After his own interests - GulfToday

After his own interests

Michael Jansen

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.


Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is gambling on the attack on Iran’s Nataz nuclear plant to secure for him the prime ministership and delay the day he could go to prison for fraud, graft and violation of public trust. For years, Netanyahu has sometimes deftly, and occasionally comically, played the Iran card to scare Israelis into backing him and blackmail global powers into imposing and retaining punitive sanctions on Iran.

Until recently Israel refused to accept blame for mounting attacks on Iranian targets, whether militiamen in Syria or nuclear sites and scientists in Iran itself. Last summer an explosion caused a fire at Nataz destroying part of the complex housing development of advanced and centrifuges and last Monday an electricity outage and explosion damaged Nataz once again.

While Israel was accused of the first, Israeli intelligence agents took credit for the second in the country’s media. Even The Washington Post has warned in an editorial that Israel’s relentless attacks on Iran may “endanger [President Joe] Biden’s diplomacy.”

Meanwhile, Netanyahu’s trial has resumed with witnesses of his misdeeds being called.

He has been indicted in three out of five possible cases. In the first, he has been charged with receiving gifts of expensive champagne and jewellery worth more than $500,000 over 20 years from wealthy Israeli and Australian businessmen in exchange for favours. In the second, he is accused of conspiring with the editor of popular newspaper Yedioth Aronoth to reduce the circulation of a rival newspaper in exchange for positive coverage. The third case also involved friendly media coverage from the popular web portal, Walla, which is owned by the communications company Bezeq. Netanyahu could serve as much as a decade in prison for bribery and three years for fraud and breach of trust. If convicted, he would be the second Israeli prime minister to go to prison.

The latest operation against Nataz was timed to take place during the visit of US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin to Tel Aviv and ahead of Wednesday’s resumption of talks in Vienna between Iran, Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and China, the remaining signatories of the 2015 nuclear deal, with US indirect participation via a European envoy.

Iran refuses to negotiate with the US, which abandoned the deal in 2018, until Biden re-enters the agreement — which limits Iran’s nuclear programme in exchange for lifting sanctions — and ends 1,500 punitive sanctions imposed by Donald Trump.

According to The Washington Post, Austin told the Israelis not to do anything to jeopardise the Vienna talks which went well during last week’s initial round. But nothing stops Netanyahu from doing whatever he wishes. Like Donald Trump, his eye is on the main chance for himself. Now he is striving to save his skin by staying on as premier without any thought of Israel’s interests or the threat to the region posed by the collapse of the nuclear deal.

During his election campaign, Biden pledged to return to the deal but, once in office, he has hesitated and postponed re-entry until the Senate confirmed his cabinet officers and both houses of Congress passed his covid-and-economic relief legislation. This delay permitted nay-sayers to exert pressure on Biden to allow the deal to die. Unfortunately, his cabinet is divided with Iran envoy Robert Malley and Deputy National Security Adviser Jonathan Finer urging Biden to go ahead and Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan calling for renegotiation — which Iran rejects.  Naturally, the Israel lobby has been exerting pressure on Biden to ditch the deal while both Democratic and Republican lawmakers have demanded Biden retain leverage on Iran through sanctions — also rejected by Iran.

This is a dangerous game. While Netanyahu is sitting pretty on Israel’s 200-300 nuclear devices, he does not need to worry about Israel being subjected to all-out attack.

He has absolute deterrence.  Furthermore, Israel possesses an arsenal of conventional weapons which would allow it to defeat all its regional antagonists, including Iran without having to resort to nuclear bombs.

If Netanyahu and the nay-sayers are victorious, existing regional tensions could soar. Former Iranian nuclear negotiator now a Princeton professor, Hossein Mousavian, wrote in the April 11th Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, that in the absence of “a quick decision by Biden to rejoin [the deal], the agreement will totally collapse, and serious talks will not take place again until Iran gains new leverage by ramping its nuclear programme up to [pre-deal] levels — or perhaps even beyond.” He also makes the point that US pressure has, historically, backfired “pushing Iran ever closer to nuclear-weapon acquisition.” He elaborates how this unfolded.

It is significant that US Iran experts agree with this point of view and have been urging the administration to re-enter the deal as soon as possible and lift sanctions imposed by Trump. Once this has been achieved, the US and its Western and regional allies can tackle Iran’s ballistic missile programme, dismal human rights record and involvement in Arab affairs.

Once lifted, sanctions can always be reimposed.

Time is short. Iranians go to the polls in June to elect a new president. Incumbent Hassan Rouhani, a moderate whose government negotiated the deal, will be out of office in August. A recent survey conducted by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and IranPoll reveals that 63 per cent of Iranians rate him unfavourably due to the suspension of the nuclear deal and consequent economic collapse. In 2014, only 13 per cent had an unfavourable opinion.

Two-thirds of Iranians say they prefer a critic of Rouhani for president while only 17 per cent want a Rouhani supporter in the moderate camp. A hard-line Iranian president could be the worst possible option for this region and the globe. This would be true not only because he would scrap the nuclear deal and build up the country’s nuclear programme but also because he could meddle in Arab affairs more effectively than the hesitant Rouhani.


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