An Iran-IAEA deal?/ Iran and Israel-UAE normalisation

Aug 28, 2020 | AIJAC staff

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Grossi speaks during a press conference with Head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization Ali-Akbar Salehi in Teheran, Iran August 25, 2020 (photo: WANA/ALI KHARA VIA REUTERS)
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Grossi speaks during a press conference with Head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization Ali-Akbar Salehi in Teheran, Iran August 25, 2020 (photo: WANA/ALI KHARA VIA REUTERS)

Update from AIJAC


08/20 #04

This Update looks at the implications of both the inspection deal reportedly reached Wednesday between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency(IAEA), and of Iran’s reaction to the Israel-United Arab Emirates (UAE) normalisation agreement two weeks ago.

First up, discussing the IAEA-Iran inspections arrangements, is Yonah Jeremy Bob of the Jerusalem Post. He notes that, while Iran’s agreement to allow the IAEA to inspect two suspect nuclear sites might seem like a win for Jerusalem because it was Israel that exposed these sites through the captured Iranian nuclear archive, in fact, Israeli authorities remain cautious about it.  He discusses the reasons – including that the inspections come very late, after Iran has had ample time to clean up the sites in question; that some past IAEA inspections of suspect sites have been merely symbolic with Iran actually collecting the samples used; and because Israel is hoping for increased pressure on Iran to address more fundamental issues, especially the serious flaws in the JCPOA nuclear deal, and the inspections could reduce that pressure. For all the details of Bob’s analysis of the IAEA-Iran deal and Israel’s reaction to it,  CLICK HERE.

Next up is academic expert Doron Itzchakov of Bar Ilan University looking at the reasons for the vehement Iranian reaction to the Israel-UAE normalisation agreement. Itzchakov says the deal causes concerns for Iran on two levels – it suggests a strengthening alliance developing which will challenge Iran’s bid for regional hegemony, and it also damages Teheran’s ability to control discourse within Iran among the increasingly restive population. He argues the regime’s revolutionary ideology requires a demonised adversary to justify its rule, and normalisation with Israel sends the message that other Muslim countries do not view Israel as an enemy to be destroyed, as Teheran insists Islam demands. For the rest of Itzchakov’s argument,  CLICK HERE.

Finally, Michael Oren, a former Israeli Ambassador to Washington and also a distinguished historian, offers some lessons from the Israel-UAE deal for the world’s broader relationship with Iran and its rogue behaviour. He argues that it was only by abandoning the flawed 2015 JCPOA nuclear deal with Iran, which was distrusted across the region, that the US gained the leverage and trust to broker Israel-UAE normalisation. He says the Obama Administration’s twin goals of advancing both Israel-Arab peace and a problematic nuclear deal with Iran were actually fundamentally incompatible – and that further progress on the Israel-Arab front is dependent on a strong American stance on containing Iran. For Oren’s explanation why this is so, based on his own experience as Israel’s representative in Washington,  CLICK HERE.

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What does the Iran-IAEA nuke deal mean?


Radio silence from Israel, despite Mossad achievement

Jerusalem Post, AUGUST 27, 2020

It would seem that Israel and the US achieved a major win in the Iran nuclear standoff on Wednesday when the Islamic Republic finally gave in regarding inspectors’ access to two disputed nuclear sites.

The sites came to the fore thanks to the Mossad’s January 2018 raid of Iran’s secret nuclear archive.

Israel’s spy agency and the US eventually transferred information to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which – after its own extended delay – led the UN nuclear watchdog to demand access from Tehran.

If the Mossad’s efforts ultimately led to the IAEA getting tough with the ayatollahs, and Iran blinked after a half-year standoff, how come no one in Israel is popping champagne?

In fact, following the surprise announcement of an IAEA-Iran deal (only about a month ago, IAEA director-general Rafael Grossi was threatening the Islamic Republic with unprecedented harsh language), there was complete radio silence in Israel.

The Prime Minister’s Office and the Intelligence Ministry declined to comment. The Foreign Ministry repeatedly alluded to potentially commenting, but as of press time on Thursday, it apparently still had not figured out what to say.

While getting access to the two disputed sites was better than not, there were multiple major concerns precluding any celebration, sources in the defense establishment and government indicated off the record.

First, with regard to the specific issue of IAEA access to the sites, the sources said it was too little, too late. The IAEA should have been given access to these sites already in mid-2018 when the agency was informed about them, they said.

Instead, IAEA director-general at the time, Yukiya Amano, sat on the issues for an extensive period, ostensibly to check the information’s veracity.

