Israel is becoming a partisan issue in Washington as the White House faces a moment of truth on Iran.
Reading the tea leaves of reports and statements coming out of Washington, President Joe Biden has lost hope for a breakthrough with Iran in Vienna. Comments from two key spokespersons suggest the White House, unable to negotiate a return to the JCPOA nuclear agreement, is now gearing up for a mudslinging blame game with former president Donald Trump.
On Tuesday, State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters, “It’s worth spending just a moment on how we got here. It is deeply unfortunate that because of an ill-considered or perhaps unconsidered decision by the previous administration that this administration came into office without these stringent verification and monitoring protocols that were in place.”
The very next day, White House spokesperson Jen Psaki followed up on that messaging. Iran’s “increased capabilities or aggressive actions they have taken through proxy wars around the world,” she said, would not have advanced had Trump not “recklessly pulled out of the nuclear deal with no thought as to what might come next.”
Psaki continued: “Iran’s nuclear program was no longer in a box, no longer had the most robust inspection regime ever negotiated, no longer had the tight restrictions on nuclear activity.”
Moreover, Axios reported this week that the Biden administration expects to reach its moment of truth in January or February as to whether or not there’s any point to continue negotiating with Tehran. Regardless of whether the White House goes all in on diplomacy or pivots towards confrontation, Biden will face a backlash, hence the administration is going into pit bull mode.
“They are going to focus the fire on Trump,” a source told Axios.
The messaging that Trump left his successor with a bad hand of cards accomplishes two things for Biden. If the White House ultimately pursues diplomacy, the messaging will lower public expectations of the quality of the agreement. And if Biden ditches diplomacy to confront Iran, the messaging will shore up the support of the president’s Democratic base.
Israel Caught in the Middle
The Axios report also noted that the Biden administration hopes Israeli officials will “amplify” the White House’s messaging.
This raises two questions for Israel.
Is Israel about to be caught in a new partisan battle between Democrats and Republicans?
Hopefully not. Israel’s new government appointed Michael Herzog, brother of President Isaac Herzog, as ambassador to the U.S. because he has good relations with Democrats and Republicans. He was tapped to contain these kinds of problems.
American Jewish organizations who dealt with Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu’s sour relationship when the JCPOA was first negotiated are hopefully a little wiser from the experience.
Time will tell how successful they are.
Will Israel be blamed for Trump taking the U.S. out of the JCPOA?
Blame will likely come from the extremes of the Democratic and Republican parties and their supporters. Angry partisan tweets coming from the Squad can be expected. And Trump’s recent comments about American Jews and Benjamin Netanyahu’s sincerity don’t make it difficult to imagine the far-right dallying with historical revisionism.
So whether any blame comes from the left or the right, it’s worth recalling that Trump’s decision to withdraw from the JCPOA in 2018 was because Iran was already violating the deal. This was clear from a trove of Iranian nuclear documents the Mossad stole from a Tehran warehouse. In April, Israel began revealing what it was learning from the intelligence haul. After studying what the trove revealed, Trump dropped out of the agreement. in May.
In any event, the conditions for Vienna’s current round of indirect negotiations weren’t ideal.
A new hardline government led by President Ebrahim Raisi took over, setting back whatever incremental progress the U.S. made with Hassan Rouhani’s government. Strike one.
The Biden administration’s credibility on the world stage took a massive hit by the way its withdrawal from Afghanistan unfolded. Strike two.
Biden desire to return to the JCPOA has been so strong ,the Iranians couldn’t fail to notice. The White House was never really negotiating from a position of strength. Strike three.