Updated May 2, 2018 - World
Expert Voices

Netanyahu threatens nuclear deal, Iranian relations

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a speech on Iran's nuclear program at the defence ministry in Tel Aviv on April 30, 2018
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a speech on Iran's nuclear program on April 30, 2018, in Tel Aviv. Photo: Jack Guez/AFP via Getty Images

U.S. policy has long strived to prevent an Israeli–Iranian war. This is largely what motivated nuclear diplomacy with Iran, culminating in the 2015 nuclear deal, formally the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

So when Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu took to the cameras on Monday to denounce Iran and its past behavior — something he has done for nearly two decades — it was, in the words of Yogi Berra, déjà vu all over again.

Why it matters: Although talking about Iranian nukes could bolster Netanyahu’s domestic support as he navigates corruption scandals, his maneuver is fraught with risks. If Netanyahu succeeds in his gambit to persuade President Trump to terminate the JCPOA, the guardrails preventing the development of an Iranian bomb — and further Israeli–Iranian confrontation — will disappear, too.

Netanyahu has a lot on his mind these days. Not only are the Israeli police hot on his trail in a corruption probe, but the country's northern border is under deeply unpredictable security threats. Syria is in collapse, with Iran, its militias and jihadist terrorist groups roaming the country freely. Israel now conducts airstrikes there on a routine basis, which has heightened tensions with both Russia and Iran. And then there is Lebanon, which is essentially a Hezbollah mini-state.

It’s no wonder that Netanyahu has gone to the well one more time to distract from these ills by conjuring up new Iranian nuclear nightmares, despite the success of the JCPOA in mitigating such threats.

The bottom line: If Netanyahu's latest fulmination ends up encouraging Trump to undo the Iran deal, there’s no telling how far Israeli–Iranian hostility — and potential direct military conflict — will go.

Joel Rubin is the president of the Washington Strategy Group and a former deputy assistant secretary of state.

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