Middle east

Israel capitalizes on deadlock in Iran nuclear talks

Eyes on Vienna following IAEA report on Iran

The Iran nuclear deal is in the midst of its latest near-death experience, following the release this week of two reports by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on Iran’s nuclear program.

A quarterly report by the nuclear watchdog on Iran’s compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) released this week shows that Iran has continued to expand its enrichment and stockpile of highly enriched uranium beyond the limits in the agreement.

A separate report this week calls out Iran for a lack of compliance in an ongoing investigation into uranium found at three undeclared sites. Because Iran has not engaged with the IAEA to resolve these issues, the agency “is not in a position to provide assurance that Iran’s nuclear program is exclusively peaceful.”

Iran has called the reports “baseless.” It wants the investigation closed and disconnected from the JCPOA, a sticking point in the US-Iran negotiations over a return to the nuclear deal.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Sept. 9 that Iran’s latest response in the EU-mediated negotiations has moved the process “backwards.”

The next benchmark for the nuclear negotiations is the meeting of the IAEA Board of Governors in Vienna Sept. 12-16, followed by the UN General Assembly summit in New York starting on Sept. 19, which US President Joe Biden, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi (assuming he gets a visa) and other world leaders will attend. Elizabeth Hagedorn has the report.

Lapid benefits from pause in Iran talks

The buzz is that an Iran nuclear deal may be deferred until the November elections in both Israel and the United States and whether a return to deal matters more in Jerusalem than Washington.

In the United States, no one will be switching their votes based on whether there is an Iran deal or not, given that the economy is top of mind for most Americans. Biden can expect all Republicans, some Democrats and others to slam him for signing a deal. In any case, Congress likely can’t stop it if it happens.

In Israel, Iran packs more political punch.

Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid hopes to survive Israel’s fifth election in less than three years. Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is running to Lapid’s far right and the latest polls indicate the Likud leader may already have 59-60 Knesset seats in his column, just one or two shy of a majority, as Mazal Mualem reports.  

If Lapid loses on Iran in time, Netanyahu would further weaponize the issue ahead of the elections.    

In policy terms, there is little daylight between the Lapid and Netanyahu positions on Iran. But Lapid, unlike Netanyahu, has kept US-Israel relations on a steady course despite stark differences with Washington over Iran, as Ben Caspit reports, and despite disagreements with Mossad chief David Barnea over how best to manage the file. 

Lapid has capitalized on the deadlock in the Iran nuclear talks over the Iranian conditions that have stalled negotiations.   

Barnea was in Washington this week, the latest in a steady stream of high-level Israeli security officials visiting the US capital to make their case against a deal. 

Lapid is maintaining his direct line to Biden, telling the US president last week that Israel will have “full discretion” to deal with the Iranian nuclear threat, as Rina Bassist reports.   

Biden, however, does not appear to be holding up the deal because of Israel, as the negotiations are deadlocked over Iranian conditions. The best Lapid can get — and he’s got it for now — is a hold. Iran could turn the tables at any time by accepting the deal. 

The Biden administration, while officially staying out of Israeli politics, would likely prefer Lapid to hold on as prime minister to avoid the likely drama and difficulty of dealing with a Netanyahu-led far-right coalition government on both Iran and the Palestinian issue.

Israel-Lebanon scoop

Ben Caspit has the scoop this week on Israeli assessments of how Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah may be weighing his next moves regarding the negotiations on US-brokered negotiations between Israel and Lebanon over their maritime border.

B’tselem labels Israeli report ‘whitewash’

The Israeli human rights organization B’tselem referred to the official Israeli investigation into the killing of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh as a “whitewash,” Daoud Kuttab reports.

Israel, seeking to contain friction in US-Israel ties over the killing, rejected a US request for the IDF to review its rules of engagement as a result of the killing, Rina Bassist reports.

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