The Israeli government’s latest attempt to sabotage negotiations over the nuclear deal with Iran has failed. Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility suffered a significant attack on April 11 that caused a blackout and destroyed or damaged hundreds of centrifuges. The Israeli government carried out the attack in the hopes of derailing the talks in Vienna that had started only the week before, but the attack has backfired on them. In response to the Israeli attack, the Iranian government announced that it would be increasing its enrichment of uranium to 60% purity, but the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei also said that negotiations with the U.S. and the other parties to the nuclear deal would continue. Oddly enough, the Israeli attack may have provided Iran with extra leverage in the negotiations, and it has further discredited the Netanyahu government’s objections to a successful nonproliferation agreement.
Like the Israelis’ murder of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh last year, the attack on Natanz was an act of aggression that just underscores the importance of restoring the nuclear deal. As long as the US remains outside the agreement, that will give destructive spoilers the incentive to prevent a US return to full compliance. That makes it imperative that the Biden administration lift all reimposed and Trump-era sanctions so that the saboteurs are not rewarded. If the US can’t or won’t rein in its reckless client, the very least it can do is not allow the client to dictate US policy.
The Israeli government’s decision to be so openly hostile to U.S.-Iranian diplomacy has managed to isolate Israel and it has called new attention to the glaring hypocrisy of their complaints about the JCPOA and Iran’s nuclear program. For the better part of the last twenty years, Israeli leaders have warned about possible Iranian proliferation that never happens while they remain proudly outside the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and possess a nuclear arsenal with an estimated 90 warheads and enough fissile material for another 200. The real rogue nuclear-weapons state in the region has been the one sounding a false alarm about Iran’s nuclear program. Then it opposed a diplomatic solution that resolves the nuclear issue to the satisfaction of everyone else. As if that weren’t bad enough, it has also been conducting terrorist attacks against Iranian scientists and it has been sabotaging Iranian infrastructure in a bid to trigger a conflict.
The open secret of hawkish opposition to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) is that Iran hawks have never really cared about Iran’s nuclear program. The nuclear issue has been a convenient one for them to demagogue so they can justify punitive measures that the hawks already wanted to take. This is the reason why the Israeli government under Netanyahu has been so determined to stoke fears about an "Iranian bomb" while doing everything in its power to undermine the diplomatic agreement that ensures that Iran will never have nuclear weapons. The nuclear issue has to be kept alive to scare other countries. Resolving the issue through diplomacy is unacceptable to them because that would allow Iran to resume normal ties and commerce with the rest of the world. It is critical for the Israeli government to make it seem as if Iran is the one threatening them when it is Israel that is regularly attacking Iran, and they pretend that the nuclear deal is inadequate as a pretext for keeping Iran isolated and under crushing sanctions no matter what.
Iran has so far refused to take the bait by responding in kind to Israel’s attacks. This reflects the calculations of a pragmatic government that continues to honor its pledge not to develop nuclear weapons despite being given several reasons over the last decade to reconsider that position. Iran has been remarkably patient in remaining a party to an agreement that has yet to provide it with any concrete benefits. If Iran had been intent on acquiring nuclear weapons, it could have done so by now. The US and the other governments represented at the Vienna talks ought to consider the possibility that the Iranian government’s repeated insistence that they don’t want these weapons may be genuine. We should welcome Iran’s willingness to cooperate on this issue, and we should be rewarding them for saying yes to the restrictions that go well beyond what they were required to do by the NPT.
Nothing terrifies Iran hawks more than a reduction in tensions between the US and Iran, and the Israeli government needs to keep the US and Iran at odds to keep itself relevant as a client. They all stand to lose if the US reenters the JCPOA and Iran obtains the sanctions relief that it was promised six years ago. We should expect Israel to launch more attacks to blow up the nuclear deal and possibly provoke a regional conflagration. If the Biden administration wants to succeed in its diplomacy with Iran, it will need to ignore Israeli complaints and it will need to start condemning Israeli attacks that are aimed at sabotaging US policy.
Daniel Larison is a contributing editor and weekly columnist for Antiwar.com and maintains his own site at Eunomia. He is former senior editor at The American Conservative. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.