January 19, 2023 | Israel Hayom

Iran, Iran and Iran: Only one topic should dominate talks with Sullivan and Blinken

The widespread riots in Iran created new turf for the US and Israel to act on, as well as to renew their collaboration. When American officials visit in the coming days, their Israeli counterparts must be singularly focused.
January 19, 2023 | Israel Hayom

Iran, Iran and Iran: Only one topic should dominate talks with Sullivan and Blinken

The widespread riots in Iran created new turf for the US and Israel to act on, as well as to renew their collaboration. When American officials visit in the coming days, their Israeli counterparts must be singularly focused.

President Joe Biden’s National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan’s visit to Israel this week will include a meeting with his counterpart, the head of the National Security Council Tzachi Hanegbi, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Isaac Herzog, Regional Cooperation Minister Ron Dermer, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and Foreign Minister Eli Cohen. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is expected to make a similar visit shortly afterward, likely meeting the same officials.

A lot has been written ahead of this visit and many analysts have already “figured out” what topics are going to be discussed, what each side will present, what they will decide on, and what they will disagree on. Thus, I will not repeat these things, but only highlight what is important to get done and what must not be done.

Upon his re-election, Netanyahu placed three things at the top of his agenda: Iran; expanding the Abraham Accords by bringing Saudi Arabia on board; and tackling domestic issues. It is clear that the first two will dominate the talks with the American official, but the third issue should be left out, as it is entirely an internal Israeli matter.

On the Palestinian issue, it is important to present why Israel, simply put, has no negotiating partner for real talks on the other side, especially in the wake of Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas’ decision to take Israel to court on the world stage. Abbas must pay the price for that. Israel must also assure the American officials that the government has no plans to alter the status quo on the Temple Mount and that just like Jordanian officials make inappropriate statements sometimes, the Israeli side may see some officials partaking in various events related to the area. Those events should be understood in their broader context rather than as a source of concern.

When it comes to China, my advice is to adopt the US approach: Shift the relationship to professional channels and make it clear that in the event of a conflicting situation, our views would be crystal clear. The regulatory measures that have already been launched attest to that. Any US attempt to discuss internal Israeli matters must be rebuffed politely but with resolve.

But let’s not get distracted: Iran must be front and center during those discussions, notwithstanding the differences with guests. This includes Iran’s aggressive conduct in its nuclear program, its support for terrorist organizations and their arming, and the dangers of having Tehran move closer to Russia and establish a base of operations in Syria. The discourse over Russia, Ukraine, Syria, and the Gulf must be carried out while looking through the Iranian prism – and only that prism. This will serve Israeli interests and help drive home the message that only a credible military threat and serious readying for action – alongside massive economic pressure and actively supporting the unrest – will perhaps bring about change.

The US and Israel see almost eye-to-eye when it comes to the intelligence picture on Iran’s nuclear program, but they are not in lockstep over some of the courses of action to counter it. Tehran has been enriching uranium to 60% purity, and it could cross the threshold to 90% on a dime. It has also been producing uranium metal; it has accumulated enough fissile material at varying purity levels (up to 60%) for several bombs; it has been denying international inspectors from visiting suspect sites; and it continues to withhold information that could clarify that questions on unresolved safeguards issues submitted by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Iran successfully used nuclear blackmail to force Biden’s Iran envoy to the negotiations, Robert Malley, and his bosses to press IAEA Director Rafael Grossi to walk back his decision to avoid the publication of a harsh report on Iranian violations that would have resulted in a special board of governors meeting or the referral of the matter to the United Nations Security Council. The US and Europe have so far refused to invoke the snapback mechanism, which would bring back all the Security Council sanctions.

The widespread riots in Iran created new, and wide, turf for the US and Israel to act on, as well as to renew their collaboration. This is what the talks should focus on when American officials visit. US public opinion has become numb to the Iranian nuclear breaches, but it has not been indifferent to the killing of young girls and women, which has touched the open nerve of hurting human rights. On top of that, the Iranian-Russian collaboration in the killing of girls and women in Ukraine will help make the case that the US needs to change its posture.

Israel will gladly accept a new comprehensive Iranian nuclear deal that would put an end to Iran’s nuclear progress on all paths and forever, but such a pact is not feasible. The notion that the powers should pursue a “more for more” formula in the negotiations – which has been unfortunately endorsed by some senior Israeli officials – is flawed at its core and would only play into the hands of Malley and the Iranians. The end of the talks will undoubtedly look like “much more for much less”. The wholesale lifting of sanctions that would ensue after such a deal is finalized would enrich Iran with billions of dollars, will help it restore its economy, and allow it to continue sponsoring terrorism. This would also send a message to the global markets that doing business with Iran is permissible and even pays off. What Iran will give in return will be minor, and along with whitewashing its past sins, it will continue to enjoy the status of a near-nuclear threshold state. Israel must disabuse the US of entertaining such a deal.

Israel must present its readiness for a widespread and total campaign against Iran and its nuclear program, including against its nuclear weapon development. Outgoing IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi talked about this part of the program, run by a clandestine weapons team that continues to operate despite Iranian denials.

Israel and the US must join forces in weakening the regime and by actively supporting the protests in Iran, which present the first real opportunity since the fall of the shah to topple the regime. This should include: economic aspects – such as exacerbating the distrust in the financial system; encouraging divestment in banks; and devaluing the local currency; intelligence efforts (such as releasing information on the Revolutionary Guards and the movement of Iranian forces); operational activity (disrupting the Iranian state functions and its economy’s key sectors, encouraging strikes, and other means used during the war-between-the-wars); and practical methods (including the transferring weapons to the demonstrators). Such action will make it clear to the Gulf States that the US has undergone a paradigm shift and is now reverting to collaborative support against Iran. This will be the first step toward restoring the trust in the US and the expansion of the Abraham Accords, including with Saudi Arabia.

Biden has recently stated that “we’re going to free Iran” and that the JCPOA is “dead”. We must make sure that rather than just talk the talk, he must walk the walk. These meetings between Israeli and US officials in the coming days should be the platform to create a joint foundation to put these words into action.

Brigadier-General (res.) Jacob Nagel is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), and a visiting professor at the Technion aerospace faculty. He previously served as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s national security advisor and acting head of the Israeli National Security Council.

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