to the JCPOA, reached in 2015 between then-President Barack Obama, Iran and other world powers.
In 2018, Trump pulled out of the agreement and reimposed crippling sanctions on the Iranian economy, leading Tehran to gradually breach some of the JCPOA’s restrictions.
Earlier this month, the Islamic Republic announced it had begun enriching uranium up to 60% purity, a long way away from the 3.67% allowed in the original deal.
“The Biden administration is making the same mistakes as the Obama administration,” Prof. Eitan Gilboa, an expert on US Middle East policy at Bar-Ilan University’s Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, told The Media Line.
“[The President] is displaying overenthusiasm to strike a deal, and US activities in the region, such as halting support for the Saudi coalition’s fight against the Iran-aligned Houthis in Yemen, only serve to strengthen Tehran’s position.”
“There’s no viable threat of military action against Iran, that can serve as leverage in the Vienna negotiations. So why shouldn’t the Iranians feel optimistic?” he says.