Lapid’s troubling outburst

According to the media outlet Politico Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid slammed European Foreign Policy Chief Joseph Borrel’s recent trip to Tehran aimed to revive the 2015 deal to curb Iran’s nuclear program known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)

Lapid stated “this (the trip) is a strategic mistake that sends the wrong message to Iran. Talking about the great potential in the Iranian context, while Iran is trying to murder Israeli citizens throughout the world and especially in Turkey, indicates a worrying lack of care for the lives of Israeli citizens.”  He reportedly added that Borrel’s “position was very disappointing, especially after the removal of the cameras and the condemnation [by the] IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] board.”

Lapid’s anger is a stark testimony to the shallowness of Israel’s understanding of the impact of its bellicose declarations and publicized military preparations on the international community. For example, both Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi recently stated that the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) greatly accelerated preparations to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities. It was further revealed that the Israeli Air Force (IAF) recently carried out a simulation of such an attack involving “ dozens” of planes and significantly upgraded its capabilities to carry such a mission.

In the wake of the war in Ukraine these declarations and actions must have unnerved the leaders of the European Union. Given the harsh Western sanctions imposed on Russia including on its oil and gas exports, European countries have embarked on a relentless hunt for alternative energy sources. In this respect reaching a new nuclear deal with Tehran which in all likelihood would include removal of the sanctions currently imposed on Iran will allow European countries to negotiate the importation of Iranian gas and crude. (Tehran is  presently pushing hard to sell itself as an energy and transit hub including via a network of regional pipelines.)

Israel’s ominous steps must have come at the worst time. An Iran-Israel shooting war would extinguish any European hope for a new nuclear deal and thus prospects for energy agreements with Iran. A conflict could also endanger tanker traffic through the Persian Gulf and cause shipping costs and energy prices to soar. Needless to say, minimizing the odds of such a nightmare dictates that a new nuclear deal with the mullahs be negotiated expeditiously.

The Israeli misreading of this inevitable diplomatic outcome is especially striking given that a starkly similar sequence of events had riled Jerusalem not too long ago. At that time Israel communicated, by word and deed, its intent to take military action against Iran’s nuclear sites. Apparently Washington was so alarmed by the signals coming out of Jerusalem that the Obama administration resolved to reach, almost at any price, a nuclear deal with Tehran so long as it blocks Israel.

Consequently, rather than working to terminate for good Iran’s nuclear progress the White House was looking for a diplomatic fix that will chiefly cut off Israel’s pathway to attack

In this Obama was quite successful. By deferring the date of Iran accumulating enough enriched uranium to cross the nuclear threshold Obama’s JCPOA deal  undermined any strategic rationale for Israel to attack. Moreover, by having the agreement backed by the world’s major powers, not to mention the UN Security Council, the Obama administration nullified any international legitimacy Jerusalem might have hoped for  if it acted militarily.

Indeed Obama was quite explicit about his motives. In August 2015, soon after the JCPOA was signed, he defended the deal saying: “Let’s not mince words. The choice we face is ultimately between diplomacy or some form of war. Maybe not tomorrow, maybe not three months from now, but soon.”

Then prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu was livid. He called the Obama nuclear agreement “absurd”, “ dangerous “ and a “ historic mistake.”

Now Israel must urgently examine two questions. First, given the Borrel mission and earlier the Obama administration’s diplomatic initiative the question arises as to whether the Israeli policy of issuing threatening statements and advertised military preparations results in more harm than good. If this policy is chiefly designed to deter Iran it must be admitted, that it has been less than a stellar success. True Iran has avoided crossing the nuclear threshold. Yet, despite a determined and largely successful Israeli covert war, Iran has and continues to make significant strides toward the bomb.

Second, whether intentionally or not the Israeli pressure campaign galvanized some in the international community to act to curb Iran. If this was a deliberate goal of the Israeli muscle flexing it is surprising that Lapid reacted harshly when the campaign actually realized its objective. It spurred European leaders (and previously Washington) to push hard for a nuclear agreement with Tehran so as to preempt the feared Israeli escalation. Is it possible that policy makers in Jerusalem still assume that foreign actors will only promote Israeli interests and ignore their own once they step in?

If, on the other hand, the activism of the international community is an unintended consequence,  Israel’s policy making is woefully uninformed and must undergo an urgent overhaul.

Either way Lapid’s angry reaction is worrisome in its implications as to the state of Israel’s national security decision-making.

About the Author
Dr. Avigdor Haselkorn is a strategic analyst and the author of books, articles and op-eds on national security issues.
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