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Deal or No Deal
What Does Israel Want from a Trump Administration on Iran?

With the election of Donald Trump, Israel is anticipating a U.S. administration that will be ready to sharpen the knives against Iran. But as events develop, Israel may not end up pushing Trump to scrap the nuclear deal that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu so ardently opposed. Bloomberg:

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is working to win from Donald Trump what he failed to wring from Barack Obama: a harder line against Iran. […]

While the goal may stop short of killing the multilateral nuclear deal, Netanyahu is expected to tell Trump that the U.S. needs to take a harder line against Iran’s military program and lead a more concerted global effort to keep the Islamic Republic’s regional aspirations in check, a senior Israeli official said.

That may include stronger retaliation and sanctions against Iranian ballistic missile development and greater efforts to block Iran’s growing clout in the region via proxies in Syria, Lebanon and the Gaza Strip, the official said.

“The urgent task is to stop Iran from becoming a superpower in the region, something that has been occurring for some time now,” said retired Major General Yaakov Amidror, Netanyahu’s former national security adviser. “The prime minister will argue, first and foremost, that the U.S. should work to diminish the partnership between Russia and Iran in the region.”

Like Netanyahu, Trump has decried the Iran nuclear deal, and he explicitly promised to “dismantle” it at his AIPAC speech in March. But in the wake of his victory, both Israeli and American opponents of the deal, like Senator Bob Corker, are urging caution.

The calculus on Iran that prevailed in the Obama administration—that in the long term Iran could become a stabilizing influence in the Middle East—has not been working out as hoped. Now, with the Middle East in chaos, Israel’s calculation seems to be that scuttling the deal outright would give Iran an excuse to abandon its obligations and rush toward the bomb. Perhaps the Israelis now see asconvincing the U.S. to use the deal’s enforcement mechanisms to tighten the screws on Tehran as the best available option. And who knows, maybe the Trump Administration might see it that way too.

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  • Andrew Allison

    Anybody who doesn’t recognize that Iran is “rushing toward the bomb” is delusional. The problem is that MAD doesn’t mean much to people who actually believe in 24 virgins awaiting their arrival in Paradise. The answer, namely return Iran to the Stone Age before it’s too late, is rather obvious.

    • Fat_Man

      I would love to, but the Russians are in the way. i think Putin is being foolish, but his desire to punish the US far exceeds his desire to protect Russia.

      • Tom

        I think the Russians think Iran has bigger fish to fry than them. Consider the following scenario:
        Iran gets the bomb, and fires a nuke or five at Israel. The Israelis, with half their population gone, rip loose with their nuclear arsenal and wipe the mullahs off the map.
        The United States and Russia, being the largest powers in the area, move into Iran. As there is no government in Iran, the Russians pull an Eastern Ukraine with the Azeri and Kurdish minorities. The United States stays just long enough to set up a government, make sure no one starves to death, and bury what bodies there are, and then skedaddles home, leaving the Russians as the only people who can prop up the new government.
        Say hello to a Russian warm-water port.

        • Angel Martin

          Pre-WW1, Northern Iran was part of the Russian Empire.

        • Fat_Man

          That is quite a three cushion shot there Tom. The Russian Problem with Iran is that it is right next door, and it is run by religious fanatics. Giving a mad man a gun and hoping he will use it on the man to his right is a very poor choice if you are standing on his other side.

          • Tom

            Yeah, but if you know he hates the other guy a lot more than he hates you, it’s a safe bet.

          • Fat_Man

            Mad men are by nature unpredictable.

          • Tom

            Mad men can be very unpredictable. But if they have a mania, they will follow it.

      • Angel Martin

        I don’t think Iran is a threat to Russia, any more than N Korea is a threat to China.

        Russia’s attitude to a USA/Europe missile defence against Iran is the same as the Chinese attitude to a SKorea/Japan/USA missile defence against NKorea.

        In both cases, Russia and China claim that a missile defence designed to deter a rogue state is a strategic threat to them.

