You are here

Maximum pressure programme

Dec 22,2021 - Last updated at Dec 22,2021

Israeli politicians in and out of power continue to promote the fictitious Iranian nuclear threat as a means to secure advantage over rivals. Contradicting the politicians, some Israeli generals and senior intelligence figures argue that former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu wrongly convinced Donald Trump to withdraw from the 2015 agreement limiting Iran’s nuclear programme in exchange for lifting sanctions.  

They argue that Trump’s pull-out has enabled Iran to achieve significant progress in enriching uranium to 60 per cent purity above the 3.67 per cent allowed by the deal, create larger  stockpiles of enriched uranium than permitted and develop more advanced centrifuges than specified.  

To make matters worse for governments seeking to keep track of Iran’s programme, Tehran has curbed the activities of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors so the agency can no longer monitor all aspects of Iran’s programme.  

The chief architect of Israel’s strategy to “defang” Iran was former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu who adopted it while in the opposition from 2006-09 and continued to promote it after he returned to power. His aim was to convince the US and to a lesser extent Europe that Iran is determined to destroy Israel once it weaponises nuclear energy. He conducted his campaign at the UN General Assembly, in the US Congress where Israel has overwhelming influence, and during diplomatic world tours. His objective was — and remains — to pressure the US to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities on its own or in partnership with the Israeli air force.  

Israel was prepared to mount strikes on Iranian facilities in 2012 when they were fewer and more vulnerable than now.  However, in the US Barack Obama entered the White House in January 2013 and hard-line Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was replaced by moderate Hassan Rouhaniin that summer.  These two leaders were behind the 2015 nuclear deal. While Netanyahu stepped up efforts in Congress — to the extent of criticising and embarrassing Obama — US president preferred deal-making to the risks of bombing in this volatile region. 

Today Israel’s generals argue they cannot take out Iran’s more numerous and deeply buried nuclear sites without more tanker aircraft to refuel their bombers and bunker-busting bombs. They would also need enough time to mount multiple strikes on each key Iranian facility without risking defensive action by Iranian anti-aircraft fire and ground-to-air missiles.  To attack, Israel would need the muscle of the US.  Consequently, Israelis have to make do with cyberattacks, sabotage and assassinating Iranian scientists, angering Tehran but inflicting partial harm on a temporary basis.  

Meanwhile, Israel, under Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, pressures the Biden administration, which has pledged to return to the deal, to build on Trump’s “maximum pressure” programme designed to sink the Iranian economy. 

As the talks on rescuing Iran’s nuclear deal recommenced in Vienna, senior Israelis stepped up their efforts.  Shalom Lipner, writing on the Atlantic Council’s website, described the verbal blitz. Bennett warned US Secretary of State Antony Blinkin that Iran is “carrying out nuclear blackmail as a negotiating tactic”, and urged the US to end the talks and take unspecified “steps” alongside other major powers.  On the same day, Mossad chief David Barnea declared, “Iran will not have nuclear wepons — not in the coming years, not ever.  This is my promise.”  As follow up, President Isaac Herzog, who has been portrayed as a dove, stated, “In the case of a failure to achieve a comprehensive diplomatic solution, Israel is keeping all options on the table.”  Warning

that since it will not be a party to any deal reached in Vienna, Israel reserves the right 

to act on its ownagainst Iran. 

It is ironic that nuclear Israel is threatening non-nuclear Iran while the international  community, as usual, blames Iran for the slow pace of negotiations rather than the US which committed the original sin of withdrawing from the agreement in 2018 and slapping 1,500 sanctions on Iran.

Lipner summed up, “It is evident that a potent mix of policy, personality, and politics is driving this defiant discourse” at a sensitive time in the Vienna talks. 

In the view of this correspondent, Israel continues to follow Netanyahu’s failed policy because he remains the chief opponent of the current coalition government which does not dare to abandon a failed policy, allegedly, designed to keep Israel secure.  The invented threat also distracts the Israeli public from the country’s existential domestic problems: Growing inequality between rich and poor, the deepening division between religious and secular Jews, never ending COVID, increasingly hostile relations with the Palestinians, and the disaffection of diaspora Jewish communities due to Israel’s settler-colonial expansion. 

Bennet does not have the personality to compete with Netanyahu, who not long ago was crowned “king of Israel” because he was the longest serving prime minister.  By enlisting Mossad chief and president in the campaign against Iran, Bennett seeks keep his diverse coalition together and show that divided Israel stands united on Iran and its, so far, non-existent nuclear weapons ambitions. 

Bennett is using Israel’s sanctified “security” to corral the right, left and Palestinian factions in his eight-party coalition, which has a majority only one in the 120-seat Knesset. No faction can afford to dispute Israel’s need for “security” although it is the sole nuclear power in the region and the regional military hegemon.  

He and his colleagues have also become concerned about the shifting regional dynamics since Baghdad engineered four rounds of talks between rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran which were followed bya meeting between their diplomats on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.  Having “normalised” relations with Israel, the UAE has sent its intelligence chief to Tehran in a  bid to “normalise”ties with Iran as well.  Jordan, the UAE and Saudi Arabia have promoted “normalisation” with Iran’s ally, Syria with the aim of healing decade-old regional rifts and competition for influence.  Thelast thing Israel wants to see is the reemergence of a solid 

Arab front which has mended relationswith Iran by backing the revival of the nuclear deal and is ready to reestablish diplomaticties and commercial relations with Iran.  

52 users have voted.

Add new comment

This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
1 + 1 =
Solve this simple math problem and enter the result. E.g. for 1+3, enter 4.


Get top stories and blog posts emailed to you each day.