Israel Ramping Up Pressure as Biden Set to Decide on Delisting Iran’s Guards

The United States has repeatedly staved off a deadline for striking a nuclear deal and its verdict on blacklisting Iran's Revolutionary Guards is still shrouded in mystery

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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File photo: An Iranian flag in Iran's Bushehr nuclear power plant, during an official ceremony to kick-start works on a second reactor at the facility, in 2019.
File photo: An Iranian flag in Iran's Bushehr nuclear power plant, during an official ceremony to kick-start works on a second reactor at the facility, in 2019.Credit: ATTA KENARE - AFP
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

Israeli officials are preparing for significant developments this week in connection with the negotiations between the world powers and Iran on its nuclear program. U.S. President Joe Biden is expected to announce in the coming days whether he has decided to leave the Iranian Revolutionary Guards on the U.S. list of terrorist organizations or to accede to Tehran’s demand to remove the group from the list.

In recent weeks, Israel has been conducting an intensive campaign in the United States against removing the organization from the list. Following that, White House officials, unlike those at the State Department, have signaled that they would side with Israel and ask to leave the Revolutionary Guards on the list.

However, according to Israeli officials involved in the contacts with the United States, pressure from State Department staff who want to keep the Revolutionary Guards on the terrorist list could influence Biden’s announcement. “Until there is a clear statement, it’s impossible to know what the president’s final decision will be,” one Israeli official said.

In Israel, preparations are now underway for two possible scenarios. One is an Iranian decision to retract its demand from the negotiating table, mainly to benefit from the skyrocketing global price of oil due to the war in Ukraine. In that event, Israel would have a hard time scuttling U.S. plans to sign a new agreement with Iran within days. The second scenario is that Iran insists that the Revolutionary Guards be removed from the terrorist organization list, which could delay and complicate the signing of a new agreement and lead the parties to further confrontation. In Israel, it is believed that the Biden administration is determined to sign, and that Iran is negotiating better than the American representatives are, and therefore Iranian insistence could bear fruit for Tehran down the road.

At any rate, the U.S. administration has “stretched” the deadline on the nuclear talks and is showing considerable flexibility in extending the negotiations, despite prior declarations by administration officials. Israeli officials have warned that Iran was intentionally dragging its feet in the talks, which would enable it to advance its nuclear program under the radar and at the same time negotiate with the United States and the other major powers that were parties to the original agreement, which former President Donald Trump withdrew from.

Sources involved in the talks have told Haaretz that the U.S. administration has repeatedly revised its deadline. Initially, February was set as the time American negotiators would halt talks with the Iranians. Then, after progress was achieved, the deadline was moved forward to March, which has also passed.

And U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told Haaretz last December that the United States and its partners had set the deadline within weeks.

In Israel, the expectation is that for the time being, the Iranians are having difficulty deciding whether to go toward signing an agreement and are also waiting for Biden’s announcement on the Revolutionary Guards. In recent weeks, Iran has taken advantage of its power in the talks to try to expand its achievements, and has recently raised a number of demands that are not included in the agreement itself.

“Their demand regarding the Revolutionary Guards was one demand too many,” an Israeli official said.

The Israeli campaign, which also included protests by other countries in the region and criticism in the United States, have put the Iranian regime in a wait-and-see posture on the agreement.

Israel continues to believe that Iran has taken advantage of the time during which it held talks with the world powers to continue to strengthen its nuclear program: Defense Minister Benny Gantz said earlier this month that while “treading water” in Vienna, Iran has completed the enrichment of about 50 kilograms of uranium to 60 percent, and is continuing to advance its military nuclear program.

The advances are significant: To make one nuclear bomb, Iran needs to enrich 25 kilograms of uranium to a level of 90 percent. The enriched uranium Iran has now places it within close range of being able to produce a bomb. According to assessments in the West, continued enrichment to 90 percent can be completed in a matter of a few weeks if Iran decides to do so. Iran announced in April 2021 that it intended to enrich uranium to 60 percent, contrary to the agreement it signed in 2015. In August, the world powers believed Iran had completed enrichment of about 10 kilograms of uranium, and on the eve of the opening of talks in Vienna, in December, officials in the West said Iran had substantially increased the amount of uranium in its possession enriched to 60 percent.

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