Netanyahu will Cry a Diversionary ‘Wolf’, but Will He be a Solo Aria?

Netanyahu knows he’s under a powerful magnifying glass in Washington. How then can a ‘liberal’ Biden Administration contend with the overt and even swaggering elimination of Palestinian rights?

The western press, in its recent hyping of Iran being on the cusp of social revolution, signals not so much any real expectation of social unrest in Iran, but reflects that which Biden said explicitly (earlier this month): When a woman asked Biden to announce that the JCPOA is dead, he replied “No”; “It is dead, but we are not gonna announce it”.  When she asked ‘why?’, he replied: “For a lot of reasons. Long story”.

Resurrecting the JCPOA was a key Biden campaign promise. Now that that’s ‘dead’, there needs to be a fresh narrative. So, now we have it: the US focus has pivoted to supporting Iranian women protestors (never mind that reducing the issue of the hijab to such a black and white story-line is a fraud — the issue of the hijab and social change in Iran is much more complicated and nuanced).

So, where then is US policy towards Iran truly headed? This is very pertinent, since preserving JCPOA ambiguity (‘it’s dead but we won’t say so’) is likely to have a short half-life. Because a crisis in US-Israeli relations appears inevitable. This is the inexorable logic arising from the composition and nature of Netanyahu’s far-right government.

The US-Israeli divide across a range of foreign policy issues already is wide. But primordially, the incoming Israeli government openly threatens confrontation with the Palestinians — and “Annexation”.  The ‘mask of apartheid is off’:  “If one is to take what members of the new government say, “Israel” is about to de-facto annex most of the West Bank. It will expand settlements, legalize rogue semi-settlements, gradually decrease security cooperation with the Palestinian Authority, and inevitably broaden friction with the Palestinian people. You don’t have to endorse or believe in the viability of the “two-states” model to understand how reckless and escalatory this will be”.

“By creating the conditions of a non-contiguous and ungovernable Palestinian entity, any future resolutions of separation and sovereign disassociation will be rendered unfeasible. There won’t be any “peace process,” nor a semblance of a diplomatic process or any Israeli initiative”, as one former Israeli diplomat writes.

Netanyahu knows he’s under a powerful magnifying glass in Washington. How then can a ‘liberal’ Biden Administration contend with the overt and even swaggering elimination of Palestinian rights? Even to try to nuance what Netanyahu ministers are saying about Palestine would cause huge damage to Biden’s standing across the rest of the world — on a par with the image of his ‘fist-bump’ with MbS.

Here is where the JCPOA ‘death’ intersects with the more politically toxic apartheid reality threatening Netanyahu’s relations with Team Biden.

Ok, so the JCPOA is ‘off the table’ and Iran — already a nuclear threshold state, and now subject to western regime-change machinations — will respond to these regime-change machinations by moving further along the ‘threshold’ glide path, amassing more enriched, and more highly-enriched uranium — albeit still without transiting to weapons status.

This gradual movement nonetheless, ultimately shortens the so-called ‘breakout time’ (an artificial device denoting the time to move from threshold to weapons capability). It was promoted by Team Obama as the metric by which to reassure uncertain allies on the substantiality of the JCPOA framework (by insisting that breakout would never be allowed to exceed one year). It may have started life as a device, but it is one that has become embedded in the JCPOA story.

The US seems quietly ‘ok’ with Iran ‘sitting pat’ at ‘threshold status’ — even if it is a tad uncomfortable to admit such in Washington. (The Biden administration, at this time, is much more concerned with North Korea mounting a nuclear warhead on one of its intercontinental ballistic missiles).

But, were Iran to shift to 90% enrichment, plus deepen its military alliance with Russia, Washington nevertheless will feel pressured to review options (as “Israel” and its lobby in DC shouts about a shortening ‘breakout timeline’).

How does this intersect with the toxic Palestinian issue being inserted into the new Israeli agenda? It connects because Iran is Netanyahu’s signature cause — it always has been. Iran is the issue to which Netanyahu may, with some certainty, be predicted to return — in order to distract from rifts his far-right government’s Palestinian actions may stir in Washington.

Netanyahu may threaten to act militarily against an already ‘threshold’ Iran. His team already says an Israeli strike on the Iranian nuclear facilities is being contemplated.

But, on Iran, Netanyahu has little or no credibility in Washington. He has been singing this song of the existential threat from Iran – hoping to whip-up military action by the US against the Republic for a very long time.  He advocated it in March 2009 after being returned to office (but was rigorously opposed by his own Mossad Chief, Meir Dagan, and head of Shin Bet, Yuval Diskin). He was at it again in 2018, after successfully pressuring Trump to quit the JCPOA.

Netanyahu undoubtedly suffers from a serious credibility deficiency in Washington. The latter has become weary of his line:  “This is 1938 all over again and Iran is Nazi Germany.

So, what options might the Biden Team pursue, were Netanyahu to try to distract from a Washington crisis over his domestic West Bank agenda? The earlier versions of Netanyahu, by the way, were ‘softer’ — until 2019, that is, when Netanyahu stood trial on corruption charges.

Prior to this judicial moment, as PM, he flirted constantly with audacity, but mostly acted cautiously. He was never seen as particularly courageous. No doubt, Netanyahu thinks he can finesse any Biden ‘pushback’: “Joe and I go back 30 years”. Maybe — but his corruption trial makes him fully hostage to his coalition (on which he entirely relies to stay out of prison).

So, if Netanyahu faces severe Washington tensions arousing from his government’s Palestinian stance — which simple flattery will not chase away, and counters these pressures by a diversionary hyping of the Iranian ‘threat’ — how might Biden retaliate?

One way – paradoxically – might be for the US to re-engage Iran and resume JCPOA talks. Yes, it sounds perverse. Of course, there would be all hell raised by Tel Aviv, amid complaints and threats.

In short, Team Biden might decide to play: ‘You mess us; we’ll mess you’. We’ll re-engage with Iran: Suck on that!  (Stranger things have happened.)

Washington’s has a stronger hand than many may realise. Iran’s development of its military capabilities (smart missiles; swarm drones and perhaps hypersonic missiles) have transformed Iranian deterrence. Any Israeli attack on Iran could mean all-out war in the region. Iran today has been enlisted into the Russia-China military structures. Iran will shortly receive the first batch of 24 Sukhoi SU-35s. The so-called Abraham Accord members are no cohesive anti-Iran front. They are a shell — all are quietly in touch with Iran. And the region’s ‘map’ is shifting unmistakably eastwards.

Ultimately, Team Biden has its hands full: Ukraine, Russia, China, and Europe (i.e. NATO) in crisis. They know too, that Israeli politics constitutes a bottomless ‘black hole’ for American political capital — outside the Beltway.

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