By Arab News
By Dalia Al-Aqidi*
The important visit of new Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to Washington last month was largely overshadowed by the Afghanistan debacle. A suicide attack at Kabul airport even delayed the meeting between the Israeli leader and US President Joe Biden, who was preoccupied with the severe implications of the most chaotic foreign policy crisis his administration has faced.
Iran and America’s re-entry to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action were top of Bennett’s agenda during his meeting with the American leader. He wanted to convince Biden that a strong regime in Iran would be catastrophic for both of their countries.
Even though the meeting did not get its fair share of media coverage, several news outlets reported that the Israeli leader assured Biden that he would act differently from his predecessor, Benjamin Netanyahu, by refraining from publicly campaigning against the Iran nuclear deal.
In a speech before a joint meeting of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington in 2015, Netanyahu criticized the US and described the JCPOA as a “very bad deal.” The deal will “guarantee” that Iran gets nuclear weapons because it allows the Islamic Republic to keep much of its nuclear infrastructure in place, he said. The alternative to a bad deal is not war, as some supporters of the deal with Iran have said, but “the alternative to this bad deal is a much better deal,” Netanyahu said.
The Biden administration is aiming to build a new and improved personal relationship between the Democratic president and the leader of Israel, following the eight-year-long touchy and edgy relationship between Barack Obama and Netanyahu.
According to the White House, the Iranian threat was discussed during the Biden-Bennett meeting. “The president made clear his commitment to ensure Iran never develops a nuclear weapon. The leaders reviewed steps to deter and contain Iran’s dangerous regional behavior. They reiterated their commitments to work constructively and deepen cooperation to address all aspects of Israel’s security against Iran and other threats,” a statement read.
What about the fate of the US-Iran talks that were adjourned in June after the hard-liner Ebrahim Raisi won Iran’s presidential election? For how long should Washington wait for Tehran to decide if it wants to go back to the negotiating table?
It seems that the Democratic administration is willing to wait as long as the Iranians make them, according to Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley, who said in a television interview that it was understandable for the new government in Iran to need time to organize itself, while adding that his government was prepared to be patient. Malley sent a clear message to the Iranian regime that Biden was adamant about reaching a deal and that he would not have spent this much time and effort only to “pack up and leave.”
Making catastrophic foreign policy mistakes will be the Biden’s administration’s legacy. The president is making a habit of giving the other side all the leverage it needs while negotiating in the name of diplomacy. That is exactly what happened with the Taliban during the humiliating exit from Afghanistan, which the radical Islamic government of Iran was watching, taking notes on and cheering.
Regardless of the Israeli warning that a deal with Iran will provide it with economic sanctions relief and unleash a new, fiercer wave of atrocities in the region, Biden emphasized to Bennett the importance of diplomacy in dealing with Tehran, giving him vague and unspecified options if the negotiations fail.
In his first post-election interview on Iranian national television, Raisi expressed his desire to continue the negotiations, but without any pressure or threats to his country and while also demanding the lifting of all sanctions imposed on it by the US since 2017. “In these talks, we seek to obtain the lifting of oppressive sanctions. We will not give in on the interests of the great Iranian nation,” he said.
Meanwhile, his Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said on Saturday: “Washington must understand that it has no other choice but to abandon its addiction to sanctions and show respect, both in its statements and in its behavior, toward Iran.”
These two statements summarize how the new Islamic Republic government views the current US administration and the way it plans to deal with it. Why would Tehran rush to negotiate with Washington if it has Beijing and Moscow on its side?
By revoking the terrorist designation of the pro-Iran Houthi movement in Yemen and abandoning its closest allies in Afghanistan, leaving behind its citizens and friends who served with its troops, the US has become a weakened superpower Iran would love to defeat. If the Taliban has done it, then surely Iran can too.
• Dalia Al-Aqidi is a senior fellow at the Center for Security Policy. Twitter: @DaliaAlAqidi