Photographers and television cameramen watch a demonstration of a surveillance camera used in Iran during a press conference by Rafael Grossi, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on the current situation in Iran at the agency’s headquarters in Vienna, (photo: AFP)
Although the US administration seems undecided on the future of talks to revive the Iran nuclear deal, Israeli public statements are pushing for possible military action. The United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) condemned Iran last week for what it considered a failure to “fully answer questions for more than two years about the origins of traces of uranium found in several places inside the country”. Iran considered the IAEA board resolution to be politically motivated and announced the closure of surveillance cameras at nuclear sites that agency inspectors use to ensure that Iran s is committed to complying with the provisions of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
The IAEA investigation began four years ago after Israel said it stole half a ton of documents from Iran, supposedly proving Tehran was secretly violating the JCPOA, which was signed with the world powers in 2015. The deal was supposed to lead to the scaling up of Iran. end its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief. When former US President Donald Trump withdrew from the deal in 2018, Iran began to abandon its commitment to certain provisions.
The Joe Biden administration began a process to join the deal through talks in Vienna that began in March last year and went on for eight rounds without concrete results. Israel, and to some extent some Gulf Arab countries, are reluctant to revive the deal without addressing other issues like Iran’s missile program and its support for proxy militias in Arab countries.
Some see the IAEA’s fallout with Tehran, and subsequent strong statements by Western countries against Iran, as a pretext for further escalation. Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett seized the opportunity to raise the bar of rhetoric against Iran. Israeli media have highlighted the idea that Iran is only weeks away from producing weapons-grade enriched uranium.
Two weeks ago, Israel conducted a massive aerial exercise over the Mediterranean. Hundreds of military aircraft took part and the Israeli government said the exercise was intended to simulate a multi-pronged war with Iran. Citing possible preparations for an Israeli strike on Iranian nuclear facilities, the Israel Today news site reported this week that Israeli Air Force (IAF) engineers managed to design a system that eliminates the need to refuel his F-35 Adir stealth fighter mid-course. assignment. The site added: “The F-35 is a radar-invisible warplane that would be used in a future massive IAF airstrike against Iran’s nuclear facilities.” The engineers also “succeeded in placing a 1,000 kg bomb in the body of the thirty-six F-35s available to the Israeli Air Force”. Earlier this year, Israel had asked the US government for the expedited delivery of a modern tanker aircraft capable of refueling the F-35s in the air, “but President Joe Biden’s administration has refused to comply with this request”.
Some pro-Israel and Hebrew news outlets in the West, as well as Muslim Brotherhood sites and social media accounts, used Bennett’s visit to Abu Dhabi last week to propagate a claim that Israel “will attack the Iran and the Gulf Arabs will help him”. As the US Congress passed a resolution demanding that the US administration encourage cooperation between Israel and the Gulf countries to strengthen their defenses against Iran, some media outlets began talking about an “alliance against Iran”. .
Gulf sources have downplayed media reports of Israel’s so-called military alliance against Iran. A source told Al-Ahram Weekly that the timing of the Israeli prime minister’s visit to Abu Dhabi has nothing to do with rising tensions with Iran. The visit “focused on bilateral relations and a broad review of regional issues. It was not intended to convey messages to anyone in the region or beyond, apart from the established policy of the Emirates of seeking peace and security in the region,” he said. declared.
A veteran British political analyst, who has good contacts in the Middle East, described talk of a Gulf-Israel axis against Iran as a bit over the top. “Saudi Arabia, so far, is reluctant to fully normalize with Israel. Although the Crown Prince [Mohamed bin Salman] is for closer relations with the Israelis, there is a clear major benefit to going there now. Without the Saudis, the signatories of the Abraham Accord would get no further,” he told the Weekly.
Many commentators believe that Israel would not go so far as to strike Iranian targets without the US green light. The Americans are still reluctant to give the green light, as noted by the British analyst. He adds that “the traditional rule of American foreign policy is not to open two fronts of conflict at the same time. With the war in Ukraine and the West’s struggle with Russia, no one wants a Western ally like Israel to start another war in the Middle East. After Russia, the Americans are focusing on China. So Iran can wait.
The Israeli government could step up leaks about the strike on Iran and raise the official tone bar, as a means of covering up internal issues threatening a failing government and early elections. Some commentators note that Israel is already in more than a “cold war” with Iran. Within weeks, a colonel in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) was assassinated, accused by Israel of being involved in plots against its citizens abroad. Then two other IRGC officers also died in mysterious circumstances. Iran accused Israel and its agents of killing them. Iran’s Parchin military compound was also hit by a drone. There have also been numerous cyberattacks on both countries, which they blame on each other.
Whether Israel attacks Iran or not, developments over the past two weeks indicate that the Vienna talks will not resume any time soon. Iran does not seem willing to give in to pressure. As a Tehran Times editorial put it this week, “If the West continues its diplomatic pressure, the chances of reviving the JCPOA will diminish further.”
A version of this article appeared in the June 16, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.