Monday,24 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1255, (23 - 29 July 2015)
Monday,24 September, 2018
Issue 1255, (23 - 29 July 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Up in arms over Iran

Otherwise at odds, Israeli leaders are united in their opposition to the Iran nuclear deal, with Tel Aviv likely to use the agreement to seek military and other concessions from Washington, writes Ahmed Al-Sayed from Gaza

Al-Ahram Weekly

The deal between Iran and the P5+1 added a heightened level of agitation to Israel’s normally fractious politics. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, pledging to fight it in the US Congress, labelled the deal a mistake of “historic proportions.”

For the first time since the Knesset elections in March, the government and opposition in Israel seem to be united on denouncing the deal. Former foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, leader of the right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu, said the deal is “a surrender to terror.”

Most Israelis fear the deal could pave the way for Tehran to acquire nuclear weapons. Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon said the deal is a “tragedy for all who aspire for regional stability.”

For now, however, Israeli politicians may have to settle for pressuring the US administration to give them more weapons and closer military cooperation in “recompense” for Iran’s gains, chief of which are the billions of dollars of Iranian assets that the deal will set free.

Israeli officials claim that Iran will use its fresh wealth to fund terror across the region. Neftali Bennett, leader of the right-wing Bayit Yehudi party, said, “Half a trillion dollars has been transferred to the hands of a terrorist superpower, the most dangerous country in the world.”

On 14 July, Iran and the P5+1 group reached a deal that would significantly limit Tehran’s nuclear programme in exchange for lifting international sanctions. The deal, reached after 20 months of gruelling talks, was greeted by US Democrats as one of the biggest achievements of the Obama administration.

It is not yet clear how the deal will affect US-Iranian relations, and whether it will allow Iran a larger part in regional politics. But Israeli officials are not taking chances.

Netanyahu told reporters that the deal is not binding on Israel “because Iran seeks to destroy us.”

The Israeli prime minister said that, because of the deal, “Iran is going to receive a sure path to nuclear weapons.”

Speaking to NBC, Netanyahu said that Tehran is likely to “cheat” on the deal, as it is impossible to have its facilities checked everywhere or “all the time.” Israel, whose nuclear programme remains secret, is not a member of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Israel’s Hebrew-language media reports suggested that Netanyahu might try to dissuade Congress from approving the deal. But the chances of the Israeli prime minister succeeding in this endeavour are slim. Furthermore, Netanyahu risks further alienating the Obama administration by doing so.

What Israeli diplomats may seek instead is a security agreement with the US in which Washington pledges to react to any Iranian attack on Israel as one against the US.

According to one report in the Israeli media, the Israeli joint staff intends to ask Washington for an increase in US military assistance, which stands currently at $4 billion per year. Israel is also hoping to obtain US stealth aircraft to bolster its military capabilities.

Israeli analysts also expect closer cooperation between the US intelligence services and Israel’s Mossad to ensure that Iran doesn’t “cheat” on its agreement.

Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s minister of national infrastructure, energy and water resources, said that Israel doesn’t expect “compensation” from the America, because “there is no such thing as compensation when it comes to nuclear threats.”

Israeli analysts expect that compensation may take a geostrategic form. For example, Israel may use the current situation to tighten its hold on the Golan Heights, which it occupied in 1967. Writing in Haaretz, former Cabinet secretary Zvi Hawser said, “For the first time in half a century” Israel has a chance to “conduct a constructive dialogue with the international community” about regional borders.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin is said to be trying to reconcile Prime Minister Netanyahu with opposition leader Isaac Herzog. According to Haaretz, Likud and Herzog’s Zionist Union are considering forming a government of national unity.

Addressing the Knesset, Herzog said that despite his differences with Netanyahu, he shares his belief that the Iranian deal is a “common threat.” Other Israeli leaders were critical of Netanyahu’s handling of the Iranian deal.

Yair Lapid, former finance minister and leader of the centrist Yesh Atid Party, said, “Netanyahu crossed a line that caused the White House to stop listening to Israel.” Lapid said that the signing of the nuclear agreement is the “biggest failure” of foreign policy in Israel “since its creation.”

An opinion poll published in Maariv last week indicates that 71 per cent of Israelis believe the deal will help Tehran acquire a nuclear weapon, while 47 per cent support military strikes to prevent that possibility.

The Atlas Centre for Strategic and Studies, a Gaza-based Palestinian think tank, says that Israel is not worried about the nature of the deal, but about the increased leverage it may give Iran in the region. According to Atlas, Israel’s opposition to the deal was not focused on details, but on blocking the deal altogether.

Even the strictest deal possible would have been opposed by the Israelis. In other words, Atlas concluded, Israel wanted to force the world to repeat the Iraqi experience in Iran, or at least to keep Iran a pariah state, blockaded and isolated.

Israel, Atlas continued, didn’t oppose the Iranian nuclear programme when it started under the Shah in 1976. Back then, US companies were eager to win contracts to build reactors in Iran but lost to the Germans, who came up with a better offer.

According to Atlas, Israel’s attempts to stop the deal are unlikely to produce any tangible results. But Israel will keep trying to “blackmail” the White House into giving it military and other concessions.

Israel may also try to forge an alliance with some Gulf countries that share the same concern over Iran’s rising regional power, Atlas added.

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