The United States and Israel do not agree on how to approach a renewed Iran nuclear deal, but the message US Secretary of State Antony Blinken brought with him on a visit to Israel on Sunday is that the two allies are in full agreement on what matters most. “When it comes to the most important element, we see eye to eye,” said Blinken in comments published by the US State Department. “We are both committed, both determined that Iran will never acquire a nuclear weapon.”
Blinken’s statement—delivered in a joint press conference with Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid—comes as the major world powers inch closer in talks in Vienna to a new agreement with Iran that Israel believes is critically flawed. And also on Sunday, Blinken’s Israeli counterpart made that divergent view clear in his comments.
“We have disagreements about a nuclear agreement and its consequences, but open and honest dialogue is part of the strength of our friendship. Israel and the United States will continue to work together to prevent a nuclear Iran,” said Lapid according to the State Department recap. “At the same time, Israel will do anything we believe is needed to stop the Iranian nuclear program. Anything. From our point of view, the Iranian threat is not theoretical; the Iranians want to destroy Israel. They will not succeed. We will not let them.”
One area of debate is whether or not the US should remove Iran’s powerful quasi-military Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) from the US list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations. While the US has not publicly committed to making that concession in order to revive the nuclear deal with Iran, it is a demand from Iran and Israel is adamantly opposed to it.
According to an Israeli recap of Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s meeting with Blinken, the Israeli leader “reiterated the Israeli position on the Vienna talks and the nuclear agreement and emphasized Israel’s opposition to removing the IRGC from the list of terrorist organizations (the FTO).” Earlier on Sunday, in the Israeli cabinet meeting, Bennett was more forceful, calling the idea that the IRGC be removed from the FTO “very disturbing and not just to us. We are still hoping and working toward preventing this from happening,” according to a recap of the comments from his office.
While Bennett was muted in voicing that opposition to the idea in the public press conference with Blinken—saying Israel is “concerned about the intention to delist the IRGC”—he reiterated his request that the Americans consider the region when approaching the issue.
“[The IRGC’s] proxy, the Houthis, just this weekend carried out a horrific attack on Saudi Arabia. I hope the United States will hear the concerned voices from the region, Israel’s and others’, on this very important issue,” Bennett told Blinken, according to a US State Department recap of the joint comments.
Blinken, for his part, gave the US line in his comments with Lapid that the IRGC is also covered by other terrorist-related designations—indicating the US is downplaying the proposal as just a downgrade in terrorist designation, not a removal. Nonetheless, he also reiterated to Bennett that there is “no daylight” between the US and Israel on their commitment that Iran must never obtain nuclear weapons, regardless of what comes of the talks to restart the Iran nuclear deal.
“Deal or no deal, we will continue to work together and with other partners to counter Iran’s destabilizing behavior in the region, as indeed we’ve seen most recently in the Houthi attacks against civilian infrastructure in the United Arab Emirates and in Saudi Arabia—acts of terrorism enabled by Iran,” said Blinken.
The nuclear talks with Iran also come against the backdrop of the Russian conflict in Ukraine. While on the one hand lifting sanctions on Iranian oil would appear to be a key interest of the US and Europe to alleviate surging oil prices due to the war in Ukraine, Blinken used the Russian nuclear threat as another reason why Iran cannot be permitted to acquire the bomb.
“Russia’s aggression against Ukraine is another reminder of why this is so important: An Iran with a nuclear weapon or the capacity to produce one on short notice would become even more aggressive, and would believe it could act with a false sense of impunity,” warned Blinken. He stated it is the US belief that resuming “full implementation” of the Iran nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, is “the best way to put Iran’s nuclear program back in the box that it was in.”
The US withdrew from the JCPOA back in 2018 under previous President Donald Trump due to concerns the accord was inadequate to address the Iranian threat and as Iran used the economic benefits of the deal to bolster its malignant activities in the region. After the US withdrew from the accord, the Iranians retaliated by walking back restrictions on their nuclear program and have now made disturbing progress towards the nuclear fuel needed for a nuclear bomb. The current administration of US President Joe Biden believes restarting the flawed JCPOA would rein in the threat, but Israel has continued its public opposition to elements of the deal, warning against making a deal at too high a price.
Despite the disagreement, Blinken made it clear that “one way or another, we will continue to coordinate closely with our Israeli partners on the way forward.”
Said the US top diplomat, “This cooperation is essential because, beyond its nuclear efforts, Iran continues to engage in a whole series of destabilizing activities across the region and beyond—indeed, those activities have also multiplied since our withdrawal from the JCPOA—via proxies and by Iran itself… The United States will continue to stand up to Iran when it threatens us or when it threatens our allies and partners, and we’ll continue to work with Israel to counter its aggression—its aggressive behavior throughout the region.”
In his comments with Blinken, Lapid was aligned in another way with the American: The Iran threat is a joint concern.
“Regarding the Iranian issue, Iran is not an Israeli problem,” said Lapid. “The world cannot afford a nuclear Iran. The world cannot afford for the Iranians’ Revolutionary Guard Corps to continue spreading terror around the globe.”
(By Joshua Spurlock, www.themideastupdate.com, March 27, 2022)