Without Trump and Netanyahu, there is no blocking an Iran deal – analysis

Written by on June 3, 2021

The cementing of a coalition deal between Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid not only appears to end Benjamin Netanyahu’s prime ministerial reign, but it also removes the last major thorn in the side for those seeking to return to the JCPOA Iran nuclear agreement.

Former US president Barack Obama set a precedent In 2015 when he pushed for and signed the deal with the Islamic Republic, causing a reordering of the balance of power in the region.

Cooperation or at least detente with Iran was in play, the importance of the Saudi Arabia-Gulf states alliance was diminished, and Israel’s options to act against Tehran were restricted.

There were many twists and turns, but the next major turning point came in May 2018, when former US President Donald Trump pulled the US out of the JCPOA, and the ground shifted once again.

The ayatollahs were more isolated than ever, a window opened for the formulation of the Abraham Accords, and this brought with it security cooperation that allowed Jerusalem to covertly hit Iran on a nearly unprecedented scale. The change was engineered by many, but the two most prominent actors were Trump and Netanyahu.

Trump was voted out in November, and assuming the Bennett-Lapid coalition gains the confidence of the Knesset next week, Netanyahu will now be gone too.

The Gulf states still oppose a return to the JCPOA, and a Bennett-Lapid government with Benny Gantz as defense minister and Gideon Sa’ar as one of the new administration’s policy architects will also have issues with such a return.

But Gantz, Sa’ar and Lapid are all on record as slamming Netanyahu for opposing the US’s policy of returning to the JCPOA. It is still unclear what Bennett’s position will be.

But even if Bennett feels the same as Netanyahu, he will be prime minister of a new government where he will have to consider the attitudes of Gantz, Sa’ar and Lapid on defense issues far more than Netanyahu did with his ministers.

No doubt a Bennett-Lapid government will communicate its concerns to the US about holes in the JCPOA. Some also think that Iran Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has not yet made a final decision on whether he wants to return to the deal.

But the most likely scenario is that everyone will return to the deal in the coming weeks, quite possibly before the June 24 deadline when without a deal, IAEA inspections will end.

Some will see this as a defeat because Netanyahu knew how to translate his own public criticism of the JCPOA into some gains in talks with the US and among Gulf states.

Some may consider this a positive move, because US-Israel relations may be less rocky if Israel’s leaders make their concerns known behind closed doors.

Of course, the return to the JCPOA would probably have happened even with Netanyahu in office. But with him and Trump out of the way, a return to the deal appears far more likely, and if it is sealed, it will have a major influence on regional actors’ behavior, including what Israel will be able to do to counter Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

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