On Monday, Newsweek reported that the head of the Iranian army, Major General Abdolrahim Mousavi had issued both general and specific threats against the Israel, via the Iranian Students News Agency. Mousavi reportedly declared that the Jewish state would likely not exist 25 years from now if its government continued along the current geopolitical path. This is reminiscent of a number of similar claims made by various Iranian officials over the years, including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
The more specific threat is perhaps equally familiar: Mousavi stated that Iranian armed forced would immediately destroy Tel Aviv if the Israeli’s made any “mistakes”. In addition to repeating these threats against Israel, the Iranian regime has taken aim at other adversaries, including the United States, with virtually identical rhetoric.
Frequently, the repetition of such rhetoric is motivated by specific global developments, and Mousavi’s statement notably came one day before a speech by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the United Nations General Assembly. Netanyahu’s speech, in turn, was scheduled for one day before a speech by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at the same General Debate.
Rouhani’s speech is expected to be met by mass protests by members of the Iranian expatriate community, as well as by general opponents of the Iranian regime. Such protests will call attention to the persistence of human rights abuses under the Rouhani presidency, and also to the arguably inadequate results of the 2015 nuclear agreement that Rouhani spearheaded on the Iranian side.
This latter issue has naturally been of particular concern for the Israelis, in light of recurring Iranian threats. Accordingly, Netanyahu preceded his UN speech with direct meeting with US President Donald Trump, who has called the nuclear agreement the “worst deal ever negotiated,” and who is currently weighing the possibility of decertifying Iran’s compliance with it.
In a briefing with reporters, Netanyahu said that the US and Israel now have very similar outlooks on the issue of Iran and its nuclear program. This is in contrast to the tensions that developed between the US and its perennial Middle Eastern ally when the Obama White House was negotiating and defending a nuclear agreement that Netanyahu warned would “pave the way” to an Iranian nuclear weapon.
“The Americans have a desire to fix the agreement, and I offered a plan on how to do it,” the Israeli Prime Minister said of his meeting with Trump, although he did not elaborate. It is not clear whether the Trump administration’s approach to the nuclear deal was significantly different from Netanyahu’s recommendations ahead of their meeting. And it may be difficult to determine whether Monday’s Israeli input influenced Trump’s decision-making process in any meaningful way.
Under the terms of legislation governing American congressional acceptance of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the president is required to certify Iran’s compliance with its obligations under the deal every 90 days. The next deadline for this certification is October 15, and it follows two previous instances of Trump reportedly offering certification only begrudgingly. He has since suggested that that certification will be withheld at the next opportunity, although Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, has insisted that the president has not yet made up his mind.
In recent days, Trump has not explicitly contradicted this characterization of his position. And the USA Today noted that he had spoken to reporters just ahead of his meeting with Netanyahu and had said of his final decision, “You’ll see very soon.” The certification decision is expected to follow or roughly coincide with the public announcement of a new overall policy toward the Islamic Republic, and it has already been reported that that policy is expected to include more aggressive responses to Iranian provocations, some of them peripherally related to the nuclear issues as in the case of repeated Iranian ballistic missile tests.
And although a formal decision on certification is still being withheld, the administration is certainly leveraging various resources to encourage greater international scrutiny of the deal and Iran’s related behavior. Haley’s noncommittal remarks about the president’s decision came in the context of meetings that urged the International Atomic Energy Agency to expand its inspections and seek access to Iranian military sites, a notion the Iranian regime has vigorously rejected.
Reuters called renewed attention to Haley’s recent activities on Monday, noting that they have now been followed by similar commentary from Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, who attended the General Conference of the IAEA and insisted that the nuclear monitoring agency more fully verify Iran’s adherence to the JCPOA. “We will not accept a weakly enforced or inadequately monitored deal,” Perry was quoted as saying.
Such statements suggest that the Trump administration is actively trying to influence international attitudes regarding the nuclear agreement, in line with the president’s own skepticism about its effectiveness and Iran’s commitment to it. Interestingly, Netanyahu’s commentary to reporters following his meeting with Trump indicated that the Israeli Prime Minister already believes the new American position to be having a global impact.
The matter of global influence was also a highlight of the Newsweek report that began with reference to Mousavi’s threats against Israel. That article went on to emphasize that joint American and Israeli pressure on the Islamic Republic is getting an arguably unlikely boost from Israel’s Arab neighbors. As has been variously reportedly recently, Saudi Arabia and its regional partners are increasingly committed to curtailing the growth of Iranian imperialism, and their concerns have even seemingly overridden longstanding animosity between the Arab powers and the Jewish state.
This developing situation leaves the US, Israel, and several Arab powers tentatively aligned against Iran and the nuclear agreement, meaning that the challenge facing all of these parties at the time of the UN General Assembly will be to encourage a similar consensus among European nations. For the most part, these are reportedly committed to maintaining the status quo on the nuclear deal, while unlocking access to Iranian oil and export markets in line with the sanctions relief spearheaded by the Obama White House.