“ISRAEL WILL NOT ALLOW IRAN to achieve nuclear weapons and will continue to act methodically against Iran’s attempts to militarily entrench on our borders.” So spoke prime minister Netanyahu at last week’s Israeli cabinet meeting.
Was this simply another attempt by Netanyahu to deflect attention from his own woes? His current trial for breach of trust, fraud and bribery and a growing opposition in the Diaspora against unilateral annexation of part of the West Bank must logically be a pre-occupation. Perhaps.
Indeed, Netanyahu’s comment came as the first shipload of Iranian oil to Maduro’s Venezuela arrived. Iranian media promoted the proud notion that “we are two revolutionary nations which will never kneel before US imperialism”. It would be wrong to believe that the ayatollahs’ regime is a saintly victim of a devious Netanyahu and a deranged Trump.
Netanyahu’s decade-long opposition to Tehran achieved success in May 2018, when the US pulled out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), agreed with Iran. This kept the level of uranium enrichment down to meet civilian needs in exchange for a relaxation of crippling economic sanctions.
Britain and other European states did not renounce the JCPOA accord and many companies were subsequently granted a waiver by Washington. Last week the Trump administration waived the waiver and demanded a tightening of sanctions. Netanyahu told his cabinet that it was now time “for the international community to join the US and reimpose paralysing sanctions on Iran”.
Many who opposed the US renunciation of the agreement understood its flaws but believed that it should be reformed, but not abandoned. The agreement essentially separated out Iran’s nuclear program, which would be monitored, from its use of conventional weapons – which would continue as before.
For the last 30 years, Iran has pursued a military drive to create a Shi’ite crescent from Mashad near Turkmenistan to Lebanon on the shore of the Mediterranean. The architect of this new Persian empire was Qasem Soleimani, killed in a US drone strike in January. This long-term plan was greatly enhanced by the US invasion of Iraq which empowered Iraqi Shi’ites and Putin’s rescue of the Alawite regime in Syria. This enabled Soleimani to create a land corridor from Teheran to the Israeli settlements on the Golan Heights.
With Iranian military bases near Damascus, augmented by Hezbollah’s missile arsenal on Israel’s northern border and Hamas’s Qassam rockets on its southern border, IDF head Aviv Kochavi recently predicted that if there was a conflict in 2020, it would be against Iran and its proxies.
Trump’s recent desire to desert the Kurds, fighting courageously in Syria, indicated that the US could easily dump Israel if the president felt that the special relationship with the country began to compete with his overriding interest of ‘America First’.
Israeli military forces have regularly attacked Iranian bases in Syria without formally admitting to such actions. There have been more that 50 deadly sorties. Convoys carrying Iranian arms to Hezbollah in southern Lebanon is a particular target for the Israelis. Iranian technicians have been upgrading Hezbollah’s missiles so they strike with greater accuracy.
After his return to power in 2009, Netanyahu proposed an attack on nuclear facilities in Iran. Leading figures in the Mossad and the Shin Bet strongly opposed Netanyahu’s instructions. They were supported by the then new head of the IDF, Benny Gantz, who told Netanyahu that it would not be a walkover and described Iran’s leaders as “very rational people”.
This potential war was defused by the late Sultan Qaboos of Oman who had good relations between both Iran and Israel. Indeed, his diplomacy led to the JCPOA accords between the Obama administration and the ayatollahs.
There has, however, been a low-lying clash between Israel and Iran. In August 2018, Aziz Asbar, a leading Syrian missiles expert, was killed by a car bomb in Masyaf, where military research and development is carried out in conjunction with the Iranians. He had been collaborating with Soleimani to begin the production of precision-guided missiles by retrofitting heavy Syrian SM600 Tishreen rockets.
At the end of April, Israeli sources attributed a cyberattack on water treatment stations and sewerage plants in Israel to Iran. The attack, it appears, attempted to raise the level of chlorine administered to treat drinking water. Israel responded by a cyberattack on the port of Shaid Rajaee in the Gulf of Hormuz. Traffic was held up for long periods and ships were unable to unload for three days.
The Iranian economy is in a parlous state due to the US sanctions. Oil exports have dropped 90% and inflation has reached 35%. Iran has asked the IMF for a loan of US$5billion. Many from within Iran have reported that the official figure of just over 8,000 dead from the coronavirus pandemic is in fact many times higher. The regime wants to ensure that its much-weakened economy does not shut down completely.
The desperate situation of many Iranian citizens who feel abandoned by its government, has led to suggestions of bizarre remedies for the coronavirus. Just as Trump promoted imbibing “disinfectant”, some Iranians believe that drinking alcohol is a cure – even though it is contrary to Islamic religious beliefs.
The Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA) has warned the regime that it, too, is no longer complying with the JCPOA agreement. Teheran has withheld information and refused access to certain sites to IAEA inspectors. It has responded to the tightening of sanctions by slightly raising the enrichment percentage of uranium, but clearly not enough to make nuclear weapons.
Yet the ayatollahs could certainly abandon this diplomatic dance by proceeding at a furious pace to enrich uranium to 90%, a weapons grade necessity. Like most of the world, Teheran to waiting to see what happens in the US election in November. The hope is that a President Biden will emerge to resume meaningful relations with Iran – and if this comes to pass, then the acquisition of a nuclear bomb will certainly be helpful to Tehran in any negotiations.
Plus 61J 16 June 2020