        I guess it is a strategic threat to the extent that these supposed “out of control rogue states” are actually tightly controlled proxies.

      • f1b0nacc1

        Perhaps, but I wonder if Putin is all that obsessed with punishing the US, or just exploiting opportunities when they arise. Iran represents a serious long term threat to Russia’s southern flank, and while letting Obama and his delusional group of nitwits chase a chimera of a long term deal with Iran was useful, as it paralyzed their other activities in the Middle East (and forced them to accommodate Russia on a host of other issues in order to secure their cooperation), Trump might be made of stern stuff, which would give Putin an opportunity to use the US to solve several of their problems at once. Rather than a grand deal with Iran, we might get a grand deal (or at least a useful understanding) with Putin on Iran, as it would serve his interests, and give him a chance to extract further (though minor) concessions in order to reach a deal with Trump. Add to this that the Israelis are quite capable of working with the Russians, and you see an opportunity for Bibi to possibly act as a broker of an even broader deal if everyone wants one.

        Lets be blunt, virtually nobody in the Middle East likes the Iranians, and there are all sorts of interesting ways that Putin could end up looking very good while managing to screw a long term enemy that is loathed by everyone anyway….

        • JR

          Comments like that is why I come to this site.

          • f1b0nacc1

            That is most kind of you. Thank you

        • Disappeared4x

          “virtually nobody in the Middle East likes the Iranians”, but EVERYONE detests the Turks. Actually, many did like the Iranians before they had their Twelver Shi’a revolution in 1979.

          • f1b0nacc1

            We absolutely agree….the Turks are loathed universally….

          • f1b0nacc1

            Perhaps I am biased, I never liked the Persians….grin….

            Your point is taken however. With that said, I rather doubt that the Iranians (under control of a death cult the way they are now, and back in full “lets dominate the region” mode) are going to win any friends anytime soon.

      • Andrew Allison

        The Russians are indeed in the way of a nuclear solution, but that’s not on the cards anyway (too many civilian casualties over too wide an area). Destroying their nascent nuclear capability and the rest of their infrastructure (their ability to export oil, for example) could be done with conventional weapons.

    • Disappeared4x

      Twelver Shi’a are awaiting the 12th Imam, who will re-appear, with Christ’s 2nd coming, to bring justice to the world.
      never mind.

  • Disappeared4x

    Can anyone “…diminish the partnership between Russia and Iran in the region. …” ? This is a complex relationship/partnership for more than 500 years.

    Perhaps a good place to start is actually enforcing UNSC Resolution 1701, especially the estimated >70,000 rockets and missiles that Hezbollah has deployed in southern Lebanon, targeting Israel, since 2006 http://www.un.org/press/en/2006/sc8808.doc.htm

    “…the 15-nation body to unanimously adopt resolution 1701 (2006), which calls for “the immediate cessation by Hizbollah of all attacks
    and the immediate cessation by Israel of all offensive military operations” in Lebanon.

    Aware of its responsibilities to help secure a permanent ceasefire and a long-term solution to the conflict, the Security Council
    created a buffer zone free of “any armed personnel” –- both Hizbollah militants and Israeli troops — between the United Nations-drawn Blue Line in southern Lebanon and the Litani River (12 miles from the Israeli border), and called for both Israel and Lebanon to support a permanent ceasefire and comprehensive solution to the crisis. …”

    • Fat_Man

      “This is a complex relationship/partnership for more than 500 years.”

      For 495 years, they were enemies. Only the genius of Obama, and the malevolence of Putin could have turned them into allies.

      • f1b0nacc1

        Absolutely correct, see my comment above…

        • Disappeared4x

          not always ‘enemies’. As I wrote, complex.
          Further to your point above about Israel as an energy player, one big question is who will protect Israel’s offshore gas fields? Russia has offered, but perhaps Trump will consider a permanent carrier group based in Haifa? Who pays?
          There are precedents in history where being mercenaries for other nations is a good wealth-creator for the mercenary-supplier: late-13th century Switzerland, 18th century Hesse…last time the USA had a positive trade balance was 1992, because the Saudis/Gulf States, and Japan paid for Bush41’s multi-lateral Gulf War.

