Israelis are concerned that the United States would reach a new agreement with Iran despite President Joe Biden’s reassurances to his Israeli counterpart Reuven Rivlin that Tehran would never get a nuclear weapon during his watch.
Israel also fears the race against time to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, prompting it to intensify every possible effort to prevent it, without neglecting its military capacity research.
Recent meetings between Israeli officials and the US leadership reflect the extent to which Israel is concerned about Iran’s possible acquisition of a nuclear weapon and the conclusion of an agreement that does not respond to its repeatedly stated demands since the time of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s rule.
Rivlin also expressed concern over the withdrawal of US forces from the region and its impact on Israel in case Arab countries decide to improve ties with Tehran. This reflects other aspects Israel focuses on in its overall research on the Iranian issue and its repercussions on its security, in particular, and the region in general.
According to Israeli statements, some Arab countries that have previously opposed Iran are looking for means to approach it if the US retreats from its role and intervention in the region.
Meanwhile, the Israeli leadership failed during its meetings with Biden and other US officials to attain its goal in regards to the nuclear deal. It looks forward to the upcoming meeting between Biden and the new Prime Minister, Naftali Bennett. However, Israelis do not expect any progress, especially after Biden’s affirmation that Iran will not possess any nuclear weapon during his time in office.
Israel Undetermined on Iran
Unlike previous security researches, Israelis this time did not keep their vague estimates within closed doors, on what security and military research had been conducted on Iran. They announced that they are still incapable of determining Iran’s next step: a new nuclear agreement and the lifting of sanctions or a military approach, including intensifying efforts to possess a nuclear weapon.
Parties that expect a new nuclear deal consider the election of the conservative hardliner President, Ebrahim Raisi, as an indication to Iran’s decision to sign to a new-old deal with the US. They agree with the US assessments that the period, until Raisi is inaugurated, will be an opportunity to benefit from current President Hassan Rouhani’s remaining term to reach agreements. However, Israelis are aware that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei takes the final decision in Tehran.
Whether Khamenei or Rouhani takes the final decision, Israelis believe the Biden administration is very keen to revive the 2015 nuclear deal somehow without conditions, including the almost complete waiver of sanctions against Iran.
Future of Talks
Once Israelis were convinced that the US administration will soon reach a deal with Iran, they focused their research and reports on the threats posed from lifting sanctions on Tehran and giving it the chance to develop its nuclear capacities. Rivlin, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi were keen to present these reports to US officials.
Israelis believe that any agreement that does not impose restrictions on Iran will pose a danger not only to Israel and the region but also to the whole world.
Some reports pointed to Iran’s preparedness to sign the deal. They included recent actions, such as storing oil in tanks at sea and on land and in storage depots in China and India. One report said estimates are that it has between 70 million and 200 million barrels of oil available and could be pumped to customers within 10 to 20 days. It further affirmed that Iran has significantly increased its oil production to export about 2.4 million barrels per day.
These givens, according to Israeli estimates, indicate that Iran has begun preparing for the post sanctions on oil period and the signature of the new nuclear agreement.
Israelis referred to the talks it is holding with oil importers in India, South Korea and China before signing new oil deals and the discussions held by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in preparation for its return to the market.
Inconclusive Intelligence Estimates
Israeli intelligence services have focused their research on the future of talks with Iran and the contents of the expected nuclear deal.
These estimates were divided among Israeli parties:
The first pointed out that Iran is interested in signing the deal but wants to wait until Raisi assumes his post in early August, in an attempt to give him the chance to obtain international legitimacy. Parties believe that if sanctions are lifted soon, Raisi and the regime will enjoy the flow of cash and begin restoring the economy and attracting foreign investments.
The second noted that talks between Iran and the major powers will soon explode. Parties consider Raisi’s appointment an indication of Tehran’s intention to put forward extremist demands during the negotiations.
The third is approved by senior international community figures and warns of misleading Iranian actions. According to this scenario, Iran is expected to deliberately slow down the pace of talks with the major powers, which would stall the negotiations for an extra few months. During this period, it will intensify efforts to achieve key goals in the nuclear field, and will use these achievements as a tool to pressure various parties, according to Israeli intelligence sources.
These sources said their position comes in line with that of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken before his meeting with Lapid last week. Blinken stressed that if Tehran continues to violate the pact, the “breakout time” it needs to amass enough fissile material for a single nuclear weapon will shrink to weeks.
Means of Obtaining Precise Weapons
Israel’s undetermined position towards Iran came in line with demands for US financial aid to enhance its military abilities. During his meeting with Biden, Rivlin requested US aid to reinforce the Israeli army with precision-guided bombs to reduce civilian casualties. He also requested an additional financial assistance to develop the army’s weapons and enable it to be up to the confrontation in any future war.
Disinformation Strategy Worries Israel
Some political and security parties in Israel question the US administration’s positions and accuse it of being ambiguous. This comes in light of the new government’s attempts to rebuild ties with Biden’s administration.
Some Israeli parties accused the administration of launching a “disinformation” campaign ahead of Kohavi’s visit in an attempt to keep negotiations with Iran vague and to make it difficult for the new Israeli government to set a clear policy in this regard.
According to Israeli parties, Washington is seeking to let Israel face existing facts without being able to protest against them, have its reservations taken into consideration or develop a clear strategy similar to that followed during Netanyahu’s rule.
These influential parties say Tehran wants to take advantage of the period before inaugurating Raisi to advance its goals. They expect that all that Israel and its partners in the West are highlighting, regarding Iran’s enhancing of its capabilities in terms of long-range missiles as well as efforts to impose its hegemony, will not prevent the revival of the deal.
They considered the various and contradictory intelligence estimates on Iran’s intentions normal, in light of the disinformation strategy adopted by the US and Iran.
Pre-emptive Military Action
Israeli security and military officers did not halt their research on the military action due to their uncertainty, when faced with the politicians’ optimism after meeting with US officials.
In their opinion, even if Israel reaches an extremely clear situation with the US, it should prepare a pre-emptive military action while escalating its military operations in Syria. Israel insists on bombing Iranian and Hezbollah targets in Syria to prevent Tehran’s continued consolidation in the war-torn country and the transfer of weapons and missiles to Hezbollah through its borders.
Bennett’s Government and Biden’s Administration
Israelis frankly expressed their satisfaction with the Biden administration’s steps taken to improve ties with Israel after the formation of the Bennett-Lapid coalition government.
The steps taken by the US administration, including inviting Kohavi and Rivlin, as well as the recent meeting between Lapid and his US counterpart, followed by Biden’s statements about the importance of Bennett’s upcoming visit to Washington contributed to alleviating tension among Israeli political, security and military services, especially in the research related to the US policy towards Iran.
However, the positions on the ground reflects skepticism in the administration’s intentions and its sincerity of relations with Israel.
These positions dominate some discussions and some parties and even warn of confusing actions and words in reference to Washington’s decision to sign the nuclear deal with Iran despite Israeli requests and open a consulate for Palestinians in Jerusalem.
Lapid, however, made it clear that Israel’s approach is similar to the US. He stressed that Israel also wants to make progress with other Arab countries and with the Palestinians as well.
“Israel has some serious reservations about the Iran nuclear deal that is being put together in Vienna. We believe the way to discuss those disagreements is through direct and professional conversations, not in press conferences,” Lapid stated following his meeting with Blinken.