The Israeli government is concerned about the policy of President Joe Biden’s new US administration toward Iran and its allies. As we will see, these concerns are justified as Iran continues to engage in illegal activities and destabilizing actions in the Middle East.
Biden last week addressed fellow world leaders attending a virtual gathering of the Munich Security Conference. He spoke briefly about Iran and reiterated his intention to return of the United States to the Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action (JCPOA), the nuclear deal between Iran and five world powers (P5), including three European ones, namely: Great Britain, Germany and France.
“We are ready to renegotiate Iran’s nuclear program with the P5 + 1,” Biden said, while also reiterating that Iran must first meet its commitments under the JCPOA.
What’s remarkable is that Biden now added something that is not in the JCPOA. He said the following about Iran’s behavior in the region:
“We also need to address Iran’s destabilizing activities in the Middle East. We will work on this through close collaboration with our European and other partners.”
Who are those “other partners”?
With those other partners, Biden must also have meant Israel, because he has already taken measures against Saudi Arabia, which played a key role in the actions against Iran during the presidency of Donald J. Trump.
During the last four years, a special relationship developed between the Trump Administration and the de facto Saudi leader, Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman (MBS). This special relationship was the work of Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law who often traveled to Saudi Arabia to speak to MBS about Iran and other matters related to the Middle East.
However, Biden has made it clear that he sees the ailing King Salman as the only legitimate leader of Saudi Arabia and will only speak to him. The King, however, is old and is reportedly suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. He is only able to work for a few hours even on his better days.
Biden also took another measure that showed he doesn’t see Saudi Arabia as a partner in the fight against Iran.
Shortly after taking office, Biden had the Iran-sponsored terror group Ansar Allah, usually referred to by the media as “the Houthis,” removed from the US list of terrorist movements. He also announced that the US would end financial aid to the Saudi-led anti-Houthi coalition in Yemen.
Right after that announcement, Ansar Allah increased its missile and unmanned aerial vehicle attacks against Saudi Arabia. It was clear that this had something to do with the new American policy.
Biden’s measure also caused misunderstanding and irritation in Israel, which also has been threatened by Ansar Allah. (See: Iran-Backed Houthis Threaten Israeli Shipping in Red Sea)
The Iran-sponsored group now owns long-range missiles capable of reaching Israel that were supplied by Tehran, and it has threatened to use them against the Jewish state should it go to war with Iran or its proxies.
Diplomatic talk with Iran?
White House spokesperson Jen Psaki later made it clear that there are currently no plans to hold a diplomatic discussion with Iran and that the US will leave the harsh Trump-imposed sanctions intact for the time being.
But the remarks failed to reassure Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel. He issued a press statement on Friday evening saying the US moves vis-à-vis Iran and the JCPOA were “dangerous.”
Said the Israeli leader:
“Israel remains committed to preventing Iran from getting nuclear weapons and its position on the nuclear agreement has not changed. Israel believes that a return to the old agreement (by the US) will pave the way for a nuclear arsenal (in Iran). Israel is in frequent contact with the US on this matter.”
Indeed, there is regular contact between Israeli government officials and their American counterparts regarding Iran. Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi has spoken at least three times so far with US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken.
Ned Price, the spokesman for the State Department, later made it clear that the US will also continue persuading other countries not to sell weapons to Iran.
Most Jewish organizations in the US share the Israeli government’s concerns about Biden’s politics vis-à-vis Iran. They warned the president not to return to the policies of former President Barack Obama, who did everything in his power to appease and accommodate Iran.
Iran’s response to Biden’s politics
Iran reacted coolly to the Americans’ statements, making it clear that it would make no move to comply with Biden’s main demand for a renegotiation of the JCPOA.
Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, said during an interview with Press TV in Iran that Biden is pursuing the same policies as Trump. He also said Iran’s “maximum resistance policy” will continue as long as the US fails to fulfill its commitments outlined in the JCPOA. Zarif was referring to the lifting of more than 1,600 sanctions unleashed on Iran and its leaders during Donald Trump’s time in office.
The “maximum pressure” campaign the US started under Trump has already cost Iran a trillion dollars, Zarif said. The Iranian diplomat demanded “compensation payments” from the US as soon as Biden returns to the JCPOA, and the lifting of all sanctions against Iran.
Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency
A new measure that Iran intended to take in protest at the way the country is being treated by the US is to remove cameras that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has in Iran. The IAEA had installed those cameras in places where Iran is engaging in activities related to its nuclear program. Iran threatened also to no longer allow IAEA inspectors to make unannounced visits to sites where they suspect Iran is doing work on the military dimension of its nuclear program.
However, after IAEA head Rafael Grossi flew to Tehran and talked to Iranian leaders, Tehran seemed to back off and reached a temporary agreement of three months with the IAEA, which will leave current inspections and monitoring via cameras intact.
Last year, IAEA inspectors discovered two more sites with traces of radioactive material. Iran had failed to report these facilities to the UN body.
One such facility, Marivan, was located near the city of Abadeh in central Iran. There, IAEA inspectors found evidence that Iran had been working on a multipoint explosive system for a warhead. That system allowed Iran to conduct a so-called “cold test” with a nuclear weapon.
The facility was demolished in July 2019, after which Iran carried out cleaning work at the site. It was not until a year later that the IAEA was allowed to investigate the site of the demolished facility.
Iran has violated provisions in the JCPOA four times so far in response to US politics. The country produces uranium enriched to 20 percent instead of 3.65 percent, as permitted under the agreement. From there, enriching the uranium to the 90 percent level needed for nuclear weapons would take only a few months. However, that does not mean Iran would be able to produce a nuclear weapon so quickly, as the full process would require at least two years.
The IAEA, furthermore, recently discovered that Iran produces metal uranium, a material used only for the production of nuclear weapons. (See related: ANALYSIS: Iranian Threat to Israel Doesn’t Fade Away)
Iran also refuses to explain the origin of uranium particles that IAEA inspectors found in the Turcuzabad district of Tehran last year. The International Atomic Energy Agency was tipped off about this facility by the Israeli government after Mossad stole Iran’s nuclear archive from a warehouse in Tehran at the beginning of 2018. (See: How Israel and Others Exposed Iran’s Nuclear Weapons Program)
And finally, Iran has deployed a new generation of uranium enrichment centrifuges that work much faster than the old P-1 centrifuges, which were based on the ones Pakistan once used. Under the JCPOA, Iran was only allowed to do research on the new centrifuges, not produce and deploy them.
With these centrifuges, Iran will be able to more quickly produce the 200 kilograms of 20 percent uranium needed to further enrich the material up to 90 percent, which, as noted, it needs to build a nuclear warhead.
You now will understand that the concerns of Prime Minister Netanyahu and his government are more than justified.
For this reason, the Israeli leader on Monday held a meeting with ministers that deal with security and foreign affairs, along with Mossad head Yossi Cohen and Meir Ben-Shabbat, Israel’s National Security Adviser. The topic was a new strategy regarding the US and its Iran policy.