          • f1b0nacc1

            To protect the offshore fields, you don’t need carriers, more likely small patrol ships and solid anti-air capabilities, both of which the Israelis already have. Carrier groups are too rare and expensive to tie down on such a small job, and Putin doesn’t have naval forces of any significance (the current collection of ambulatory rust is more for show than anything else) to back up such an offer. Putin’s offer is a clever one, but it is one that is more signalling than anything else.

            While the Russian relationship with Iran is complex, ultimately they have always been enemies even if not always at daggers drawn. Iran as an Islamist state is a threat to the Russian southern flank, and with nukes, they would be a far more serious problem. Fat_Man’s point is an excellent one…only someone as monumentally stupid as Obama could have forced them into each other’s arms.

          • Disappeared4x

            Offshore gas fields in the EasternMed also need submarine capacity. Maybe a carrier group is too much, maybe it should be based in Greece, but, in no particular order:
            1. Incirlik Air Base in Turkey is no longer reliable for NATO, or US, operations
            2. Carrier deployments project power.
            3. There is more than one gas field, with overlapping sovereignty claims – and Russia now has a permanent naval base at Latakia

            Meanwhile, bit of a hiccup on Israel’s procurement of submarines from Germany:
            http://www.defensenews.com/articles/in-israel-furor-over-super-fast-tracked-submarine-buys
            Iran is a Shi’ite Islamist state. Russia’s problem has been with Saudi-financed Sunni terror.

          • f1b0nacc1

            The most important things to protect large offshore gas/oil fields would be:

            Patrol aircraft (the Israelis have these in aplenty, particularly in their use of Heron TP drones)

            Patrol ships (the Saar IV, V, and (upcoming) VI class all are well suited to this purpose, and all have excellent ASW capabilities)

            Area anti-aircraft/missile capabilities (the Israeli Barrack 8 is ideally suited to this, as well as the Iron Dome, and both could easily be deployed on off-shore platforms)

            My point being that there is no real need for the US to be involved, and the pocket airforce (mostly strike aircraft, not air-superiority aircraft, and almost no patrol aircraft) that the Russians have in place (or could afford to sustain) would be unsuitable to the mission.

            As for for Israeli sub procurement, the Dolphins are primarily designed as second-strike nuclear platforms, with ASW as a distinctly secondary role.

            Finally, regarding Russia’s issues with Sunni terrorism, that is pretty much a short-term issue, and doesn’t change their long-term issues with Iran.

    • LarryD

      “One way to de-fang Iran is to support independence, e.g. self-determination, for all Kurds …”

      Erdogan will have a cow. 🙂 Kurdish independence is his nightmare, because of the large population of Kurds in Turkey. I’m rather sympathetic towards the Kurds myself, but this strategy must be prepared for a violent Turkish reaction, as well as Iranian.

      • Disappeared4x

        Draw the boundaries of Greater Kurdistan around the watersheds – a lot more than cows from the would-be Caliph!

        My point was about Iran, where the Kurds, Azeris, Baluchis, and Ahwazis all have non-violent self-determination movements, a requirement for UNPO membership. Today’s map of Iran is a Persian core surrounded by ethnic and religious minorities.

        I remember being surprised when Saudi Arabia briefly called for self-determination for the Ahwazis because UNPO tends to be ignored by whoever is in charge of the status quo.

        As for Erdogan? May he live in very interesting times next year…who will end Erdogan’s neo-Ottoman Caliphate dream?

  • Fat_Man

    The problem is that Obama allowed Russia into the Middle East, and lost the ability to bomb Iran.

  • LarryD

    What obligations? And did Iran sign the thing after all?