However, being that the information came directly from Iran’s own secret archive, many in Israel interpreted Amano’s delay as an attempt to placate Tehran and potentially give it time to remove any incriminating material from the sites in question.

Next, even once the IAEA started demanding access, it took months before it publicly criticized Iran in March for noncompliance. It was not until the end of June that the IAEA Board of Governors voted to condemn Iran’s noncompliance for the first time in nearly a decade.

In other words, so much time has passed that Israel assumes Iran has long since sanitized the sites and is partially agreeing to access now because everything has been covered up.

But this is only part of the answer since after the June IAEA vote, several Israeli officials made high-profile statements supporting the agency’s condemnation of Iran.

The bigger picture is that Israel is looking for effective restrictions on the ayatollahs’ nuclear program. A vote condemning Iran and potentially threatening UN Security Council action could help achieve that goal.

Israel does not merely want inspectors to have “anytime, anywhere” access to Iranian nuclear sites. It also wants to extend the 2015 nuclear deal’s restrictions beyond their expiration dates, limit Iran’s ballistic-missile testing and support of terrorism in the region and to halt its progress with advanced centrifuges that can speed up the process of enriching uranium for a nuclear bomb.

In contrast, a deal limited to just these two sites does not address any of the other fundamental issues.

It is also possible that one reason Iran agreed to provide access at this point is that it has just successfully routed the US twice at the UNSC – once regarding the conventional-arms embargo issue and a second time with the US attempt to snap back global sanctions.

With these much-bigger diplomatic victories over the US, Tehran may feel more comfortable in showing flexibility on the relatively technical and narrow issue of access to these two nuclear sites.

When the attention was on Iran withholding access, the nuclear standoff could be framed as the rogue Islamic Republic playing another game of concealment with the international community and might have led to a more general rally against the ayatollahs.

Put differently, the IAEA-Iran dispute had regained the diplomatic high ground for Israel and the US to focus on: What is Iran hiding?

If Iran is no longer hiding anything, this path of diplomatic attack has run its course at the same time that Tehran has won much bigger victories and may be close to outlasting US President Donald Trump.

There are also some remaining technical objections. Iran also was supposed to resolve questions surrounding nuclear material the Mossad found for the IAEA at Turquzabad, and it was unclear from the deal how or when this would be addressed.

Also, some IAEA visits have been timid and symbolic, with Iran collecting samples “on behalf” of inspectors, and the deal did not reveal how or when access would be given

But Israel unquestionably is more worried about whether this deal signals a reduction of pressure on Iran on the big-ticket issues than it is about any of the specific details involved.

Iran and the Israel-UAE Deal

By Dr. Doron Itzchakov

BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 1,704, August 21, 2020

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: The peace agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates presents the Iranian regime with dilemmas on both the foreign and the domestic front. The regime fears the emergence of a new international alliance that will have greater power to contain its hegemonic regional aspirations, and there is a new urgency to the need to prove to the Iranian people that the government’s imperialist foreign policy works to their benefit.

Iranian Parliament Speaker Muhammad Bakr Qalibaf: The UAE-Israel normalisation  agreement is “despicable and a betrayal of human and Islamic values.”

The condemnations in the Iranian media of the nascent Israel-UAE peace agreement are hardly surprising. The regime’s leadership is covering its embarrassment and apprehension with a stream of defamation and threats. Parliament Speaker Muhammad Bakr Qalibaf called the agreement “despicable and a betrayal of human and Islamic values,” while President Rouhani warned the UAE leaders “not to open their gates” to Israel. (An interesting exception to this pattern was the statement of former MP Ali Motahari, who tweeted, “Apart from the betrayal of UAE rulers, the blame was also on us for scaring the Arabs and pushing them into Israeli arms”.)

Israel’s rapprochement with the Gulf state is raising concerns in Tehran for a number of reasons. First, the regime fears that an alliance comprising Israel, the Gulf States, and other countries, supported by Washington and Riyadh, would be a serious roadblock in the path of Iran’s goal of regional hegemony. A multinational system of that kind would strengthen its constituent members not only on the security level but also on the economic, commercial, and cultural levels—a worrisome prospect for Tehran.

The prospect of such an alliance is particularly troubling to the regime at a time when its regional status is declining. Recent events in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon have negatively affected Tehran’s ability to promote its “axis of resistance” in the region. Its status in Iraq has been weakening since the October 2019 uprisings, a pattern that gathered new momentum after the killing of Qassem Soleimani in January 2020. The deep crisis now engulfing Lebanon and the Hague’s conviction of a Hezbollah member for the assassination of PM Rafiq Hariri do not contribute to Iran’s prestige. On top of all this, air strikes in Syria are severely hampering the regime’s attempts to turn the country into a front line against Israel.

