Israel has little or no information about the secret talks between Washington and Tehran brokered by Oman and Qatar. Moreover, these talks come at a time when relations between Jerusalem and Washington are at rock bottom. US President Joe Biden has so far refused to invite Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the White House because of the controversial judicial reform. When it comes to choosing between America’s economy and Israel, Washington’s first concern is for its own nation.
So what is Israel afraid of and why?
Israel is following the secret talks between Washington and Tehran with concern. Basically, the Americans are only interested in a new nuclear deal with Iran for economic reasons. These negotiations correspond to a clear American goal of bringing two political achievements to the forthcoming elections next year. First, a new nuclear deal with Iran that gives the Gulf States a bonus, and second, a peace deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia that gives Israel a bonus. America claims to benefit from both cases.
The assessment in Israel is that Washington is moving toward an interim agreement rather than a repeat of the 2015 nuclear deal (JCPOA). That is, a full or partial freeze on Iran’s uranium enrichment in exchange for a full or partial lifting of sanctions, but only as an interim stage before a full agreement is reached. In addition, the Iranian leadership has now announced that it developed a “hypersonic missile” that flies at Mach 13 (16,000 km per hour). The thinking behind this is that such missiles cannot be intercepted by the David’s Sling anti-aircraft and anti-missile defense system, much less the Iron Dome.
Behind closed doors, the government in Jerusalem fears that Washington would like to link the nuclear deal with Iran to normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia in order to make the bitter pill go down a bit easier for Israel. The Americans will make Israel understand that without a nuclear deal with Iran, Saudi Arabia will not agree to normalization. A complex dilemma and honey trap for Jerusalem. In addition, the Saudis insist on far-reaching and new gestures by Israel to the Palestinians, which has not been the case so far. However, that is impossible for a right-wing coalition; Netanyahu would have to form a new coalition without Minister for National Security Itamar Ben-Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich.
Various sources in Jerusalem indicate that under these conditions, Israel’s security cabinet would be more likely to forego normalization with Saudi Arabia. “We already understand what the deals with Iran are worth. We just don’t believe them,” says one government source. The fear in Jerusalem is that Iran will increase its terror budget from $1 billion to $3 billion a year if there is a nuclear deal that lifts sanctions. That would be a disaster for Israel.
Jerusalem senses that Washington is getting closer to the Iranians and this is the main reason behind Israel’s decision to announce preparations for a military attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Israel’s “Firm Hand” military maneuver, in which Israeli forces are simulating a multi-front war including airstrikes in Iran, signals Israel’s readiness for war. “We are constantly working to maintain Israel’s military superiority. In this exercise, simulating an extreme attack from all fronts, both our ground forces and our air force are proving that Israel’s capabilities are unlimited,” Netanyahu said. The prime minister and his security cabinet are observing and taking part in the maneuvers almost daily.
Meanwhile, Israel is upset that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has decided to drop its investigation against Iran, almost entirely disregarding information provided by Israel’s Mossad. A senior official in Jerusalem told Yediot Ahronot that the IAEA has become a political body serving American interests: “The closing of the investigative files is happening in the shadow of the upcoming nuclear deal. It is clear that the IAEA plays a political role for Washington.”
A meeting was scheduled for this week in Jerusalem with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who had originally planned to stop in Tel Aviv on his flight home from Riyadh, but probably wanted to avoid Israeli pressure regarding Iran, and so he canceled. A few days ago, Israeli ministers Tzachi Hanegbi and Ron Dermer met with Biden’s National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan in Washington. The talks focused on four topics: When will Netanyahu finally be invited to Washington, the nuclear deal with Iran, normalization with Saudi Arabia and the problem with the Palestinians. The Americans try to pack everything into one package and link it together.
Finally, the Americans repeatedly made it clear to Israel’s government that the judicial reform must not be pushed through and that the two right-wing ministers, Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, must be curbed. In addition, Israel’s operations in the Palestinian territories are to be moderated before Israel’s prime minister is officially invited Biden. While Israel considers Americans true friends and allies, at the end of the day every nation thinks about what’s good for them. The Americans are doing it and Israel will do the same. This is why Israel is preparing for a possible attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities, because the American package makes no sense to Israel.
Or, if we can indulge in speculation for a moment, it’s all a political ruse designed to distract and politically stun the ayatollah regime in Tehran so that Israel can prepare to strike Iran. The euphoria of the Iranian regime in recent months also plays a role here, because after years the Shiites are again forming alliances with Sunni governments in the Middle East, such as Saudi Arabia and now possibly Egypt.
In June 1981, Israeli fighter jets bombed Iraq’s nuclear reactor. It was known as Operation Opera. And Israel is capable of surprising her enemies again.
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