Israel concerned over Iranian brinkmanship

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at the opening of Imam Khomeini International Airport on Tuesday. Photo: Iranian Presidency Office/AP

IRAN will violate the limit on low-grade uranium production by Thursday unless it gets significant concessions from Europe, according to an official in Tehran.

The announcement came as the US is blaming Iran for attacking two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman. Now, the US is in the process of moving 1000 extra troops to the Middle East, concerned at the possibility that tensions with Iran will escalate. 

Behrouz Kamalvandi of the Iranian atomic agency announced on Monday that if Europe does not take steps to help Iran cope with money lost since the US pulled out of the nuclear deal last year, it will exceed its 300 kilogram limit on low-grade uranium.

Israel watched developments with concern, and said that Iran must be hit even harder economically with so-called snapback sanctions if it breaks enrichment rules. “Should Iran make good on its current threats, and violate the nuclear agreement, the international community will need to immediately impose the sanctions regime that was agreed upon in advance,” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Meir Zamir, a Middle East expert at Ben Gurion University, told The AJN that with the attacks on oil tankers and the threatened enrichment, Iran is playing a “dangerous game.” 

He said, “It’s all a game to try to apply pressure, but it’s a dangerous game because if something unexpected happens, the situation can escalate.” The threats are part of the “bazaar system” to force the Europeans to recommit to the nuclear deal and to try to get the Americans to consider a new deal, said Zamir. 

“All this is to get to increased tension, to go to the verge of conflict, but not to cross the line,” Zamir commented. 

Eyal Zisser of Tel Aviv University takes a similar view. “One the one hand they escalate but on the other hand they’re careful not to ignite major conflict,” he said in an interview with The AJN. “They still want to manoeuvre.”

Both experts believe that Iran will continue this brinkmanship – but see a danger that unplanned or unexpected circumstances could lead to an unplanned escalation. 

As Netanyahu warned Iran to show restraint on its nuclear ambitions, Israel’s President warned Iran against escalating tensions on Israel’s northern border, where its proxy Hezbollah is stationed. 

“We warn Hezbollah not to impose Iran’s agenda on Lebanon, and we warn Lebanon not to be a base for attacks on Israel,” said Reuven Rivlin. “We are not eager to fight. But the IDF is alert and ready to respond to any threat.”

The rise in tensions with Iran comes as Israel is bracing itself for angry Palestinian demonstrations, and possible violence. America is due to start revealing details of its Middle East peace plan on Tuesday, at an economic workshop in Bahrain.

The Palestinian Authority has been boycotting all US-led peace initiatives since the American embassy moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem last year. 

Palestinian political groups claim to already know that the peace plan will not address their major concerns, and several parties released a statement saying: “We refuse any solution that does not consider fundamental Palestinian rights.”

The PA has called for strikes and protests as the peace plan is being revealed, and Jerusalem is concerned that demonstrations could turn violent. Demonstrations are expected to be boosted by anger over the Golan Heights as well as the peace plan.

This week, the Israeli Government held its cabinet meeting in the Golan – newly recognised as sovereign Israel by the US administration – and approved the establishment of a new community there which is to be called Trump Heights. 

Netanyahu stood with the US ambassador to Israel David Friedman and unveiled the sign bearing the community’s name. “This is a historic day for us,” he said, lauding “an act of settlement and of Zionism of the first order”. But Palestinian leaders decried the dedication. 

The Palestinian politician Hanan Ashrawi said, “Annexation is an illegal act that strikes at the heart of the international rules-based system, requiring the unequivocal condemnation and rebuke of the international community. Endorsing this multi-faceted crime makes this [US] administration complicit in this crime.”