US President Joe Biden’s expected signing of an amended nuclear deal with Iran presents Israel’s new government with a strategic dilemma. It essentially has two options: to adhere to the policies of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who ruled out an agreement with Iran, which would include even a partial lifting of sanctions, or to adopt an approach of ‘if you cannot defeat it, joins in ‘by working with the Biden government and trying to stop the holes it identifies in the emerging agreement.
At his first meeting with his US counterpart Antony Blinken on June 27, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid indicated the direction the new government could take. “We believe the way to discuss these differences is through direct and professional discussions, not through a press conference,” Lapid said. This is exactly the opposite of the aggressive campaign Netanyahu launched against the 2015 agreement, when he turned down the Obama administration’s offer to participate in the consultations before concluding the agreement.
The agreement, which limited certain terms to ten to 15 years, was not perfect. However, some senior Israeli defense officials have insisted that it is much better than none at all, as it forces Tehran to give up enriched uranium it has stored and accepts a regime of unprecedented inspections of its facilities.
Netanyahu went behind Obama’s back to mobilize Congress against the 2015 agreement, but failed. The agreement was signed. Netanyahu took advantage of the close relationship he forged with President Donald Trump and the Republicans afterwards and played an influential role in the 2018 US withdrawal from the agreement. And what did Israel get out of this, apart from the anger and frustration of the other signatories – Russia, China, the United Kingdom and France?
Elected President Biden gave an answer to this question in December 2020, a few weeks before he entered the White House, declaring that the opposition to the agreement with Iran would deliver the opposite result than the opponents who preferred it. ‘[Iran] increased the ability for them to have core material. “They are moving closer to the ability to have enough material for a nuclear weapon,” he said.
Biden’s criticism of Trump in January 2020 for pulling the US out of the Iran deal can also be read as criticism of Netanyahu. Biden said during a rally in Nevada that “everything that happened in Iran and Iraq in recent weeks was walked away by Trump from a nuclear deal in 2018 that enjoyed strong international support”.
Of course, Netanyahu does not acknowledge his resounding failure in an area that has been his claim to fame as ‘Mr Security’ for years. From the opposition benches of the Knesset, he continues to incite against US efforts to renew the nuclear deal with Iran. He breathes a sigh of relief at Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Lapid, who accused him of damaging Israel’s security interests by promising to warn the US in advance of any military action against Iran.
“If there were no surprises, we would not be able to destroy the reactor in Iraq,” Netanyahu said, referring to the 1981 Israeli bombing of an unfinished nuclear reactor near Baghdad. He also suggested that the US repeatedly ask him for such a commitment, but he refused.
On his first day in office, Lapid said one of his first tasks would be to rehabilitate Israel’s ties with the Democrats. He followed this up with Blinken during their meeting on June 27 in Rome. “In the last few years, mistakes have been made,” Lapid told Blinken. “Israel’s dual position has been hurt. We will correct these errors together.
A breakthrough in negotiations between the US and Iran will force Bennett to make a decision on whether to go “with the flow” or risk double problems – with the US and other world powers, and with Lapid and the center’s left partners at home. The Biden government has made no secret of its efforts to nurture relations with Israel’s new government.
Israel’s prime ministers have always insisted that ‘all options are on the table’ as far as Iran’s nuclear program is concerned. In other words, Israel does not rule out an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. When the occupant of the Oval Office is a rational leader who wants to resolve conflicts peacefully, rather than a loose cannon, such an option is not really an option.
On the other hand, if negotiations go through, not because of Israel’s opposition, and Iran one day succeeds in acquiring nuclear weapons, an Israeli air force attack will squadron to the nuclear facilities under a supporting international umbrella.
Netanyahu’s double failure – the acceleration of Iran’s nuclear program and the crisis in relations with the Democrats – should teach Bennett an important lesson. Israel cannot defeat the USA. Even if it wins, it eventually loses.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial attitude.