Iran’s Nuclear Program Ignites New Tension Between U.S. and Israel

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Strains emerged during talks this week aft a abbreviated play of beardown relations betwixt a caller Israeli authorities and caller American one.

American negotiators person  signaled that Iranians’ advancements successful  their atomic  programme  and their caller    hard   enactment     successful  Vienna mean   Tehran is not superior   astir  a diplomatic agreement.
Credit...Atta Kenare/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Dec. 10, 2021, 7:44 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON — Long-running differences implicit however to woody with Iran’s atomic programme person erupted into caller tensions betwixt the Biden medication and Israel, with 2 elder Israeli officials leaving Washington this week acrophobic that the Americans’ committedness to restoring the 2015 atomic woody volition pb to a flawed statement allowing Tehran to velocity up with its atomic enrichment program.

The strains were evident each week, arsenic the Biden medication sought to bring the confederation with Israel into a agreed beforehand astir however to woody with Iran implicit the adjacent year.

In an effort to adjacent the gap, American officials fto retired connection this week that 2 months ago, Mr. Biden asked his nationalist information adviser, Jake Sullivan, to reappraisal the Pentagon’s revised program to instrumentality subject enactment if the diplomatic effort collapsed. Administration officials besides outlined caller efforts to tighten, alternatively than loosen, sanctions connected Iran.

Mr. Biden’s absorption connected subject options and sanctions was an effort to awesome to Tehran that the United States was moving retired of patience with Iranian foot-dragging successful the atomic negotiations successful Vienna, medication officials said. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said past week that the caller Iranian authorities “does not look to beryllium superior astir doing what’s indispensable to instrumentality to compliance” with the 2015 atomic deal.

But the tougher enactment was besides aimed astatine calming progressively frustrated Israeli officials. Though they volition not knock the American president successful nationalist the mode erstwhile Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did during the Obama administration, Israeli officials successful backstage reason that the Iranians are advancing their atomic programme portion betting that the United States, anxious to diminish American commitments successful the Middle East, volition not wantonness the Vienna talks for much forceful action.

This nonfiction is based connected discussions with much than a twelve American and Israeli officials who spoke connected the information they beryllium granted anonymity to sermon some delicate matters of diplomacy and classified quality assessments.

After a tense telephone telephone with Mr. Blinken 10 days ago, the Israeli premier minister, Naftali Bennett, dispatched his defence minister, Benny Gantz, and the caller caput of the Mossad, David Barnea, to Washington this week equipped with caller quality astir Iranians’ uranium enrichment and the enactment of what Israel says is their weapons group. Despite the tougher American talk, Israeli officials near disquieted that the diplomatic outreach to Iran would continue.

The disagreement implicit Iran is conscionable 1 of respective issues troubling the Biden-Bennett relationship. The brace started disconnected connected a beardown footing: Mr. Biden spoke with Mr. Bennett wrong hours aft the Israeli person took bureau successful June — a awesome of enactment fixed that Mr. Biden had taken weeks aft his inauguration to talk straight with Mr. Bennett’s predecessor, Mr. Netanyahu.

But the 2 governments person since clashed connected whether the U.S. should reopen the American consulate to the Palestinians successful Jerusalem, which was closed by President Donald J. Trump. Mr. Bennett says specified a determination would undermine Israel’s sovereignty successful its superior city.

There are besides disagreements implicit Israeli plans to grow its settlements successful the occupied West Bank, and implicit the Biden administration’s determination to blacklist 2 Israeli spyware firms, NSO Group and Candiru, whose products, the U.S. alleges, person been utilized by authoritarian governments to hack the phones of dissidents and rights activists.

But astatine the bosom of the tensions betwixt Israel and the United States is the cardinal disagreement implicit however to halt the Iranian program. It is not a caller argument: The 2 allies fought bitterly implicit the 2015 agreement, which Israel opposed and President Barack Obama signed.

More recently, they person disagreed astir the contented of Israeli sabotage of Iranian facilities, which Mr. Bennett’s authorities believes has acceptable backmost the program, and which immoderate successful the United States reason lone encourages the Iranians to physique backmost the atomic enrichment facilities with much efficient, up-to-date equipment.


Credit...Pool photograph by Gil Cohen-Magen

Israeli officials had been blessed with the lukewarm invited the White House offered Mr. Bennett. The Biden medication had praised his authorities for being acold much transparent with it than Mr. Netanyahu had been. Indeed, the Israelis consulted with the Americans earlier launching 2 covert strikes against Iran, 1 successful September against a rocket basal and 1 successful June against an Iranian mill gathering atomic centrifuges, according to radical briefed connected the actions.

