Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has embarked on a three-day trip to Europe, where he is rallying leaders against Iran’s alleged threat.
During a trip to France on Tuesday, Netanyahu warned that Tehran will soon use its uranium enrichment program to destroy Israel. The comments came after the head of Iran’s atomic agency announced that the country would once again begin developing the infrastructure to build advanced centrifuges to enrich uranium in case the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), also known as the Iran nuclear deal, falls apart.
“Israel and Iran were on a collision course even without the JCPOA following apart. Now that Iran is rebuilding its nuclear infrastructure, it’s difficult to see how conflict can be avoided—Israel has made it clear that a nuclear Iran is not an option, and Iran is all but daring Israel to stop it,” Chris Meserole, a Middle East expert at the Brookings Institution, told Newsweek.
The Obama administration, China, France, Germany, Russia and the U.K. signed a deal with Iran in 2015, but the administration of President Donald Trump recently decided to pull the U.S. out of the agreement. What’s more, it is unclear whether the U.S. decision to impose sanctions on Iran, which were lifted after Tehran put curbs on its uranium enrichment program, will kill the deal entirely.
Some European Union members, such as France’s President Emmanuel Macron, have said they plan to ensure that the deal survives. Still, the threat of U.S. sanctions has put pressure on European countries working with Iran. So far, international inspectors say that Iran has not violated its end of the agreement, but the country is warning that it will stop abiding by the terms of the deal if the international community doesn’t offer an alternative.
With this in mind, Netanyahu—a staunch opponent of Iran and the nuclear deal—is currently visiting Europe to gin up support to eliminate the agreement. Netanyahu claims Iran is an existential threat, and he is pressuring European allies like France and Germany to get tough on the country. Speaking at a joint news conference with Macron on Tuesday, Netanyahu called Tehran “the greatest threat in the world.”
Nevertheless, some experts argued that a war between Iran and Israel is not imminent.
“What’s going on now is that there is a propaganda campaign. Iran is trying to pressure the Europeans to come up with a compensation for the U.S. pulling out. So far they have done nothing that violates the agreement. As for Netanyahu, he has been beating this drum for over 20 years. So we’re still in a messaging and propaganda phase. But if in a month or two all European countries have pulled out of Iran and aren’t buying Iranian oil, then they might re-start the nuclear program,” Barbara Slavin, director of the Future of Iran program at the Atlantic Council, told Newsweek.
“Netanyahu enjoys having Iran as a foil. He is also controversial at home and an endangered politician, so it’s always useful to have an external enemy. He wants to put the blame on Iran, but the blame is on the United States and those who pressured the U.S. to pull out of the deal,” Slavin added.
Meanwhile, Israel has spent the last several months launching strikes against Iranian militias stationed in Syria. Russia, who is helping prop up the Syrian government, has reportedly reached a deal with Israel that would see Iranian troops removed from the southern part of Syria that borders Israel. Nevertheless, Iran has said that it is unwilling to move the militias.
In this tense atmosphere, Macron argued that the Iran nuclear deal is more important to maintain than ever because it could prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. Some experts said Iran’s nuclear program could be up and running again within a year if it starts redeveloping its nuclear program. Macron has previously claimed that the end of the nuclear deal could lead to war.