The progress that the Biden administration appears to be making in reviving the 2015 nuclear deal between the world powers and Iran – despite Israeli reservations – is remarkable. It raises questions about the nature of US-Israeli relations, most of which have been unshakable for decades.
What is remarkable in this context is the gradually developing dynamic between the United States, Israel and Iran, which coincided with the elections in all three countries within a year. This is particularly the case when America shifts to the left, Israel lurches further to the right, and Iran benefits from its investments in its theocracy and its nuclear weapons program.
Former US President Donald Trump may have instigated these developments. Despite the merits of some of his policies, Mr Trump’s presidency has been chaotic, both nationally and internationally.
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His successor Joe Biden won the 2020 election, among other things, because he called for calm in the midst of the chaos. Today it seems that the majority of Americans are reassured by Mr Biden’s focus on dealing with the pandemic and getting his country back to normal. The US president continues to emphasize a kind of monotony in domestic and foreign policy, despite momentous shifts worldwide, also with regard to US policy towards Iran and Israel.
The US president’s foreign policy priorities include reviving NATO and America’s relations with Europe and fighting an emerging China – all of these are closely intertwined. That much is clear, Mr Biden will be attending the G7 and EU-US heads of state and government summits over the next 10 days. It is this emphasis on favorable US-European relations that has prompted the swift withdrawal of Mr Trump’s restrictive policy towards Iran. That postponement is likely to culminate in an agreement with Iran, perhaps two weeks before the Iranian presidential elections take place later this month.
This political shift is not surprising given that the Biden administration includes key members of the Obama administration – starting with Mr Biden himself – who signed the 2015 deal with Iran. Both teams have also tried to separate Tehran’s nuclear weapons program from its ballistic missile program and “malicious” regional behavior as described by the Biden government.
The secret, however, lies in the intersection between US-Iranian and US-Israeli relations that may have obscured the Israeli-Iranian dynamic.
Despite the fact that Tehran essentially held US embassy officials hostage for 444 days shortly after the Iranian Revolution of 1979, and despite the regime’s overt hostility towards the US, American amiability towards Iran appears to be widespread. Whether or not the Americans have forgiven Iran for the past, they fear its nuclear capabilities.
Not so long ago, Washington attempted to wipe out Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq because of its weapons programs. The 2003 invasion of Iraq unwittingly resulted in overwhelming Iranian influence in that country. The US used the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 as a pretext for this invasion, but it forgot everything the Iranian regime had done before September 11.
Israel and Iran have never waged a direct war in their entire history – although they were opponents. All of their battles were proxy wars, waged mainly through Lebanon.
The nuclear issue put US-Israel relations to the test for the first time under former President Barack Obama, who not only signed the nuclear deal, but also recognized the legitimacy of the Iranian regime and chose not to join Tehran’s policy of expansion within the Arab one Countries to interfere. Today the Biden administration does the same.
It will be crucial to watch what will happen after the nuclear deal is revived and sanctions are lifted against Iran
So the question is how the Obama administration managed to get the deal with Iran despite the Israeli opposition to the deal, and how the Biden team is able to revive the same deal. Perhaps Israel did not then put all its weight behind its own opposition – and it probably does not now. Perhaps the reason is that Israel, supposedly a nuclear power itself, always knew that the deal would not undermine America’s commitment to military superiority in the Middle East.
Furthermore, in addition to its priority of “preventing” Iran from a nuclear outbreak, the Biden government may have offered Israel an assurance that under no circumstances will Iran heat up its fronts in Palestine, Lebanon or Syria – through its own Deputy – against the former.
If so, the question arises as to what impact the US and Europe will have on Iran after lifting sanctions, freeing up funds for Tehran to use at its discretion – including promoting its regional project. Perhaps this is not even a priority for the West.
Presumably there is also no drive for the West to solve another longstanding problem: the Palestine-Israel conflict.
The US and Europe will instead focus on weakening extremist groups like Hamas in Gaza and raising funds to rebuild the city after 11 days of Israeli attacks last month. Despite increasing public support for a “two-state solution” between Palestine and Israel in the US and Europe, neither organization has a workable roadmap to achieve this.
Greater commitment to creating one will depend on whether the growing sympathy of the US population for the Palestinian cause turns into a serious movement forcing Washington to review its Israel policy. In the meantime, to what extent will the Biden administration be able to contain internal divisions among Americans over Israel and Iran?
For now, it will be crucial to watch what happens after the nuclear deal is revived and sanctions lifted on Iran as the regime gradually changes its relationship with world powers, including the US, and its arch enemy Israel.
Raghida Dergham is the founder and executive chairman of the Beirut Institute and a columnist for The National