(January 19, 2018 / JNS)
President Donald Trump on Jan. 12 outlined his intentions to “fix the terrible flaws” of the Iran nuclear deal, giving the agreement what he called “a last chance” and setting in motion a 120-day timetable for the U.S. to reach an accord with European nations that would strengthen the deal by imposing stricter terms on Iran.
Since the departure of the Obama administration in January 2017, Israel and the U.S. have largely been on the same page about policy towards Iran. But can Trump get Europe on board?
Last October, Trump had decided not to recertify the deal (which is also known as the JCPOA), but stopped short of asking Congress to impose sanctions. In his latest comments, the president insisted that any bill he signs as a result of bipartisan legislation in Congress must include four critical components that would act as triggers that the Iranians cannot exceed.
“First,” he said, “it must demand that Iran allow immediate inspections at all sites… Second, it must ensure that Iran never even comes close to possessing a nuclear weapon. Third…these provisions must have no expiration date…Fourth, the legislation must explicitly state…that long-range missile and nuclear weapons programs are inseparable, and that Iran’s development and testing of missiles should be subject to severe sanctions.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu included the same terms in his Iran-focused speech to Congress in March 2015, but President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry purposely left those components out of the deal because Iran as well as the agreement’s European negotiating partners opposed them.
In Israel’s view, intercontinental ballistic missile technology, a delivery system for nuclear payloads, has always been part of Iran’s nuclear program and restrictions against it should have been tied to the deal. Now, Washington is in agreement and is hoping to get the Europeans to join the U.S.-Israel camp on that issue.
“Most countries understand that Iran is a danger to stability in the Middle East,” Maj. Gen. (res.) Yaakov Amidror, Israel’s former national security advisor, told JNS. “It’s about what America wants to do. This is a decision the Americans must make. It’s their decision whether they want to fix or nix [the nuclear deal]. Israel alone cannot do anything. The international community must stand behind it.”
Last month, Israel’s Channel 10 reported that the U.S. and Israel had signed a memorandum of understanding outlining a joint plan to address Iran’s threatening behavior in the Middle East—including its nuclear weapon’s program, ballistic missile program and support for terrorist groups.
Dr. Avi Davidi, senior Iran analyst and director of the Iran Project on the Implications of the JCPOA at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs think tank, told JNS that “Israel, specifically Netanyahu, has a significant influence on Trump and his team. They are very much coordinated. They sound almost the same with regard to the ‘fix it or nix it’ approach.”
Israel seems to have convinced the U.S. that it is impossible to trust a regime that supports terrorism in the region and threatens the very countries involved in the JCPOA.
“But not everyone is convinced the JCPOA is so bad. The Europeans are convinced the deal is a good one,” Davidi said. The exception to the rule on that continent could be France, whose president, Emmanuel Macron, last month called for negotiations on the Islamic Republic’s ballistic missile program, though experts downplayed the significance of Macron’s rhetoric.
In a recent meeting with his French and British counterparts as well as EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini, Germany’s Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said, “We want to protect the JCPOA against every possible decision that might undermine it.”
But Davidi suggested, “The fact that the Europeans are looking into it, and the fact that the Iranians are panicking, is an indicator that something is going on behind the scenes.” Israeli Mossad intelligence agency chief Yossi Cohen hinted this when he confirmed last week that “we have eyes and ears, even inside Iran.”
Dr. Raz Zimmt, a research fellow at Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies, was more hesitant on prospects for nixing the JCPOA.
“Although the deal is not the ultimate deal and has many problems, I think the worst thing now is to abolish the deal in a way that will give the Iranians the opportunity to draw attention to the U.S. and away from Iran,” Zimmt told JNS. “If a better deal could be negotiated, then perhaps we should negotiate a new deal, but there is no chance the regime today will renegotiate, especially since the Europeans, Russia and China do not support such a move.”
Davidi emphasized that “the most important element in understanding the region is Saudi Arabia. The fact that the Saudis are on Israel’s side is the principal transformation in the Middle East.”
Zimmt acknowledged that “Israel and Saudi Arabia definitely share the same concerns over Iran, so there is more room for cooperation between the two,” but added that “without U.S. cooperation and international involvement, there are limits as to what they can do.”
Ultimately, said Amidror, Israel “wants to see an Iranian regime that builds its society and is not spreading hatred in the Middle East.”