As discussions of a nuclear agreement with Iran continue, U.S. relations with its Middle Eastern allies may be fraying. Michael Doran assesses Israeli leaders’ recent protests against Biden’s maneuvering; a misbegotten attempt by the White House to shore up support in Saudi Arabia; and the significance of Iran’s recent hostage release—an attempt to pave the way toward a deal. He concludes that “any expectations that the agreement will moderate the regime are a pipe dream.”
As the parties to the Iranian nuclear deal iron out its final details, unease in Jerusalem grows. Barak Ravid of Axios reported last week that, in response to an Iranian demand, President Biden was considering reversing President Trump’s designation of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a foreign terrorist organization. The news elicited a storm of protests from Israel, including from Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid. “Unfortunately,” Bennett wrote in a statement released on his Telegram channel, “we see the determination [of the Americans] to sign the nuclear deal with Iran at almost any cost, including saying of the world’s largest terrorist organization that it is not a terrorist organization. But this cost is too high.”
Does this statement mark a turning point in relations between the Bennett government and the Biden administration? In general, this Israeli government has bent over backwards to avoid publicly attacking Biden’s Iran policy. In private, it has made its feelings known, albeit diplomatically. For example, last December, when Israel’s Defense Minister Benny Gantz came to Washington, he proposed an alternative policy. “What I told them,” Gantz explained to a group of Israeli journalists, “was that Iran has bad cards [to play] at the moment, and the economic situation there is difficult. Therefore, there is room for international pressure—political, economic, and also military—so that Iran can stop its fantasies about the nuclear program.”
Applying pressure across all fronts simultaneously to convince Iran to abandon its nuclear program—sound familiar? It should. Under the name “maximum pressure” President Donald Trump adopted precisely that policy. But in Israel today “maximum pressure” is the approach that dare not speak its name, because Team Biden will take offense.