  • FriendlyGoat

    ” Israel’s calculation seems to be that scuttling the deal outright would give Iran an excuse to abandon its obligations and rush toward the bomb”

    That also happens to be the other part of the Obama/Kerry calculation for several years running, but Israel can only come around to it after Trump’s election?

    • JR

      It would be helpful if Obama actually enforced the deal which he is not. Israel wants deals enforcement. I find it hard you don’t comprehend that.

      • FriendlyGoat

        Israel is adjusting to realpolick. America just elected a president who campaigned on tearing the deal up. Israel will be telling him in a nice way why his rhetoric is impossible or inadvisable or both. Same as will be done with many other Trumpian baloney blasts.

        • JR

          I think the bet here is real deal enforcement means Iran walks away from it first. Many ways to skin a cat. But I’m glad you’re not disputing the fact that Hussein never meant to enforce it anyhow.

          • FriendlyGoat

            If/when Iran walks away, Israel will be asking for “something else” from Donald Trump. What would that be? A new round of six-party talks?

          • JR

            Obama no longer owns the Iran deal in 60 days????? REALLY? Is that how you thing it works? After Obama blamed Bush for everything under the sun for at least 4 years? Oh no no no no no no….. Sorry Comrade. People tend to have really long memories when it comes to stuff like that. You won’t get off that easy.
            As for predicting the future if/when Iran walks away, sorry, I’m not Nostradamus. But I know that with a true friend of Israel in the White House after 8 long years of an enemy of Israel we’ll be able to work something out.

          • FriendlyGoat

            Iran is Iran. Bush didn’t go to with it. Obama didn’t go to war with it.
            Trump will find himself deciding whether he wants to go to war with it.
            Bush owned it until Obama owned it and now Trump owns it. That’s just how this goes. Ditto North Korea.

          • JR

            If that was everybody’s attitude in January of 2009, then you and I would be in complete agreement. Alas, that was not the attitude. The attitude was : We are gonna blame BUSH!!!! What’s good for the goose…..
            Also, the false dichotomy of Obama that we either go to war with Iran or bend over and let them fuckus in theass is no longer applicable. There are plenty of middle ground options. The false choices you presented are not the only possibilities that exist.
            So far, judging by the appointments Trump made, he seems intent of actually fulfilling some of his more high profile promises. Let’s hope that continues.

          • FriendlyGoat

            We blame previous administrations for the catastrophes in progress and ongoing when old presidents go out and new ones come in. Obama inherited two deployed wars and a financial crisis in progress. Trump is not inheriting any actual nuclear crisis with Iran but rather a negotiated lull in any such crisis. He has to decide whether he wants to take a lull back to a crisis. So does Israel. I’d bet they both don’t.

          • JR

            So by that logic we are going to be blaming Obama for the refugee crisis in Europe, ISIS, crisis on the southern border, Russian aggression in Europe, Syrian civil war, disintegration of Lybia and highest number of Americans not in the workforce. I’m sure I missed a few but OK. So you agree we should blame Obama for those, let’s say until the next re-election campaign. Fine. Deal.

          • FriendlyGoat

            The subject is What Does Israel Want From Trump on Iran? It’s a fair bet that Trump has little intention of being manipulated on that particular matter to do something which drags America into a costly and unpredictable mess. If only he had told his rallies about those practicalities.

          • JR

            The subject was who gets the blame when things go bad. A lot of things went bad under Obama and therefore, using your logic, he is to blame for them. I agreed with your logic. Which part of my agreeing with you do you disagree with?
            Trump promised a better deal on Iran. If he starts to enforce it, it will become an infinitely better deal than what we have with Hussein. I’m not a maximalist. If Israel decides that it has to bomb Iran, I’m sure it will help of many Sunni states in the region, including Saudi Arabia. But like I said, if I knew the future I wouldn’t be working for a living,

    • Ofer Imanuel

      Perhaps it would have been better if the deal was never signed? International sanctions were in place (and not just US ones), enough to do some good. Tightening the screws some more would have done some good.

