7th May 2018
Netanyahu alleges Iranian nuclear capability
Events in the Middle East are building towards a critical point over the coming days with a combination of key decisions and key anniversaries combining to make what could be a potentially explosive mix of circumstances. Added to which is the volatility of the key protagonists, not least US President, Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who have done their best to ramp up tensions in recent weeks.
Further uncertainty, provided by the theocratic dictatorships of Saudi Arabia and Iran, locked in a struggle for supremacy in the Muslim world, means that the chances of emerging from the next fortnight without a significant flashpoint are precarious.
The first key date is 12th May, when Donald Trump has a deadline by which to decide whether the US will continue to adhere to the terms of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which limits the capacity for Iran to develop nuclear technology. The deal was signed in 2015 under the Obama administration and engaged the key EU nations along with the US, China and Russia. In spite of the fact that the deal has barely made an impact upon the international sanctions imposed upon the Iranian regime, Trump regards the deal as “the worst deal in history” and has pledged to pull the US out of it.
The Israelis and Saudis, in a somewhat unholy alliance, back the US on the basis that anything which brings pressure to bear upon Iran, weakening the chances of Iranian economic recovery, is in their interest. In a bizarre television performance last week Netanyahu took to the airwaves in Israel to allegedly reveal evidence of Iran’s development of nuclear weapons technology.
Quite where Netanyahu sourced his information is unclear, as the inspection regime headed by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), as part of the JCPOA, has verified 10 times, most recently in February of this year, that Iran is in compliance.
Netanyahu has stated that Israel is prepared to go to war with Iran in order to stop Iranian influence in the war of intervention in Syria, stating,
“We are determined to block Iran’s aggression against us even if this means a struggle. Better now than later. Nations that were unprepared to take timely action to counter murderous aggression against them paid much heavier prices afterwards. We do not want escalation, but we are prepared for any scenario.”
Iran’s aggression against Israel appears to be the support provided to the government of President Assad in Syria. This has resulted in the striking of Iranian targets inside Syria, by the Israelis, several times in recent weeks.
The provocation from Netanyahu and Trump is matched in kind by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who has pitched in to suggest that,
“If the United States leaves the nuclear agreement, you will soon see that they will regret it like never before in history. Trump must know that our people are united, the Zionist regime (Israel) must know that our people are united.”
Iran has said that if the US reimposes sanctions it may resume enriching uranium.
Israel on the other hand has an undeclared nuclear arsenal of an estimated 200 nuclear warheads and is not a signatory to the international non-proliferation treaty.
The next date of significance, 14th May, is the 70th anniversary of the founding of the state of Israel. It is closely followed by the day commemorated by Palestinians as the Nakba or ‘catastrophe’ on 15th May when thousands were driven from their land to make way for the Israeli state.
The wave of protests building up to these dates has already seen the Israeli Defence Force shoot dead 40 Palestinian protesters and injure countless others, as peaceful protests have been targeted by the Israeli state with live ammunition.
Jerusalem’s status has been a major obstacle in peace negotiations. The international community, through the United Nations, hold that sovereignty over the city should be agreed between the two sides. Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as a capital of a future independent state, but Israel captured it in 1967. It later annexed the city and claims the entire area as its “eternal and undivided” capital.
During the course of this week of significant anniversaries the contribution of the US will be to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Writing in Israeli paper Haaretz, Ilan Goldenberg, who was part of the US team during the 2013-14 Israeli-Palestinian negotiations stated that the embassy move,
“…could explode – and we could find ourselves in the middle of a new war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. Nobody knows, but it is irresponsible for the US to be dumping gasoline on this potential fire.”
European leaders, Emmanuel Macron of France, Angela Merkel of Germany, even UK Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson has attempted to persuade Donald Trump this week not to cut loose from the Iran deal and open the pandora’s box which would follow. Will Trump listen to reason? The track record so far is not good. The clock is ticking….