The US-Iran Scenario That Most Scares Israel
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a series of threats toward Iran and its interlocutors in the West, including the US, as serious negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program seem more plausible.
As a possible rapprochement looms between the US and Iran, Netanyahu has attempted to impose impossible Israeli conditions on the negotiators, such as the full dismantling of Iran’s nuclear program, not to mention threatening military force.
Whatever the deal that could materialize between Iran and the West, Israel is going to find itself before an open-ended path. One can foresee three possible scenarios:
First: Negotiations begin and reach a deal that meets Israeli conditions. Second: Negotiations fail without reaching a deal between the parties. Third: A US-Iran deal is reached that does not take into consideration Israeli conditions, meaning, it does not lead to a complete dismantling of the Iranian nuclear program.
The first scenario, which would fulfill Israeli aspirations, is quite unlikely, something that Tel Aviv is well aware of. It is unlikely that Iran would enter negotiations under these conditions, and negotiators abandoned this scenario before they even started the negotiation process.
It remains for Tel Aviv to deal with the remaining two scenarios. Israelis are working to realize the first of the two remaining options – no deal reached between the parties – because it blocks any settlement in which the West would recognize Iran’s transformation into a possible nuclear power.
If diplomatic failure occurs, Israel would push the US toward a more inflexible position that would set the stage for more hardline options, ranging from harsher economic sanctions to military action. Several elements make this scenario possible, but it is difficult to tell at this point whether it is likely, since it is linked to the US ability to accept the official Iranian bottom line, namely, Iran’s right to enrich uranium on Iranian territory.
If the third scenario plays out – an agreement that meets the Iranian bottom line and reassures the US of limited nuclear capabilities – it would be a good deal for all parties involved, but bad for Israel. The sanctions would be lifted and Iran would get international recognition of the peaceful nature of its nuclear program.
For Israel, reaching a deal with Iran means the consecration of Iran as a state with future nuclear capabilities. Even if producing nuclear weapons is not a part of its strategy, the mere fact that it would be able to do so would carry strategic consequences.
Here, a fundamental question arises: In light of such an agreement, would Israel resort to the military option that Netanyahu waved from the platform of the UN General Assembly?
Surely, Israeli officials would not, at a time when the West is counting on negotiations, resort to a direct military option against Iranian nuclear facilities. Such an act would be directed as much toward the US and the West as it would be against Tehran. Besides, the Israeli military option is no longer a self-contained option able to effectively impact Iran’s nuclear capabilities. But it is an option that can be employed to drag others, like the US and the West, into a war with Iran.
Military escalation cannot happen before exhausting the path of negotiations, and that is assuming that a military option is possible even after negotiations prove unsuccessful.
Previous experience confirms that such threats, which in the past reached a level where Israeli military planes almost took off, never dampened Tehran’s resolve to carry on with its nuclear program, a point that Israeli commentators make both explicitly and implicitly.