Representatives of Iran and the partners to the nuclear agreement with Tehran are expected to meet in Vienna Tuesday to discuss reviving the deal. Despite Iran’s refusal to negotiate directly with the United States and its demand for the lifting of all sanctions on it as a condition for returning to compliance with the agreement, its willingness to take part in talks could point to a diplomatic breakthrough, presumably achieved in talks among the parties last week.
Iran has consistently said it would return to compliance with the terms of the agreement when the sanctions are lifted, as required by the terms of the agreement from which the United States withdrew unilaterally in May 2018. It has become increasingly clear since the decision of then-President Donald Trump that his campaign of “maximum pressure” against Iran, which included a string of draconian sanctions aimed at forcing Iran to agree to changes to the agreement, has yielded dangerous results. The enormous economic pressure did in fact greatly affect the country’s functioning and cause grave damage, mainly to Iran’s citizens. However, it did not bring down the government and it generated a response that brought Iran’s nuclear capabilities closer to their pre-agreement levels.
President Joe Biden’s avowed desire to return the United States to the nuclear agreement and the acceleration of diplomatic measures to keep Iran from the slippery slope of nuclearization pave a positive path toward eliminating the Iranian threat. They might also prepare the ground for additional agreements that could restrict Iran’s room for maneuver in the military sphere. The fear and anxiety of Israel and a few of the Persian Gulf nations regarding the revival of the nuclear deal, which they believe to be too limited and too short in duration, are understandable. Iran acted secretly, lied to and deceived the international community and proved that it did not recoil from violating the terms of the agreement. Tehran increased the quantity and the quality of its enriched uranium and imposed new restrictions on the supervision of its nuclear facilities.
But Israeli military and intelligence officials, including Defense Minister Benny Gantz, believed in the past and still believe that despite its faults, the nuclear agreement is an effective means of slowing Iran’s military nuclear program. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu disagrees with this assessment. He was tireless in his efforts to thwart the agreement before it was signed and, later, to persuade Trump to withdraw from it. This position, which offers no practical alternative policy toward Iran, now puts Israel on a collision course with Biden and could as a result damage the wall of defense that is so vital to Israel’s security.
Israel’s government has the right to disagree with American policy and to offer alternative courses of action, but it must not interfere with a U.S. and international initiative whose purpose is to delay and even diminish the Iranian nuclear threat.