With the Vienna nuclear talks shakily making it to the sixth round, during which Israel was isolated from influencing Iran and is now unable to influence the negotiations, the cunning Israelis decided to try a new military trick to shake up the US and, as the Israeli media noted, “bring the Vienna talks in line with our interests.”
During his recent trip to Washington, Israel’s military chief of staff, Aviv Kochavi, reportedly relayed “clear signals” to Joe Biden’s administration regarding the possibility of a US return to the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement. These messages included threats of an Israeli military attack on Iran alone. On this occasion, the Israeli general held closed-door meetings with many senior American officials, including Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, CIA Director William Burns, and DIA Deputy Director Susan White.
In these meetings, Kochavi claimed that Israel made the decision to “dismantle” Iran’s military nuclear program a year before the 2020 US presidential election and the beginning of the clamor for a return to the nuclear deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). According to Israeli reports, Kochavi also told his American interlocutors that the Israeli army has developed at least three military plans to disrupt Iran’s nuclear program, and that the previous Israeli government, led by Benjamin Netanyahu, allocated funds for these plans, while the current government, led by Naftali Bennett, has promised to add even larger amounts to “fill gaps in Israeli military preparedness” as quickly as possible.
This rattle of arms happened amid a diplomatic war of words between Iran and the United States after the sixth round of the Vienna talks, which resulted in little progress compared to previous rounds. The US has demanded commitments from Iran to discuss other pressing, non-nuclear issues, such as Tehran’s missile program and its regional influence, while rejecting legitimate Iranian demands to lift all Trump-era sanctions and provide assurances that Washington will not pull out again once the deal is renewed. In fact, the differences between them are so profound that the very resumption of negotiations is now hanging by a thread, with many politicians strongly suggesting that talks could be resumed, but not anytime soon.
This tense atmosphere has led Israel to greatly increase diplomatic contacts and pressure on the US in the hope that these demands can influence the Biden administration’s position on the Vienna talks. But at the same time, the Israelis themselves anxiously admit that they are not in a position to dramatically influence Washington’s policy toward Tehran and its leadership. The influential Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that Tel Aviv could no longer actively influence the new course sought by the Biden administration in negotiating with the Ayatollahs and seeking to expand the existing JCPOA.
Nevertheless, the Israelis do not seem to be abandoning their crusade against the JCPOA and the Vienna talks. Evidently, they have returned to their long-held dream of getting the US to do the job for them with “American blood and colossal expense”: a powerful military strike on Iran, which would not only destroy the nuclear program, but also kill many Iranians. However, the Israelis don’t care much about this. The Haaretz newspaper reported, citing military and diplomatic circles in Tel Aviv, that officials are trying to convince the US to put forward a military option against Iran if it continues its nuclear activities, hoping that even these hostile statements will help deter Iran from pursuing steps leading to nuclear weapons.
At the same time, diplomats believe that the Biden administration is less likely to attack Iran if it violates the terms of the agreement, because the Americans do not currently want a potential military conflict in terms of their priorities, much less with such a strong opponent as the Iranian war machine. Besides, we should not forget that there is more than one American base in this region within reach of Iranian missiles and, incidentally, according to the Iranian media, all of them are under the constant control of the Iranian army and navy.
During Trump’s presidency, the US has issued a series of harsh threats against Iran, ranging from attacking cultural sites, to starvation and banning the flow of Covid-19 vaccines to the Iranian people. But none of them worked against Tehran. To make matters worse, the Israelis themselves have launched what they call a “campaign between wars”: a military doctrine largely aimed at confronting Iran’s spheres of influence in the region, keeping the confrontation below the threshold of all-out war in order to eliminate Tehran’s regional influence and undermine its nuclear program. But they could not achieve their goal, as the Iranian Nuclear Program continues to develop, and the country’s influence continues to expand, and the Israeli new leadership simply does not know what to do or how to effectively counter Tehran.
Moreover, even the new Biden administration is not living up to the hopes of Tel Aviv. Washington has decided to suspend its mega-investment fund, which was supposed to help strengthen regional ties after the Abraham Accords were signed last year, the Globes business newspaper reported, citing US and Israeli sources. The Abraham Fund was established immediately after Israel signed a historic agreement to normalize relations with the UAE and Bahrain in September 2020. It was to be paid for by about $3 billion by both the US government and private financial institutions to “promote economic cooperation and encourage prosperity in the Middle East and beyond.” After launching, approving more than 10 projects in areas such as energy and fintech, and considering hundreds of others, it all came to a sudden halt when Joe Biden won the presidential election. The head of the Foundation, appointed by former President Trump, is gone, and a successor has not yet been chosen.
According to the Globes, the administration has told Israel that the Foundation is “under review.” The paper also quoted a “high-ranking source in the US” who said that while the White House wants the Abraham Accords to succeed, it would only help the diplomatic side and “freeze the Fund indefinitely.” At least one stated reason for this decision is that the Biden administration wants to focus its spending domestically to get the US out of the economic crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. Congress is currently debating a nearly $1 trillion infrastructure spending plan as part of this effort.
It’s also no secret that Democrats want to undo almost everything their hated Republican predecessor Trump did. As soon as Biden was sworn in, he froze a multibillion-dollar arms deal with the UAE that included 50 of the most advanced F-35 aircraft, which was a concrete incentive for Trump to get Abu Dhabi to sit down at the negotiating table with Israel. The deal was not given the green light until April, with a scheduled delivery date of 2025 or later. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed of the UAE announced in March that his country would establish another foundation in Israel with the same stated goals as the Abraham Fund. He said it would require $10 billion to invest mostly in the private sector, in many areas, including health care, space, energy and industry. But all this is just talk.
At the moment, the fund exists only on paper, and the Globes reported that the new Israeli government has not realized other economic opportunities either. When Foreign Minister Yair Lapid went to the inauguration of the new Israeli embassy in Abu Dhabi, he signed a comprehensive trade and economic agreement with his Emirati counterpart Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan. But no one knows exactly how this agreement will be filled, given the complex, volatile situation in the region. He also found time to meet with online influencers, but canceled a meeting with business leaders, though he said that strengthening trade ties was high on his list of priorities during his visit. On this occasion, one of the offended Emirati, expressing the views of many businessmen, said: “The Israeli foreign minister preferred to meet with influential Internet personalities who have tens of thousands of subscribers, rather than businessmen who could invest billions in Israel.” So now the fate of the new fund, which was planned to be created in the UAE, is in question.
Of course, the leaders of the US, Israel and Iran need to negotiate in one form or another, rather than just rattle their weapons, threatening to wipe each other off the face of the Middle Eastern earth. It’s not going to do any good, either in the region or in the world. But whether these leaders will overcome their ambition, arrogance, and haughtiness, and whether they will be able to return to normal diplomatic practice is all a big question. So far, reliance on war and force has prevailed in the minds of short-sighted politicians.
Viktor Mikhin, corresponding member of RANS, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.