Israeli Foreign Ministry’s Objectives for 2019: An 'Improved' Iran Deal

Report obtained by Haaretz also sets a goal of improving relations with U.S. Democrats amid Trump midterm backlash

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presenting his Iran dossier at a news conference at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv, April 30, 2018.
Ofer Vaknin

A document detailing the Foreign Ministry’s objectives for the 2019 working year, obtained by Haaretz, states that now that the United States has withdrawn from the Iranian nuclear deal, the ministry should develop a “system of pressure that will assure the attainment of an improved agreement that will address the flaws of the old agreement.” 

The principal aim specified in last year’s list was to “establish red lines” and “stop Iran from effective progress in its nuclear program, first and foremost with regard to the nuclear agreement.”

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is also foreign minister, has said in numerous forums that in order to “amend” the nuclear agreement with Iran it must be “totally redone.”

The Iranian issue has been at the top of the agenda for Israel’s foreign service, in accordance with the spirit of Netanyahu’s policy, under the title “Stopping Iran — Nuclear, Terror, Missiles and Subversion.” The objectives document also states that there must be a dialogue with the international community on “totally removing Iran and its proxies in Syria from any future arrangements and from anything connected with the rehabilitation of Syria” — another central issue that Netanyahu, the defense establishment and Israeli diplomats have been preoccupied with this year. This year, another clause has been added to the list of regional objectives, which calls for “diversifying those we rely on, including establishing and deepening ties with Russia.”

Trump signs the American recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, June, 2018.
Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

Although last year the central objective with regard to the United States was “working with the administration to renew the diplomatic process” with the Palestinians, for the coming year the objective is “preparing for the completion of U.S. administration efforts to renew the diplomatic process with the participation of pragmatic countries in the Middle East and partners in the international community.” 

In a shift from last year, this year the ministry also seeks to “leverage the American recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital for a campaign aimed at other countries.” To date only Guatemala and Paraguay have responded to these entreaties, but negotiations are continuing with other countries. With regard to the United States, the “principle of bipartisanship” and “strengthening ties with the Democratic Party,” are reiterated, but this time the issue is given greater importance, as indicated in the explicit reference to “preparing for the midterm elections in November 2018.” Diplomatic sources say that over the past year, following U.S. President Donald Trump’s election and his moves in the Middle East, there is significant fear of a backlash among Democrats on the issue.

With regard to the crisis in Gaza, senior officials say foreign policy should focus on “achieving long-term calm in the Gaza Strip,” by “emphasizing the prevention of a humanitarian crisis,” a warning that did not appear in the goals for 2018. Strengthening ties with Egypt and Jordan regularly appear in this document, but Turkey has once again disappeared from Israel’s main diplomatic objectives.

Orban and Netanyahu at a news conference in Budapest, Hungary, July, 2017.
Peter Kohalmi / AFP

Under the goals for “Using Israel’s assets on the bilateral level to achieve goals at the multilateral level, with an emphasis on continuous improvement in votes [in international forums],” the Foreign Ministry officially cites a goal that was clearly evident in the past year: “Building coalitions like the Visegrad Group, the ‘Hellenic triangle’ and the Baltic states.”

As in previous years, advancing Israel’s defense exports, including cyber-technology, is a central national goal. “The promotion of security cooperation and the fight against terrorism, with an emphasis on defense exports, as a result of the war on radical Islam, as a basis for strategic cooperation in the region, Europe and other diplomatic arenas, and leveraging this to build up diplomatic achievements.” 

Regarding Diaspora Jewry, “Strengthening the ties with the various streams and establishing a dialogue with key liberal elements in the Jewish world and outside it,” is mentioned again this year, in the shadow of the growing rift with progressive Jewish groups.

Among the non-Jewish population, the aim is to "continue the deepening of the interreligious discourse with an emphasis on evangelicals in the United States and Latin America, as well as with the Catholic Church, Eastern religions and moderate Islam."

Under the section "Strengthening the Status, Stabilization and Legitimacy of the State of Israel" Which includes "anti-Semitism and the struggle for consciousness", the ministry also includes the term "delegitimization." This expression is better known in, and ofren used by, the Strategic Affairs Ministry, which fights the boycott movement - or as the government calls it, the "delegitimization movement."