Israel’s Military Campaign Makes Iran More, Not Less, Likely to Negotiate with the U.S.

September 12, 2019 | Steven A. Cook
About the author: Steven A. Cook is the Eni Enrico Matte senior fellow for Middle East and Africa Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. His most recent book is False Dawn: Protest, Democracy, and Violence in the New Middle East (Oxford University Press, 2017).

During a single week in August, Jerusalem attacked military installations belonging to Iran and its proxies in Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq. It seems to have struck Iraq again since then. Rejecting the explanation that these strikes are a cynical attempt by Benjamin Netanyahu to rally support in the weeks before an election, as well as the claim that they somehow make the Islamic Republic more combative, Steven A. Cook argues that such effective military operations increase Tehran’s willingness to compromise—perhaps far more than American economic pressure.

Earlier in the summer—before the Israelis stepped up their operations—the Iranians were busy sabotaging shipping in the Persian Gulf, shooting down an American drone, and seizing a number of tankers transiting the Strait of Hormuz. Now they are believed to be inching toward talks with the United States.

Of course, there are several reasons why the Iranians may be showing some new flexibility—the Iranian economy’s continuing struggle under sanctions being chief among them. That is certainly pressure, and perhaps they fear the consequences for internal stability [and thus] they are looking for some relief in the way of negotiations. It is certainly plausible; crippling sanctions brought the Iranians to the table before, producing the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Still, it seems it is the combination of sanctions and Israeli military prowess that may . . . cow the Iranians into talks.

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