In 2015, The United States, China, France, Russia, Britain, and the EU signed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and agreed to lift sanctions on Iran. In exchange, Iran agreed to halt its nuclear program. Under the JCPOA, Iran was prohibited from enriching uranium with a concentration of over 3.67% of uranium 235, which could be used to fuel a nuclear bomb if over 90% concentration. Further, The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was guaranteed full access to monitor Iran’s nuclear facilities to ensure that they were upholding the deal. The goal was to ensure that it would take at least one year for Iran to produce enough nuclear material to make a bomb if they abandoned the deal.
Prior to the JCPOA, Iran’s economy was fledgling, as they were deprived of over $100 billion from 2012 to 2014 alone. A line here about lifting sanctions would help this situation. However, Israeli leaders specifically were concerned that lifting sanctions would allow Iran to fund more terror against Israel. Iran openly calls for the destruction of the state of Israel, and has been working to support that goal. Iran is the world’s largest supporter of terrorism, and they give terror groups such as Hezbollah weapons and $700 million a year, as well as $100 million a year to Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, who all pursue the same goal of destroying Israel.
In 2018, President Trump pulled out of the JCPOA and reinstated sanctions on Iran. In response, Iran began to disobey the JCPOA by enriching uranium at over 60%, turning off IAEA surveillance cameras, and enriching uranium in hundreds of advanced centrifuges at prohibited locations, all in the pursuit of obtaining enough nuclear material to produce a bomb. According to a report from the Institute for Science and International Security in June, 2022, Iran has the ability to make four nuclear bombs within three months.
The most recent round of negotiations occurred in August, this year. However, there were sticking points, including the United States’ classification of Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist organization, as well as Iran’s efforts to limit the IAEA’s supervision with underground facilities and by disabling cameras. Further, the deal would require a 30-day period of U.S. congressional review, and given the upcoming midterm elections in the United States, it is unlikely that a new deal will be signed in the near future. Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said he would consider entering the deal, but only if it had a military-strike option that every signtorie would have to support if Iran did not comply.
Israel is concerned that lifting sanctions on Iran again will allow them to fund more terrorism. Mossad Chief David Barnea went to America in early September to persuade the CIA and other relevant officials to not re-enter the deal. Israel estimates that Iran would gain $90 billion in one year if the sanctions were dropped.
In June, Mossad and Turkish intelligence contributed to the arrest of 10 Iranian terror-cell members that were planning to kill the former Israeli Ambassador to Turkey, his wife, and other Israelis. Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh said “was a pre-designed scenario to destroy relations between the two Muslim countries,” and denied Iranian involvement. However, immediately after the attack was foiled, the head of IRGS’ intelligence unit, which is responsible for foreign operations, was replaced after holding that position for 10 years. This casts doubt on Iran’s culpability in terrorist plot.
Additionally, Iran has recently been transporting more weapons into Syria, which then were taken to Lebanon to support Hezbollah and other groups. On August 27, Israel struck a scientific research center in Masyaf, destroying 1,000 Iranian-manufactured missiles.
Further, even if a deal is signed, it is possible that Israel would take action against Iran. On September 12, Barnea said that “even if a deal is signed, it will not provide immunity from Mossad operations.” A week before, Lapid said “[i]f Iran continues to test us, it will discover Israel’s long arm and capabilities. We will continue to act on all fronts against terrorism and against those who seek to harm us.”
Israeli concerns with the JCPOA remain the same as they were in 2015, and Irsaeli leaders are trying to influence the United States to not re-enter the deal at the current terms of negotiation, seeking a stronger stance on Iran’s nuclear proliferation. However, recent actions and voices show that in 2022, Israel is more vocal about the steps they will take to maintain security and sovereignty, regardless of whether or not a deal is signed.
Bailey Pasternak is a sophomore majoring in International Studies at Johns Hopkins. He is from Cleveland, OH and is a blog writer for the Hopkins Podcast on Foreign Affairs.