... for openness and credibility....

Israel and Turkey recently announced that, once again, they would upgrade their relations to full diplomatic status. The relationship between the two countries has never been particularly stable, but it reached a nadir after the 2010 Mavi Marmara incident in which an Israeli naval commando assault on the Turkish-operated ship seeking to enter Gaza led to the death of 10 Turkish citizens, with many more injured. Turkey broke off diplomatic relations but restored them in 2016; it broke them off again two years later.

How long the current restoration will last is anyone’s guess. In any event, the current thaw in Turkish-Israeli relations in no way indicates that tranquillity is coming to the Eastern Mediterranean. To begin with, Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, made clear than even with the restoration of full relations, Turkey will continue to maintain its strong support for the Palestinians, including Hamas, Israel’s bitter enemy.

For its part, Israel announced the sale of its Iron Dome air defence system to Cyprus, with which, together with Greece, it plans to complete an underwater power cable called the Euro-Asia Interconnector by 2024. In addition, those three countries concluded an agreement to construct an eastern Mediterranean gas pipeline to Europe beginning in 2025.

On the other hand, Turkey has always been hostile to these tripartite arrangements, and its claims to eastern Mediterranean gas field’s conflict with those of Nicosia. Moreover, Turkey continues to station troops in northern Cyprus, to whose government it alone grants diplomatic recognition. One can only conclude that the one likely target for Cyprus’s Iron Dome missiles would be Turkish military aircraft.

Rising tensions with Greece

Tensions once again are rising between Greece, Israel’s other close partner, and Turkey. Greece has accused Turkey of some 70 violations of its air space. Earlier this week, Turkey accused Greece of interfering with its aircraft during a NATO exercise; Athens, of course, denied Ankara’s claim, asserting that the Turks had entered Greek airspace without prior notification.

There also are reports that Ankara and Jerusalem are discussing the opening of a second gas pipeline from Israel’s Leviathan field through Turkey and into southern Europe as an offset to Russian gas supplies. That pipeline would, of course, compete with Israel’s partnership with Greece and Cyprus. Not surprisingly, especially given the uncertainty of future Turkish-Israeli relations, some in Israel oppose any such arrangement.

Washington has supported Israel’s warming ties with Turkey, but the Biden administration appears to be withdrawing initial American support for the Israeli-Greek-Cypriot pipeline, preferring “greener” alternatives. That opposition has remained sotto voce and has not deterred Jerusalem or its partners from moving ahead — but Washington’s relationship with Jerusalem may well hit a serious downturn if, as seems increasingly likely, it reaches an understanding with Iran to renew the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear accord.

Nuclear bombs and money for mischief

The JCPOA talks are accelerating, thanks to Tehran’s decision to back away from two of its three major demands — namely, that its Revolutionary Guard Corps be removed from America’s terrorist list and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) terminate its investigation of traces of nuclear material found at two sites in 2019.

The Iranian mullahs may have concluded that by “conceding” on two demands they knew could never be met, they would obtain American agreement to ensure a future president will not abrogate the deal, as then-President Donald Trump previously had done. Even if it cannot obtain that concession, Iran may push for speedy relief from American and European sanctions that have throttled its economy.

For its part, the Biden team remains eager to close the deal; many of its leaders, including the president, played a part in achieving the original agreement, which was a source of pride for the Obama administration.

It is the sanctions relief, as much as an Iranian nuclear bomb that worries Israel and its Arab Gulf partners. The sunset provisions that were in the 2015 deal will begin to go into force next year: The European Union will terminate all remaining nuclear sanctions, and Washington not only will remove some Iranian entities from the sanctions list but will seek legislative termination of other sanctions; Iran may want even quicker action on sanctions relief.

Risks for Israel and U.S.

In any event, in 2025, on what has been called “Termination Day,” the United Nations will close its Iran file. Tehran then will be able to pursue its weapons program without restriction while, in the meantime, it will have been the recipient of billions of dollars in both frozen assets and petroleum sales. And those funds will enable Iran to increase its financial support for Hezbollah, Hamas, the Houthis and other militias seeking to destroy Israel, to undermine Gulf governments and, more generally, to disrupt a region that Washington hopes would demand less of its attention, resources and military personnel.

Israel may well decide to strike Iranian nuclear facilities, which could in turn result in a new major Middle Eastern war. Even if Israel elects to refrain from attacking Iran, preferring to continue its clandestine war against the mullahs, it might find itself in yet another war with Hezbollah. Bolstered by a fresh increment of Iranian encouragement and financial support, the Lebanese militant group may choose to unleash a major attack on Israeli cities.

Washington would then find itself dragged back into the Middle East, even as it must continue to attach higher priority to both the threat from China and Russian aggression against Ukraine.

The 2015 Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act requires the Biden administration to enable Congress to review any nuclear agreement with Iran, and administration officials have underscored their commitment to do so. Thus far, however, there has been little communication to Capitol Hill regarding the state of the negotiations.

The White House should act quickly to brief Congress and should proceed with extreme caution before it enters into any undertakings with Iran that could result in even more instability in the Eastern Mediterranean than already is the case.

Note:  This article was originally published in The Hill on 26 August 2022 and has been reproduced with the permission of the author. Web Link

As part of its editorial policy, the MEI@ND standardizes spelling and date formats to make the text uniformly accessible and stylistically consistent. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views/positions of the MEI@ND. Editor, MEI@ND: P R Kumaraswamy