      • FriendlyGoat

        Perhaps. It was once thought that economic punishment would cause Iranians to throw off their theocratic leadership—-but it never seemed to happen.

  • Ehross

    The obvious answer is More More and More

    Remember the sailors on USS Liberty

    • JR

      Israeli R&D is indeed more more and more of a benefit. I don’t think anybody is arguing this point.

      • f1b0nacc1

        More than just R&D. Israel is now a major energy player (this has an enormous potential impact on Egypt), as well as a possible honest broker between the US and Russia, which means that there are significant advantages to working with them. Unless you are a twit like FG (my God! does he really think that anyone outside of Obama’s immediate family are going to simply pretend that Iran suddenly becomes Trump’s fault come January?), you can see that the while the Israelis suddenly have stronger cards to play, they also have some serious security issues aside from simply Iranian nukes (like the 70k rockets aimed at them) that require them to play a fairly deep game. Trump, who is actually able to listen to someone other than ValJar on the Middle East, can turn this to our mutual advantage if he is clever enough…

        • JR

          OMG, pointing out FG’s situational ethics will be a gift that keeps on giving, I have no doubt about that.
          I personally think this increases the odds of an Israeli operation against Iran with a big assist from the Saudis. If before I estimated the probability of that to be under 5%,it’s a great deal higher now.
          Israel’s ability to help Egypt will be the secret sauce. Israelis would be able to point out to that as yet another sign of the whole “Bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you”. I hope you are right about that.
          Most likely outcome is that realpolitik Putin and a lot more realpolitik than he is given credit for Trump will make sure nobody makes any sudden moves with nukes laying around. We’ll live to see another day. Just like we always have and always will.

          • f1b0nacc1

            We are absolutely in agreement, though let me point out that any attempt that the Israelis might make to deal with the Iranians at this point would have to have Russian help (or at least cooperation) as well. The S-400 radars in Syria (not to mention the missiles) mean that any large Israeli strike (and any attack on Iran would have to be very large, and sustained over several days) could be easily detected and/or disrupted by the Russians. There is precisely zero possibility of the Israelis taking out the radars (they have excellent relations with Putin, and wouldn’t waste the resources in any case), so any attack on Iran would require an ‘understanding’ with the Russians first.

          • JR

            One of the biggest advantages Israel has is that at the end of the day, it doesn’t want anything. There’s zero probability of Israel waging an offensive war unless it is truly an existential crisis. So as long as everybody is cool and doesn’t use nuclear weapons, Israel can handle Hamas and Co. The biggest losers, as always, are the Palestinians. They don’t seem to understand that time is not on their side and that Israel continues to strengthen its position. So Hashem sent Vladimir Putin? Wow. Did NOT see that one coming, I’ll tell you that.

          • AaronL

            One should keep in mind the mutual fear and loathing the Russians and Iranians have for each other. During World War II the British and Commonwealth Nations and the Soviet Union invaded Iran amongst other reasons to guarantee their oil supplies. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anglo-Soviet_invasion_of_Iran. Iran was occupied for three years and the U.S. could do nothing about it. The Brits began to withdraw after the war but the Russians hung on until the Iranian complaint to the U.N. Security Council.
            The Iranians have not forgotten.
            Nor have the Russians forgotten that the distance from Tehran to Moscow is only about 900 km further than the distance from Tehran to Tel-Aviv. The Russians will never let Iran get nuclear weapons.
            A convenient scenario would be for the Russians not to supply S-400’s to the Iranians, not supply them with info from their Syrian sites, allow Israel to destroy Iranian nuclear sites as they get to close to nuclear weapons and then publicly chastise Israel for acting in an illegal manner and emphasize Iran’s dependence on Russia in preventing further “Israeli aggression”.
            The Russians aren’t the Soviets. They don’t care about spreading the Communist revolution. They are all about Great Power Politics. Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah will be kept on a Russian leash and the Russians will only allow them enough room not to harm Russian interests.

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