Israel will not be safer after the United States withdrew from the nuclear agreement, according to senior diplomats, academics and Middle East experts in the UK.
Sir Richard Dalton, Britain’s former ambassador to Iran, said President Trump’s withdrawal made war more likely, saying: “It depends how far Trump goes, how much Iran and the other signatories can do to keep the agreement going, and the level of provocation to Israel involved in Iran’s reaction.”
He said he worried about Benjamin Netanyahu’s “bellicosity, acting contrary to so much professional opinion and advice,” in reference to senior Israeli military figures who have argued for keeping the deal on the basis that it is working.
Dalton did not foresee Iran racing for a bomb, saying the US withdrawal “does not alter the calculus short-term… Iran is not going to develop a nuclear weapon unless it is attacked, when it might well, but neither Israel nor Iran really wants war”.
Yet the veteran diplomat did warn that Israel may inadvertently get sucked into a war of Trump’s making. “Big wars grow from small beginnings,” he said. “If Trump decides to take military risks in the Gulf or Syria against Iran as a consequence of a more aggressive stance, then others – including Israel – can get drawn in.”
Lord Monroe Palmer of Childs Hill echoed Dalton’s sentiments. “Top Israeli military advisers believe the agreement with Iran is working,” said the peer. “But of course Prime Minister Netanyahu knows better!”
Likewise, he did not think Israel was in a better position after Trump’s withdrawal, saying: “If Iran is ‘Trumped’ it will retaliate against Israel… Withdrawal will make Iran more belligerent against Israel, which would be easiest target to attack. Already you have Hezbollah waiting at the frontier.”
He added that “Trump’s policy makes Israel less safe,” saying: “I agree with the military advisers.”
Professor Ali Ansari at St Andrews University, who is the founding director of the Institute for Iranian Studies, said Trump’s withdrawal weakens moderate voices inside Iran.
“My sense is this will encourage the hardliners, weaken [Iranian President Hassan] Rouhani and very possibly ensure that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the security forces take over more control of the state.”
He added: “This will just emphasise their more aggressive policy in both Syria and needless to say Israel. They are the cause of much of the trouble at the moment, but unrestrained they may yet prove more reckless.”
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Furthermore, Ansari predicted further protests in Iran, saying the re-imposition of American sanctions “will continue to put serious pressure on [Iranian currency] the rial which is already on a downward spiral leading to inflation, exacerbating an already bad situation which could lead to domestic unrest over the summer”.
Speaking in Israel at the annual Herzliya Conference, former Mossad chief Tamir Pardo told the audience of policymakers that “Iran is fully complying” with the requirements of the deal, adding: “There still will be a need for some kind of deal at the end of the day.”
Pardo, who headed Israel’s foreign intelligence agency from 2011-16, during the height of concerns over Iran’s nuclear programme, spoke alongside two former Israeli defence ministers – Lt. Gen. Moshe (Bogie) Ya’alon and Prof. Moshe Arens.
Only hours before large explosions were being reported in Syria on Tuesday night, as Israel braced for retaliatory action, Arens said: “Action we take against Iranian targets in Syria could trigger war.”
That war would hurt both sides, he said, adding: “Hezbollah’s 100,000 missiles deter us, and regardless of our defence infrastructure, the Iron Dome and Arrow [missile defence systems], some will inevitably get through.”
Ya’alon, meanwhile, said: “Iran’s eyes are fixed on Israel and they are willing to sacrifice a great deal to wipe us off the map. We need to use intelligence supremacy and very precise fire power to eliminate Iran’s capabilities.”
Dalton added that Trump’s withdrawal would strengthen the hand of foreign policy hawks in Iran, saying: “Ayatollah Khamenei will say that he was right all along, as he was, unfortunately. The hardliners will gain weight.”
US Senator Ben Cardin, a senior member of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee who voted for the Iran deal, said he agreed with Trump’s concerns, “but we can keep the deal while also going after Tehran for its support for terrorism, its human rights abuses, ballistic missile testing and violation of arms embargoes… These are not mutually exclusive actions”.
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said Trump’s withdrawal “constitutes a significant step in ensuring the security of the State of Israel, the security of the region and the security of the whole world”.
But Dalton disagreed, saying: “It makes Israel less safe, as there is nothing on the horizon that can give the same level of assurance that one day they will not face an Iranian nuclear weapon”.
He added that “yet more tensions will add to the risks that miscalculations, accidents or deliberate provocations by one side or the other will lead to a destructive new war soon in which there would be significant losses on both sides”.