But the telephone betwixt Mr. Bennett and Mr. Blinken past week was contentious, with the 2 sides embracing precise antithetic opinions astir the worth of a renewed statement to cheque Tehran’s atomic ambitions. The telephone near officials successful some countries frustrated, according to officials from some countries.

During the telephone call, Mr. Bennett said that Iran was trying to blackmail the United States by expanding the enrichment percentage, according to an authoritative acquainted with details of the call. Mr. Bennett added that nary official, American oregon Israeli, wants to beryllium the 1 to study that Iran has reached bomb-grade enrichment, but fears of a nuclear-armed Iran should not pb to surrendering to Iranian demands oregon signing a reckless agreement.

Some American officials judge those concerns astir concessions are misplaced. Israeli officials had complained that the United States was considering offering an interim woody with Tehran that would rotation backmost immoderate sanctions successful instrumentality for a frost connected immoderate of its atomic activity. But American officials accidental specified an connection is not actively being considered, astatine slightest for now, due to the fact that of Iran’s unwillingness to engage.

Israeli officials person not been reassured. They are progressively acrophobic that the United States volition yet scope a woody with Tehran and past question to artifact Israeli quality services from carrying retired covert sabotage attacks. Israeli leaders accidental they privation a warrant from the Biden medication that Washington volition not question to restrain their sabotage campaign, adjacent if a renewed atomic woody is reached.

Disagreements implicit quality assessments astir the Iranian atomic stockpile and bomb-making know-how stay comparatively small, mostly focused connected however agelong it would instrumentality Iranians to nutrient a limb if they get capable bomb-grade atomic fuel.

But the gulf astir the meaning of those assessments is wide. American officials judge that truthful agelong arsenic Iran has not moved to make a weaponry it does not person a atomic subject program, since it suspended the existing 1 aft 2003. Israeli officials, connected the different hand, judge that Iran has continued a clandestine effort to physique a weaponry since 2003.


Credit...Vahid Salemi/Associated Press

Some Israeli officials judge that their sabotage run is having strategical effects and could beryllium 1 of the reasons Iranians, nevertheless tentatively, person returned to Vienna. A elder Israeli quality authoritative said the sabotage operations had created crippling paranoia astatine the apical of the Iranian government. The operations, the authoritative said, person caused Tehran to rethink whether it should accelerate the atomic project.

But adjacent American supporters of the Israeli attack accidental it is akin to “mowing the grass,” a indispensable measurement to support Iran successful cheque but not 1 that volition ever afloat halt Tehran’s atomic research. These American officials judge that the lone durable mode to forestall Iran from processing a limb is to scope an agreement, similar the 1 successful 2015, that requires Iran to vessel its atomic substance retired of the country. And that would necessitate important sanctions alleviation successful return.

In the meetings this week, Israelis officials tried to transportation Washington not to enactment toward a diplomatic statement and to alternatively tighten sanctions. But Israeli officials accidental they fearfulness that the U.S. is conducing concealed back-channel connection with Iran, and that a caller circular of talks successful Vienna volition yet pb to the signing of a deal.

The meetings came against the backdrop of a caller Iranian onslaught connected American forces successful Syria, a elder American authoritative said. The Israelis, the authoritative said, had an assertive cognition connected the Iranian threat, related to some the atomic programme and the hazard of rocket and different limb proliferation.

But determination is simply a increasing American interest that it is conscionable a substance of clip earlier an American work subordinate is killed oregon wounded by an Iranian proxy drone onslaught connected Mr. Biden’s watch. With Iran making wide it volition retaliate against American unit successful Syria oregon Iraq if Israel strikes Iran oregon its proxies, it complicates onslaught planning.


Credit...Alex Wong/Getty Images

In an quality astatine The Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council connected Monday, William J. Burns, the C.I.A. director, raised concerns astir the Iranian atomic work. He said the Iranians were “dragging their feet” connected negotiations arsenic they were “making dependable advances successful their atomic program, peculiarly enrichment to 60 percent present arsenic well.” That is the closest the Iranians person ever travel to bomb-grade fuel, which is usually defined arsenic 90 percent purity.

But, Mr. Burns added, the United States continues to judge that Iran has not made a determination to weaponize its atomic program.

Patrick Kingsley contributed reporting from Jerusalem, and Eric Schmitt from Washington.

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