Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu commented in his weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday about his upcoming meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday, February 15, 2017. Stating that the discussions would be important for Israel's security, along with strengthening Israel's international position, Netanyahu followed those comments with details of how he has been preparing.
"I have held many discussions in recent days with the heads of the security establishment, the National Security Council, the Foreign Ministry, and, of course, I have also held additional consultations," Netanyahu said.
He added that his supreme consideration is "to be concerned, first of all, for the security of the State of Israel; to strengthen the steadfast alliance with the U.S.; and, to strengthen our national interests, which are fundamentally connected to the strength of ties with the U.S."
It's expected that part of his focus will be to ask for American support in combatting the existential threat to Israel from Iran. He will also seek American understanding of the increased threat to Israel on its northern and southern borders by Hezbollah and ISIS. Most likely, Netanyahu will look for a way to work with Trump on areas of mutual interest to stop Islamic extremism in the Middle East, especially terrorist activities targeting the Jewish state.
The Israeli government has been encouraged by what is perceived to be a tougher stance on Iran by the new Trump administration. Trump recently put Iran "on notice," confronting its aggressive behavior in its illegal testing of a ballistic missile, by threatening sanctions against the Persian state. Brigadier General (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser, a Middle East analyst for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, sees this as a new day.
"The policy of the former [Obama] administration was to give in and to give the Iranians whatever they want in order to postpone, a little bit, the day when the Iranians are going to have an arsenal, a big arsenal of nuclear weapons. And, from the point of view of the former administration it was all right for them to allow the Iranians to be a hegemonic power in the Middle East," Kuperwasser said.
The Shiite Crescent that has expanded in the Middle East has increased Iran's influence in Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and through its proxy militant armies in the region, like Hezbollah.
While ISIS gets the headlines, Iran is the greatest threat to international stability.
Kuperwasser spoke of three options the Trump administration is faced with today regarding Iran. He thinks Trump is currently focused on using better intelligence, determined that Iran will abide by the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) agreement. Kuperwasser says this is not enough. The second option is to contain the Iranians on other issues besides the nuclear issue… ballistic missiles, terrorism, regional hegemony, human rights abuses, etc. Kuperwasser agrees with this approach, but he also thinks this is not enough.
"The third issue is whether to re-negotiate the deal. I think this is a must because this deal was done in order to enable Iran to have a nuclear arsenal in 15 years. We cannot allow that to happen," he said.
Many Israelis and Americans would agree that the JCPOA deal has empowered and emboldened the Iranian regime, but there is no consensus yet by other members of the JCPOA on tearing up the agreement. If the United States were to declare the document null and void, it still is an internationally signed document by the P5+1 countries, which includes members of the U.N. Security Council (the United States, U.K., France, Germany, Russia, China) and the EU. It is doubtful that Iran would allow changes, and, most likely, they would threaten war.
According to Kuperwasser, "What we see today is that the Iranians are checking the policy of the (U.S.) president and trying to focus the disagreements on the issues that are not the nuclear issues."
These would include missile testing and terrorism throughout the world, while exempting the nuclear deal. Kuperwasser's opinion, which reflects that of the current Netanyahu government, is that the nuclear deal should not continue.
"The first years of the deal are the best time to ask for renegotiation because this is where the Iranians are a little bit weaker. They gave something for having this "wonderful" deal for them, and this is a time when they are not in a position to re-bargain."
In Kuperwasser's opinion, the former Obama administration came into the negotiations room obsessed with getting a deal. The Trump administration has come into power with a totally different approach. Kuperwasser says Trump is not against the deal, but he wants a really good deal.
"This is something that has to happen now. It is extremely important because this is going to shake the relations between radical Islam led by Iran, and the western societies, for ages. So, if we don't wake up now, it might be too late because if we run into the implementation of the deal, and we don't stop on time, this deal will lead Iran into an arsenal of nuclear weapons that will change the relationship between radical Islam and the West," he explained.
Iran, with the reported help of North Korea, has been working on its intercontinental, long-range, and medium-range ballistic missiles, with the hope of eventually fitting them with nuclear warheads that could target Israel, Europe, and the U.S.
Netanyahu's recent visit to the U.K. to meet with Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May and Foreign Minister Boris Johnson was, first and foremost, to form a triangular alliance between Britain, Israel and the United States. This could be the beginning of a new coalition of like-minded countries that see Iran as a threat to the Middle East and to international stability.
Iran's increased militarization poses a threat to the Gulf countries and to Saudi Arabia. Already, there is private cooperation between these countries and Israel. They view Israel as a nuclear umbrella protecting them from Iran. This alliance is important because the Iranians are gaining ground, with a full axis of Shiite extremists following them. If the Trump administration leads a coalition of countries who are ready to defend their populations, by confronting Iran if necessary, it would send a clear message that changing the world order is not going to materialize.
Kuperwasser explains how this message would emanate from the Trump administration.
"We are here defending our world order, we are defending our values, we are determined to do that, we are ready to pay a price if necessary…This is not the message they were getting from the western world in the last eight years."
Most world leaders know that Donald Trump is a "dealmaker." And, any deal involving Iran will also, inevitably, involve Russia. Trump may use leverage in trying to convince Russia to stop turning Syria into an Iranian puppet. Today, Syrian President Bashar Assad is being propped up by Russia and Iran. This is dangerous for Israel, which already has problems with Islamic extremists on its border with Syria, especially Hezbollah's attempts to gain control of the Golan Heights. So far, Israel has been able to knock out some major weapons transfers from Iran, through Syria, to Hezbollah. This is with Russia's tacit approval. But, how many arms shipments have gotten through to Hezbollah without Israeli intelligence knowing about it? And, how long will Russia turn the other way while Israel determines to try and keep the balance of power stable in the region? Russia has reportedly built up Syria's military base with advanced missile defense systems, which could one day make it difficult for Israeli defense forces to protect the Jewish state in any future conflict over Syria.
Meanwhile, if Iran has its way, Syria could become a base from which the Iranians would exert their military power and hegemony in the Middle East and beyond.
Kuperwasser is concerned that Iran's plans will affect global security.
"This possibility that they will have a contiguous axis, starting in Iran and ending in the Mediterranean with Hezbollah, is something that we all should be extremely worried about. This has to stop," he said.
Carrie Hart is a news analyst reporting on political, diplomatic, and military issues as they relate to Israel, the Middle East, and the international community.