According to a report from Axios, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has ordered a review of Israel’s Iran policy that is to be concluded before his first meeting with President Biden, which is expected to take place later in July.
Like his predecessor Benjamin Netanyahu, Bennett is an Iran hawk and opposes a US return to the Iran nuclear deal, known as the JCPOA. But Israeli sources told Axios that there is a debate within the Israeli government if the current situation is better or worse than if the JCPOA was revived.
“There are several questions in the discussions — is the current treading water better or worse than a US return to the deal, if and how Israel can influence the Biden administration, and what the current situation means for developing an Israeli military option,” an unnamed Israeli official told Axios.
The report said one thing Bennett wanted to do differently is to avoid public clashes with the US over the JCPOA. Netanyahu took a confrontational approach with the Obama administration when the deal was negotiated in 2015, but it did little to advance Israel’s interest, and the JCPOA was signed. With that being said, Bennett is not shy and has made his opposition to the Biden administration reviving the deal known.
Since the Biden administration entered indirect JCPOA talks with Tehran in April, Israeli officials have made veiled threats about possibly attacking Iran if the deal was revived. Israel also carried out a covert attack against Iran’s nuclear facility in April to sabotage the talks, and it appears that Israel’s covert campaign against Iran is continuing under Bennett.
Bennett took office on June 13th. On June 23rd, a building owned by Iran’s nuclear authority near Tehran was targeted in what was initially reported as a drone attack. At first, Iran downplayed the incident, but on Tuesday, Tehran formally accused Israel of being involved and admitted that some damage had been done. While nothing has been confirmed, considering Israel’s history of covert attacks inside Iran, there’s little doubt Israel was responsible.
Despite Israel’s covert attacks hampering JCPOA negotiations, the US has not condemned these actions. But Biden officials have had harsh words for Iran’s reaction to these attacks. After the April incident at Natanz, Iran started enriching some uranium at 60 percent, which is still well below the 90 percent needed for weapons-grade.
Even though it’s Israeli actions that caused Iran to take this step, Israeli officials point to the increased enrichment as evidence that Tehran is racing towards a bomb. But if enrichment levels were truly Israel’s concern, Israeli officials would favor a revival of the JCPOA since the deal limits Iran’s enrichment to 3.67 percent and makes Tehran’s nuclear program subject to the most stringent inspections in the world.
Even though the JCPOA has strict limits, Israel argues that it is a path to a nuclear-armed Iran since the deal does not last forever. But that ignores the fact that after the JCPOA, Iran would still be bound by the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which Israel refuses to sign due to its secret nuclear weapons program.