Confronting Iran after the U.S. Withdrawal from the Nuclear Deal

June 14 2018

Identifying four different paths Tehran could take in response to Washington’s decision to jettison the 2015 nuclear agreement, Amos Yadlin and Ari Heistein recommend possible Israeli and American courses of action for each. In the two bleaker scenarios, the Islamic Republic would resume the production of highly enriched uranium that had ceased when negotiations with the Obama administration began or, worse, simply try to make a bomb. Yadlin and Heistein write:

In [the former case], the United States and Israel, in order to avoid an unintended war while still preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, would need to demarcate a clear red line that Iran’s nuclear program would not be allowed to cross. . . . [T]he red line should not focus only on enrichment levels but also on the enrichment of large quantities of uranium to a low level or spinning a large number of centrifuges, two alternative routes that could bring Iran within a short breakout period to the bomb.

And then, there’s the worst-case scenario. Iran may adopt an extreme response to the change in U.S. policy by leaving the nuclear deal and the Nonproliferation Treaty, [which Iran signed in 1968 and has not renounced], and then breaking out to a bomb. That would raise the chances of military confrontation.

Military action to prevent the ayatollahs from acquiring a nuclear weapon would have much broader diplomatic support than in the previous scenario—in the U.S. as well as Europe. However, Israel would be well-advised to note that President Trump’s explicit promise to reduce U.S. involvement in the Middle East makes him less likely to order U.S. forces to strike. In this case, Israel would probably find itself acting alone, albeit with a “green light” and support from Washington. Israel would have to consider exercising the Begin doctrine, which calls for preventing any regime that seeks to wipe it off the map from acquiring nuclear weapons. . . .

The key for Israel, in such a scenario, would be finding ways to avoid further escalation. . . . But a surgical strike could actually provide a middle ground between inaction and escalation to full-scale war. And if Israel can obtain full-fledged and public support from Washington and endorsements in private from the Sunni Arab leadership, it may be able to deter Iran from retaliating and escalating the conflict.

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More about: Iran, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security, Menachem Begin, U.S. Foreign policy

No, Israelis and Palestinians Can’t Simply Sit Down and Solve the “Israel-Palestinian Conflict”

Jan. 17 2019

By “zooming out” from the blinkered perspective with which most Westerners see the affairs of the Jewish state, argues Matti Friedman, one can begin to see things the way Israelis do:

Many [in Israel] believe that an agreement signed by a Western-backed Palestinian leader in the West Bank won’t end the conflict, because it will wind up creating not a state but a power vacuum destined to be filled by intra-Muslim chaos, or Iranian proxies, or some combination of both. That’s exactly what has happened . . . in Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. One of Israel’s nightmares is that the fragile monarchy in Jordan could follow its neighbors . . . into dissolution and into Iran’s orbit, which would mean that if Israel doesn’t hold the West Bank, an Iranian tank will be able to drive directly from Tehran to the outskirts of Tel Aviv. . . .

In the “Israeli-Palestinian” framing, with all other regional components obscured, an Israeli withdrawal in the West Bank seems like a good idea—“like a real-estate deal,” in President Trump’s formulation—if not a moral imperative. And if the regional context were peace, as it was in Northern Ireland, for example, a power vacuum could indeed be filled by calm.

But anyone using a wider lens sees that the actual context here is a complex, multifaceted war, or a set of linked wars, devastating this part of the world. The scope of this conflict is hard to grasp in fragmented news reports but easy to see if you pull out a map and look at Israel’s surroundings, from Libya through Syria and Iraq to Yemen.

The fault lines have little to do with Israel. They run between dictators and the people they’ve been oppressing for generations; between progressives and medievalists; between Sunnis and Shiites; between majority populations and minorities. If [Israel’s] small sub-war were somehow resolved, or even if Israel vanished tonight, the Middle East would remain the same volatile place it is now.

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More about: Hizballah, Iran, Israel & Zionism, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Middle East