Another element of the Israel-UAE deal that is causing discomfort for the Islamist regime is the problem of how to control discourse on the subject among the Iranian general public. The leadership is finding it difficult to explain the emerging ties between Israel and Muslim countries to its citizens. It is defaulting to the traditional pattern of labeling those states traitors to Islamic values and the Palestinian cause. Both Iran and Turkey are leaning on the Palestinian issue as a propaganda tool to advance their status in the Muslim world.

This message is not getting the traction it once did among ordinary Iranians. The educated social stratum in Iran does not buy the argument that normalization with Israel is a betrayal by definition. Compounding this problem, more and more Iranians are expressing the view that the regime’s investment of resources in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon, and Gaza comes at their expense. In an indicator of this trend, the slogan “Not for Gaza, not for Lebanon, I’ll sacrifice my life only for Iran” is heard more and more at Iranian protests and online.

The regime has been working since its inception in 1979 to inculcate an adversarial framework in the minds of the Iranian people, but it may have overplayed that hand. A large proportion of Iranian society has come to realize that that framework, promoted at the direction of the Supreme Leader, is intended first and foremost to ensure the survival of the Islamist regime—and the regime’s interest does not coincide with the people’s interest.

From the mullahs’ point of view, the Israel-UAE agreement is a painful blow because it sends a message that Muslim countries not only do not view Israel as an enemy that must be destroyed but view it as a potential partner for mutual prosperity and security. The Iranian people, unlike their leadership, do not believe Egypt, Jordan, and now the UAE are traitors to Islam.

The foreign policy of the Iranian leadership is designed to strengthen extremists at the expense of the welfare and prosperity of the country’s own citizens. The regime has no intention of altering this policy, and will continue to threaten other countries in the Persian Gulf that might be considering a similar rapprochement with Jerusalem. It is possible that Iran will now concentrate its efforts on harassing oil tankers anchored in UAE ports.

Ever since its establishment, the Islamic regime has worked tirelessly to spread its revolutionary ideology throughout the Muslim world. This has caused tensions with countries across the Persian Gulf, including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE, and Iraq (during the reign of Saddam Hussein). This rivalry was one of the key factors leading to the formation of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in 1981. The GCC’s official goal was to strengthen and stabilize the Gulf principalities by tightening their security and economic ties. They were brought together largely by their collective fear of revolutionary Iran.

According to media reports, Bahrain is likely to be one of the next Gulf States to advance its ties with Israel. There too, Iran’s subversion of Bahrain served as a catalyst for the Khalifa family to establish ties with Israel.

Bahraini Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa: Iranian subversion in Bahrain has angered the ruling al Khalifa family, making them likely to be the next state to seek normalisation with Israel.

Bahrain’s demographic structure is 70% Shiite, which rendered it, in the eyes of the Iranian regime, fertile ground for the advancement of its revolutionary worldview. As early as December 1981 the “Islamic Front for the Liberation of Bahrain” tried and failed to overthrow the ruling monarchy and establish an Iran-backed theocratic regime, and in 1996 the Bahrain authorities uncovered another attempt by Tehran to overthrow the regime and replace it with a theocracy according to the Velayat-e Faqih model. Iran accompanied these subversive activities with “soft power” measures and support for opposition organizations, and it trained militants in the emirate.

The Iranian revolutionary model has been a threatening and destabilizing factor in the Middle East for decades. The greater Iran’s hostility toward the countries in the region, the greater the likelihood that they will eventually come together in some way to oppose it.

The formation of alliances among countries experiencing a common threat is not a new phenomenon in the Middle East. This was true six decades ago, when the Iranian monarchy felt threatened by the spread of Arab nationalism led by Gamal Abdel Nasser, and it is true today. The expression “The enemy of my enemy is my friend” is as valid today as it ever was, despite attempts to throw that realpolitik model into the so-called dustbin of history.

Revolutionary ideology relies by definition on the demonization of the adversary as a means of justifying its path and values. The survival of a revolutionary regime depends, to a large extent, on its ability to sustain such thinking in the minds of its citizens. The Israel-UAE deal makes it much harder for the Iranian regime to justify an imperialist foreign policy that comes at the expense of the Iranian people.

Dr. Doron Itzchakov is a senior research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies and author of the book Iran-Israel 1948-1963: Bilateral Relations at a Crossroads in a Changing Geopolitical Environment.

