What Does the Iranian Nuclear Deal Mean for Israel?

The Vienna talks, which aim to revive the Iranian Nuclear deal, formally known as the JCPOA, enter the fifth round, with hopes of curbing the Iranian nuclear threat

The Vienna talks, which aim to revive the Iranian Nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), enter their fifth round, with hopes of curbing what many countries believe to be the Iranian nuclear threat. During his tour to the Middle East this week, Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, promised continued US consultation with Israel regarding any potential return to the JCPOA.

In response, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, stated that the Iranian deal poses an existential threat to Israel, adding that “Whatever happens, Israel will always retain the right to defend itself against any Iranian nuclear threat.”

The future of the nuclear deal remains uncertain, skeptics of the deal argue. The Iranian Presidential elections are approaching, with ultra-conservative candidates dominating the electoral competition.

“Of the 40 candidates who met the Council’s basic criteria, only seven were approved, five are hardliners, two are lower profile, one a reformist and the other a moderate,” TRT writes.

But the elections will not affect the ongoing negotiations. Tehran is hit hard by the global pandemic, in addition to the deteriorating economic situation since the onset of US sanctions.

Though China’s plan to invest in Iran is a good opportunity for Tehran to wean itself off the west, the Iranian public refuses any attempts aimed at strengthening relations with Beijing.

While China’s support for Iran was expected to increase Iranian leverage on the negotiation table, establishing a robust relation with China is a long way off.

Iranian Nuclear

Israeli propaganda: 

With regards to Israel, ironically, the nuclear deal will enhance its national security, feeding its political propaganda of the Iranian threat.

Nora Maher, Professor at the British University in Egypt, argues that the onset of the Arab Spring, in addition to the rise of Iran in the MENA region, paved the way for better relations between the Arab countries and Israel to counter the so-called Iranian threat.

Israel is aware of the fact that Iran’s ambitions in the region do not involve attacking Tel Aviv. Considering Iran’s limited deterrence capacity which does not match that of nuclear weapon states such as Israel, in addition to the implications of initiating an offensive against Israel, it will be fair enough to argue that Iran’s nuclear program will not pose an existential threat to Israel.

“The spread of Iranian influence in the region has strengthened Israel’s security, and fostered an unprecedented open rapprochement with the Gulf regimes,” Maher Writes

“The challenge for Israel, however, lies in how to continue exporting Iran’s scarecrow to the Gulf States while at the same time encircle Iran’s influence and near-border nuclear and missile activities, therefore, keeping the Iranian threat” at a distance from the Israeli borders,” Maher added.

Iran and Israel: From Friends to Foes 

Despite the latest escalation, Tel Aviv and Tehran were once strong allies. Iran is among the first countries to recognize the state of Israel. The Shah regime (the 1950s) in Iran adopted a pro-Israeli foreign policy, as both states aimed to curb the spread of Pan-Arabism in the Middle East region (MENA).

The birth of the 1979 revolution altered this close connection, yet strategic interests of both states intersected. The Iran-Iraq war prompted Israel to provide Tehran with military assistance. As a country that prioritizes national security over other matters, sidelining ideological conflicts, it had with Iran, it was necessary to curb the influence of Iraq.

Nevertheless, the end of the cold war marked the onset of a prolonged conflict between Tehran and Tel Aviv. To elaborate, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the defeat of Saddam Hussein in 1991 eliminated the two main foes for Israel and Tehran. In other words, there were no reasons to resume relations.

At the same time, Israel started to develop relations with the Arab states, and the only country that seemed to challenge Israeli superiority in the region was Iran.

“With Iraq defeated, and the Arab countries pursuing diplomacy, Iran seems like the only country left in the region with an offensive capability that can threaten Israel. Therefore, owing to these developments, the view of Iran with its growing offensive capability as an irrevocable threat has been the common rhetoric of all the Israeli governments that followed Rabin in office,” Maher writes.

Now more than ever, Israel will hype the Iranian threat to keep its ties with the Gulf countries, especially after the outbreak of the latest Palestinian Intifada. The so-called Iranian threat is an opportunity for Israel to keep its Gulf allies since they fear Iran’s regional hegemony as well. A unified Arab and Muslim front might pose a tremendous threat to Israeli existence. Thus, ironically, the fragile nuclear deal works in the best interest of Israel.

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