An Israeli official who long voiced his country’s opposition to the Iran nuclear deal has warned the U.S. ally would consider a range of potential responses should President Joe Biden opt to rejoin the agreement.
“They know what our expectations are,” former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon told Newsweek. “They know what are the flaws of the agreement, we said it publicly in the past, I put it in front of the Security Council a few times.”
Danon, who was appointed to his post at the U.N. just a month after the nuclear agreement—officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)—was signed in 2015 and departed five years later, pointed to allowances for certain Iranian ballistic missile activities, limited uranium enrichment, continued support for regional militias and so-called “sunset clauses” that roll back selected restrictions against Iran as obvious shortcomings in his view.
“They are aware of these issues,” Danon said, “so the question is if they would put them aside and reenter the agreement, or would they put them as preconditions.”
He said the situation has only worsened in the past five years, and, if the U.S. goes for the former choice, then Israel would have tough decisions to make toward Iran.
“The Iran of 2021 is not the Iran of 2016. Today, they are in a much more advanced condition, unfortunately,” Danon said. “If the U.S. would decide to re-enter the agreement as it is, Israel will have to recalculate regarding the Iranian nuclear race, so you know in the past we raised our options, and I’m sure we will bring them up again.”
IDF Chief of Staff Lieutenant-General Aviv Kochavi said late last month that he had “ordered the Israel Defense Forces to prepare a number of operational plans, in addition to what we have already, and we will develop them over the next year” in response to indications that the Biden administration might rejoin the JCPOA.
“It will be the government, of course, who decides on implementing them,” Kochavi said at the time, “but these plans have to be ready, they have to be on the table and they have to be documented.”
Israel has a history of taking out nuclear programs with force in Iraq and Syria in past years, and is suspected to have been behind both the Stuxnet virus that attacked Iranian centrifuges along with a series of assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists, including Mohsen Fakhrizadeh last November.
Iranian Armed Forces spokesperson Brigadier General Abolfazl Shekarchi dismissed Kochavi’s remarks as “psychological warfare,” but issued a stark warning in response to the message from Israel, which is widely believed to have a covert nuclear arsenal of its own.
“If even the slightest mistake is made, we will level Haifa and Tel Aviv in the shortest possible time,” Shekarchi said in comments then carried by the semi-official Tasnim News Agency.
Flaring tensions, especially since the U.S. exit from the nuclear accords, have plagued the Middle East, with the U.S., Israel, Iran and the Arab World at the center.
While other issues such as the Palestinian peace process and the series of Arab-Israeli normalization agreements known collectively as the Abraham Accords were leading issues for the bilateral relationship between the U.S. and Israel, Danon said Iran topped the list and was an “urgent” affair to tackle.
But before the Biden administration acts, Danon suggested the P5+1 format involving JCPOA parties China, France, Germany, Iran, Russia, the United Kingdom and the U.S. be expanded to include Middle East countries, some of whom—like Israel and Saudi Arabia—have been critical of the nuclear agreement.
Iranian officials have also called for regional security talks, especially regarding the Persian Gulf, though they have been extremely critical of the U.S. and Israel’s regional moves in the region.
A day after Iran was discussed during Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu‘s first post-Inauguration Day phone call on Wednesday, the new U.S. administration issued a series of important decisions regarding Iran.
Following Secretary of State Antony Blinken‘s talks with his European counterparts who remain in the JCPOA, State Department spokesperson Ned Price revealed that the U.S. “would accept an invitation from the European Union High Representative to attend a meeting of the P5+1 and Iran to discuss a diplomatic way forward on Iran’s nuclear program.”
The announcement was the strongest sign yet of U.S. engagement from the Biden administration, which has maintained that Iran must first reinstate its own strict enrichment limitations before Washington considered returning to the JCPOA. Such measures were suspended as a result of U.S. sanctions, which have a promised revitalization of Iranian trade ties abroad.
Iranian officials, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, have said all steps away from the nuclear deal would be reversed if all other parties came back into compliance. Khamenei has also issued a religious ruling banning nuclear weapons, something he and other officials say the country has never sought.
Still, the U.S., Israel and European signatories of the nuclear deal have all expressed that Iran should never be allowed to obtain a nuclear weapon, though all sides differ as to how to enforce that.
In another sign of potential movement on the JCPOA, the State Department also on Thursday reportedly rescinded the Trump administration’s demand for the U.N. Security Council to institute “snapback” sanctions, effectively killing the deal, and also lifted Trump-era restrictions imposed on Iranian diplomats posted to the Iranian permanent mission to the U.N. in New York.