Israel has shifted gears as western and Iranian negotiators suggested that a new nuclear deal might be finalized in the coming days based on a draft proposal by the European Union.
Although it may be too late to derail finalization of the deal, the Israeli government hopes to have some sway on its content. The terms have not yet been made public, but media reports painted a concerning picture for Israel.
“We will do everything we can to influence the agreement,” Israel’s Defense Minister Benny Gantz said on Tuesday during a meeting of his National Unity party.
Gantz confirmed that Israel has been in contact with the United States and other countries over talks to restore the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) agreement.
"Israel will know how to maintain its freedom of action if necessary,” he added.
Gantz will head to the U.S. to meet with defense officials at CENTCOM headquarters in Florida and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan in Washington, his office said.
Israel’s alternate-Prime Minister Naftali Bennett also warned against a dangerous deal and called on the U.S. to resist caving in to Iranian demands.
“I call on President Biden and the American administration to refrain, even now at this last minute, from signing the agreement with Iran,” Bennett said in a statement.
“This agreement will send approximately a quarter of a trillion dollars to the Iranian terror administration's pocket and to its regional proxies, and will enable Iran to develop, install and operate centrifuges, with almost no restrictions, in a mere two years,” he added. “Throughout the past year, even when it was very close, we successfully convinced our White House counterparts not to give in to Iranian demands. I hope this will remain the case.”
He also noted that because Israel is not a signatory, it “is not committed to any of the restrictions stemming from the agreement and will utilize all available tools to prevent the Iranian nuclear program from advancing.”
Bennett’s remarks came after the E.U.'s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said on Monday that he hopes the U.S. will respond positively as early as this week to a final draft proposal that he has put forward to restore the 2015 JCPOA. Iran has already given its answer, which Borrell deemed as a “reasonable response.”
The sides are now waiting on Washington.
An unnamed senior U.S. official told Reuters on Monday that some major hurdles in the negotiations were lifted as Iran has dropped some of its key demands.
“If we are closer today, it's because Iran has moved. They conceded on issues that they have been holding onto from the beginning,” the official said.
One such issue that Iran has reportedly walked back entails the terror designation of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). The other has to do with the demand to close ongoing investigations by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) into unexplained traces of uranium.
In a briefing on Wednesday with foreign journalists, Israel’s Prime Minister Yair Lapid called the deal a “bad one.”
“On the table right now is a bad deal. It would give Iran a hundred billion dollars a year. This money will not build schools or hospitals. This is a hundred billion dollars a year that will be used to undermine stability in the Middle East and spread terror around the globe. This money will fund the Revolutionary Guards. It will fund the Basij who oppress the Iranian people. It will fund more attacks on American bases in the Middle East. It will be used to strengthen Hezbollah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad.”
He also echoed Bennett's words that the deal “does not obligate Israel. We will act to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear state.“
Overall, the Lapid-Bennett strategy has been quiet diplomacy vis-à-vis Washington while refraining from publicly attacking the Biden administration for engaging in talks with Iran.
On the other hand, former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered a fierce speech in 2015 before the U.S. Congress against the JCPOA and in defiance of then-President Barack Obama who signed the agreement.
If a nuclear deal is restored during Lapid’s tenure as prime minister of a transitional government, Netanyahu may enjoy a boost in his campaign ahead of the Nov. 1 elections.
Tal Heinrich is a senior correspondent for both ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS. She is currently based in New York City. Tal also provides reports and analysis for Israeli Hebrew media Channel 14 News.