The UAE-Israel announcement proves the folly of warming to Iran

 by Michael Oren

CNN, August 23, 2020

US President Donald Trump announces the agreement of Israel and the UAE to a historic normalisation deal on August 13. 

(CNN) – The impending peace agreement between the United Arab Emirates and Israel is a game-changer for the entire Middle East.
In addition to wedding one of world’s wealthiest states (the UAE) with its most innovative (Israel), it also opens new avenues toward peace. Realizing that other Arab states may soon follow the UAE’s lead, and that time is no longer on their side, the Palestinians may well return to the negotiating table.
An Israeli public that is secure in its newfound relations with the Arab world will be more likely to make concessions. Stalemated for almost 30 years, the peace process might finally be revived.

More than its economic and diplomatic potential, though, the UAE-Israel accord is of immense strategic value. It signifies the emergence of a united Middle Eastern front against Iran. Such an alliance was necessitated by the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action — the Iran nuclear deal. Contrary to hopes that it would transform Iran into a responsible regional power, the JCPOA bolstered Iranian efforts to gain even greater power in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen, and support terror worldwide.

The JCPOA did not prohibit Iran from developing more advanced centrifuges, capable of swiftly enriching uranium and significantly reducing the time Iran would need to create a nuclear arsenal. Similarly, that agreement — which the US concluded along with the European powers, Russia, and China — did not compel Iran to cease developing technology that could be used to launch an intercontinental ballistic missile, capable of carrying nuclear warheads to Europe and the US, as experts worry they are doing under cover of a space program.

To more effectively defend themselves against such grave dangers, Israel and Sunni Arab states sought an open alliance.
For American policymakers, the peace process and the Iranian issue have always been inextricably linked. But while the previous US administration sought to defuse regional tensions through the nuclear deal, ironically it in fact created a UAE-Israel alliance in opposition to that plan.
Conversely, by abandoning the nuclear deal in 2018, the United States regained the leverage and the trust needed to broker the UAE-Israel breakthrough.
To many Americans, the goals of achieving Israeli-Palestinian peace and of broader reconciliation with Iran may still seem to be complementary. Many believed that reconciling with Iran could limit the threat that its Lebanese terrorist proxy Hezbollah poses to Israel, or that achieving an Israeli-Palestinian peace could give Iran one less reason to hate the Jewish state.
But from a Middle Eastern perspective, these two goals are fundamentally at odds. Striving for both, many of the region’s people would agree, is like fighting climate change while promoting the use of coal.

In retrospect, the belief that America could make Israelis feel more, rather than less secure, by striking a bargain with an Iran sworn to destroy them is mind-boggling. So, too, is the notion that Sunni Arabs would welcome an accord between their longstanding US ally and a rapidly expanding Shiite empire.

Dr. Michael Oren: Former Israeli diplomat and Knesset member, and a noted historian

Yet the simultaneous achievement of both peace and the nuclear deal were for years the twin goals of American diplomacy. During the Syrian civil war, Iran helped perpetrate the massacre and displacement of millions of Syrians, and it has bankrolled Hamas rocket attacks against Israel, for which a Hamas leader in Gaza thanked Iran publicly in spring 2019, as The Times of Israel reported. Secretary of State John Kerry mounted an intense peace initiative. But between 2012 and 2013, as Iran was engaging in such activities, Kerry was also conducting nuclear talks with Iran that began in secret, behind Israeli and Arab backs. That betrayal all but eliminated America’s credibility as a reliable mediator.
The signing of the Israeli-Emirati accord signals the restoration of American leverage. It is proof that the assumptions behind the 2015 Iran nuclear deal were flawed and that America’s 2018 withdrawal from it was well-founded.
It will enable to the United States to play a central role in the conclusion of additional peace agreements between Israel, Bahrain, Oman, and other Arab states and, potentially, to preside over renewed Israeli-Palestinian talks. A peace agreement based on creative formulas and close economic and strategic ties will be possible.
All of these potential historical developments are dependent, however, on continued American opposition to Tehran. No American who cares about ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should ever support the restoration of the JCPOA. No country promoting Arab-Israeli reconciliation should empower an Iranian regime committed to undermining those efforts, most often with violence.
If burning coal is incompatible with combating climate change, so, too, is seeking peace with a strengthening warlike Iran, and the UAE-Israel deal provides positive proof.

Michael Oren, formerly Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Knesset Member, and deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s office, is the author of “The Night Archer and Other Stories” (forthcoming, Wicked Son Press, 2020).

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