Developments in the Middle East are throwing a curveball at President Joe Biden — fast and hard.
On Friday, the people of Iran will go to the polls to elect a new president — one almost guaranteed to put the administration in a bind over Biden’s hopes to rejoin the Iran nuclear deal.
Iran’s Guardian Council, which vets candidates, has allowed seven hardliners to run in the election, according to the U.K. Guardian, virtually eliminating the possibility that the country’s next president will support the Obama-era agreement.
In a December commentary piece for Foreign Policy, Iranian journalist and Middle East analyst Saeid Jafari noted that Iran’s hardliners “opposed signing the deal long before outgoing President Donald Trump withdrew from it in May 2018.”
They’d almost certainly continue violating the agreement by continuing to enrich uranium far beyond the limits it set.
The ideal option for the Team Biden — rejoining the Iran deal before the election, while reformist Hassan Rouhani was president — didn’t happen. Thus, they’re going to have to give a lot more to get back into the agreement.
The Biden administration’s desperation to rejoin the deal will be complicated further by the resolution of another election — or four of them, rather. After a quartet of elections over two years didn’t produce a stable coalition, Israel’s Knesset on Sunday narrowly approved a new government by a 60-59 vote, according to The New York Times.
This ends the 12-year government of now-former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a staunch opponent of the Iranian nuclear deal.
The prime minister position will now be held for two years by Naftali Bennett, a former top aide to Netanyahu. After two years, current Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, a veteran Israeli politician, a former journalist who served as Israel’s finance minister in 2013 and 2014, will take over the for the remainder of the four-year term.
This would ordinarily be seen as a positive development for the Biden administration in terms of its hopes for an Iran deal. Netanyahu was a hawk’s hawk on the issue, using his final speech to assail Iran. According to the Times of Israel, he also attacked Bennett on the matter, saying the new prime minister wouldn’t be able to stand up to Tehran or the Biden administration.
And, as The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board noted in a Sunday piece, “in a Biden Administration staffed with Obama alumni who personally dislike Mr. Netanyahu, the selection of the centrist Yair Lapid as foreign minister and alternate Prime Minister could smooth over diplomacy — a likelihood that couldn’t have escaped the notice of Israel’s political class.”
At least on the Iran nuclear deal, that doesn’t seem to be the case, however. Lapid threw the Biden administration what amounts to a brushback pitch by reiterating strong opposition to the nuclear deal — as well as voicing support for a series of diplomatic accords with Middle Eastern countries reached under the Trump administration.
“We have to work together as we face a new Iran deal. This is a bad deal and we are going to work with the prime minister,” Lapid said during a handover ceremony Monday, according to Israel Hayom.
“Israel will use every option at its disposal in order to prevent Iran from having a nuclear weapon.”
Lapid added he’d echoed these sentiments in conversations with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and French President Emmanuel Macron.
As for the Trump-era peace deals between Israel and Arab countries that were formerly open enemies:
“We will sign more agreements with additional countries,” Lapid said. “The Palestinian arena will define to a large extent what the other theaters will look like, and we have a lot to do to improve the living conditions of the Palestinians and to improve the dialogue.”
Don’t expect that to mean giving quarter to Hamas, however.
Referring to the terrorist organization — which also happens to be the political authority controlling the Gaza Strip — Lapid said, “The world does not always understand what we have to deal with; we have to make sure to the world that we face a terrorist organization that does not shy away from firing on children and schools. This government will retaliate without any hesitation. “
As The Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro pointed out in a Twitter post, the fact Netanyahu is out of power doesn’t necessarily mean a victory for the Israeli left. The divisive factor in Israel’s electoral gridlock wasn’t right-wing policies, Shapiro noted, but the personality of Netanyahu himself:
For those who follow Israeli politics, quick reminder: the right-wing currently holds 72 seats in the Knesset. They were just divided about Bibi personally. The center (Blue and White and Yesh Atid) holds 25 seats. The actual Left (Labor and Meretz) holds 13 total seats.
— Ben Shapiro (@benshapiro) June 14, 2021
“For those who follow Israeli politics, quick reminder: the right-wing currently holds 72 seats in the Knesset. They were just divided about Bibi personally,” Shapiro tweeted Monday. “The center (Blue and White and Yesh Atid) holds 25 seats. The actual Left (Labor and Meretz) holds 13 total seats.”
Thus, don’t expect a major shift in how Israel approaches the Iran nuclear deal — and the more peace agreements it makes with Middle Eastern countries, the harder it’s going to become for the Biden administration to hold to the original tenets of the Iran agreement, particularly as it didn’t deal with Tehran’s ability to wage conventional wars, often by proxy, or to provide support to terror groups like Hamas.
Blinken has tried to address this, publicly insisting sanctions levied against Iran that didn’t specifically have to do with its nuclear program wouldn’t be lifted if the United State rejoined the deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
“I would anticipate that, even in the event of a return to compliance with the JCPOA, hundreds of sanctions remain in place, including sanctions imposed by the Trump administration,” Blinken told a Senate hearing last week, according to the Times of Israel.
“If they are not inconsistent with the JCPOA, they will remain unless and until Iran’s behavior changes.”
However, Iran has demanded all sanctions be lifted if it’s to comply with the strictures of the 2015 deal.
Given that a hardliner is a virtual certainty to win the Iranian presidential election on Friday and the new Israeli government doesn’t seem particularly willing to alter its stance on the deal, the Biden administration’s window to rejoin the JCPOA is narrowing precipitously.
It’s just as well. The Iran deal was a poxed agreement that allowed a rogue government to build up their conventional forces while kicking the nuclear can down the road by simply delaying Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
Biden and his team have been embarrassing the country in the lengths they’ll go to rejoin it. If the decision to not be a party to it has to be made for them, so much the better.
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