As negotiations in Vienna to revive the nuclear deal continue, Israel is toughening its rhetoric against Iran and insisting on its stance against signing the JCPOA. The pact, first reached in 2015 during the Obama administration, ironed out the differences between Washington and Tehran after Iran's nuclear programme was halted. A détente that Israel interpreted as a threat to its regional interests and national security.
In view of the return to dialogue, where there is some room for the agreement to be reissued, Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz told the Hebrew newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth on Thursday that Israel "is preparing for a possible conflict with the Islamic Republic" in order to halt its nuclear programme. Gantz predicted that the talks would fail, a scenario in which Israel and the rest of the world would have "no choice but to act against Iran", he said.
The minister's remarks come a week before the start of a diplomatic tour that will take him to the US, France and the UK. In these countries, which are signatories to the JCPOA, Gantz will hold a series of meetings with senior security officials and lobby against the nuclear deal with Iran, to which Israel is not a party. In Washington, the defence minister will hold a meeting with his US counterpart, Lloyd Austin.
Naftali Bennet's government has called on the signatory powers to break the terms of the agreement, referring to the report presented by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The UN agency recorded an increase in Iran's production of enriched uranium in more sophisticated centrifuges. In this regard, the Israeli prime minister argues that Iran 'practises nuclear blackmail as a negotiating tactic', and that a strong response is necessary.
Israel is trying to scuttle the negotiations at all costs. The Israeli government's view is crystal clear: no matter the content of the agreement, Iran will continue to enrich uranium and develop its nuclear programme. For this reason, the Jewish state is defending a forceful response outside the margins of dialogue with the ayatollahs' regime, a hard line first set by former President Trump, who met the Israeli demands expressed at the time by Benjamin Netanyahu.
The Republican unilaterally withdrew the US from the JCPOA in 2018, in line with Israel's postulates, leaving the five signatory powers, the UK, France, China and Germany, in the lurch. In this context, Iran restarted its nuclear project in earnest, reaching unprecedented levels of development in its history. A roadmap that it uses to exert pressure on its interlocutors in the Austrian capital.
Three years later, now without 'Bibi', but with Natfali Bennett at the helm, Israel's position on the matter remains unchanged. The Mossad was involved in the assassination of the Iranian 'Oppenheimer', Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, as well as in other operations to sabotage their nuclear facilities in cyberspace. A strategy of harassment in which he had the fierce backing of the Trump Administration.
The arrival of Biden turned the tables. The Democrat served as vice president during Obama's term in office, and promises to follow in his footsteps in relations with the Islamic Republic. Hence his priority to revive the nuclear deal, although for the time being he is not holding direct talks with the Persian delegation in Vienna. Whatever happens, Israel will remain Washington's main partner in the region, despite less cooperation than a year ago.
Thursday saw the fourth session of the seventh round of talks in Vienna, which are expected to continue in the coming weeks. Tehran's demands focus on the lifting of sanctions and the elimination of trade barriers, which have hampered the economic development of a country once again hit by the COVID-19 crisis. However, the Islamic Republic has not stopped its nuclear programme, and continues to generate scepticism among its interlocutors. Scepticism that Israel seeks to exploit.