The cementing of a coalition deal between Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid not only appears to herald the end of Benjamin Netanyahu's prime ministerial reign, but for now, at least, it also removes the last major thorn in the side of the parties seeking a return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the Iran nuclear agreement.
In 2015, former US President Barack Obama set a precedent when he pushed for and signed the deal with the Islamic Republic. It caused a reordering of the balance of power in the region.
Cooperation, or at least detente, with Iran was in, the importance of the Saudi Arabia-Gulf states alliance was diminished, and Israel's options to act against Tehran were restricted.
I think that the #Iran mullahs regime never think about using Nuclear products for medical or peaceful use,— mostafa.m (@MostafaMe4) May 26, 2021
They need a nuclear bomb to guarantee to keep power! #JCPOA #NuclearTalks https://t.co/n6DJjKfkzD
There were many twists and turns, but the next major turning point came in May 2018 when former US President Donald Trump pulled the US out of the JCPOA, and once again, the ground rules shifted.
The ayatollahs were more isolated than ever, a window opened for the formulation of the Abraham Accords, and this brought with it security cooperation that allowed Israel to covertly hit Iran on a nearly unprecedented scale. The change was engineered by many, but the two most prominent actors were Trump and Netanyahu.
Trump was voted out in November and Joe Biden took over in the White House in January and now, assuming the Bennett-Lapid coalition gains the confidence of the Knesset next week, Netanyahu will be gone too.
The Gulf states still oppose a return to the JCPOA and a Bennett-Lapid government, notably Benny Gantz as defense minister and Gideon Saar as one of the new administration's policy architects, will also have issues with such a return.
But Gantz, Saar and Lapid are all on record as slamming Netanyahu for opposing the US's policy of returning to the JCPOA. It is still unclear what will be Bennett's position.
But even if Bennett feels the same as Netanyahu, he will be prime minister of a new government where he is in the ideological minority and he will have to consider the attitudes of Gantz, Saar and Lapid on defense issues far more than Netanyahu did with his ministers.
No doubt, a new Bennett-Lapid government will communicate its concerns to the US about holes in the JCPOA, something that Gantz may even be doing on Thursday in his meetings in Washington.
Some also think that Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has himself not yet made a final decision whether he wants to return to the deal.
But the most likely scenario is that there will be a return to the JCPOA in the coming weeks, quite possibly before the June 24 deadline when without a deal, IAEA inspections will end.
IAEA chief: Iran's uranium enrichment now at levels of 'countries making bombs'— Mark Dubowitz (@mdubowitz) May 28, 2021
Of course, this would be permitted under the JCPOA in ten years.
JCPOA is fatally-flawed. Gives regime patient pathways to nuclear weapons. https://t.co/5pomm64OYL
Some will see this as a defeat because Netanyahu knew how to translate his own public criticism of the JCPOA into some gains in talks with the US and among Gulf states.
Some may consider this as a positive move, because US-Israel relations may be less rocky if Israel's leaders make their concerns known behind closed doors.
Of course, the JCPOA would probably have gone ahead even with Netanyahu in office, but with him and Trump out of the way, a return to the deal appears far more likely, and if it is sealed, it will have a major influence on regional actors' behavior, including what Israel will be able to do to counter Iran's nuclear ambitions.
This article has been adapted from its original source.
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