Former Israeli official: Americans should not give Iranians leverage by easing sanctions

January 31, 2021 by Israel Kasnett -
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As the new Biden administration takes shape, Israeli leaders in recent days have been outspoken in their warnings about Iran and its pursuit of nuclear weapons, hinting at possible military strikes if the Islamic Republic continues its path towards nuclearization.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on June 16, 2016. Credit: David Azagury/U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv.

In what can be seen as a clear message to the United States, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned this week that Israel “will not allow Iran to arm itself with nuclear weapons.”

And in what was likely a coordinated move with the Prime Minister’s office, Israel Defence Forces Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi said he ordered the preparation of plans to attack Iran to prevent it from obtaining a nuclear weapon. He also urged the Biden administration against rejoining or renegotiating the 2015 accord.

Yaakov Amidror, a senior fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies (JISS) and a former Israeli national security adviser, said it is imperative for Israel to open lines of communication with the Biden administration in order for both sides to understand each other’s goals and red lines.

“The most urgent and important issue for Israel is Iran,” he said. “It is important for Israel to understand what the Americans have in mind.”

Indeed, on Jan. 27, Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi spoke with his counterpart, U.S. Secretary of State Tony Blinken, and before that, on Jan. 23, Israeli National Security Adviser Meir Ben Shabbat spoke on the phone with his American counterpart, Jake Sullivan.

“I am very satisfied that our national security advisers spoke,” said Amidror. “This is a very important channel.”

‘We know we have differences’

As part of an online call on Jan. 26 arranged by the Jewish Institute for National Security of America (JINSA), Amidror spelled out Israel’s top priorities today.

After Iran, other issues include the conflict with the Palestinians, China, how Israel maintains bipartisan support in the U.S. Congress and what the implications are of the reduction of U.S. involvement in the Middle East to the security of Israel.

Amidror said he is “basically very optimistic” about Israel’s ability to work with the Biden administration, though he admonished those “who are afraid to call the reality as they assess it.”

He noted there are democratic countries “in which leaders prefer to ignore reality because they are afraid that if they [do face it], they will be asked what to do and they don’t want to answer the question.”

“With this new administration,” he said, “we know we have differences, and we need to speak about a few priorities, starting with Iran. Some administration officials have said clearly they want to go back to the old agreement from 2015. We think it is a very bad agreement.”

Amidror addressed the Palestinian issue, emphasizing that “based on what was achieved in the last few years, there is a totally different Middle East,” he said, referring to new relations prompted by the Abraham Accords, which saw four regional Muslim countries sign normalization agreements with Israel.

“It is a different Middle East,” he stressed. “I don’t think the old notions and ideas will work.”

“We are facing a much bigger problematic issue,” he added. “Ideologically, for many liberals within the Democratic Party, the Palestinians are a symbol for what they believe needs to happen relating to the Middle East, and that cannot be accepted in Israel. What they have in mind cannot be accepted. It doesn’t matter who the Israeli prime minister is.”

While Blinken has said addressing the Palestinian issue would be a priority, Amidror noted that “the leadership of the Palestinians does not want to negotiate.”

“I am very pessimistic of the ability of anyone to bring the sides to negotiate because I saw many attempts by [former U.S. Secretary of State John] Kerry, [former U.S. president Barack] Obama and King Abdullah of Jordan. They did not succeed in bringing Abbas to the table,” he said.

‘This is about the existence of Israel’

Turning his attention back to Iran, Amidror said that Israel “is preparing to take all needed measures to stop the Iranians. Either by political means or by military means.”

“This is about the existence of Israel, and we cannot compromise,” he emphasized.

He said the Americans will “need to make a decision: Do they want to use the leverage that they have? Or compromise and try to negotiate without the leverage?”

“Americans should not give the Iranians leverage by easing the sanctions,” he said in answer to his rhetorical question.

“The Iranians are only willing to negotiate under pressure,” continued Amidror, noting that some Americans falsely believe that offering concessions to Iran by removing that pressure will achieve positive results.

Amidror noted that Iran’s strategy over the last few years “was to wait for the new administration, and if it is understood in Tehran that they need to behave, this is huge leverage that can be used by the Americans.”

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