Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu will meet in New York on Monday, at the start of a week in which they intend to launch a concerted assault at the United Nations against the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.
While anxiety about Iran’s expansive role in Syria, Yemen, Iraq and Lebanon is widely shared, Trump and Netanyahu’s antipathy to the multilateral deal agreed in Vienna two years ago binds them together, even as it sets them apart from the overwhelming majority of other world leaders attending the annual UN summit.
Western allies in Europe – most notably the UK, France and Germany, co-signatories of the 2015 deal – remain committed to the agreement and have signalled they are willing to disagree sharply and openly with Trump on the issue.
The stance taken by Netanyahu and Trump has also set them apart from their most senior national security advisers.
On a visit to Buenos Aires on Tuesday, the Israeli prime minister declared: “Our position is straightforward. This is a bad deal. Either fix it – or cancel it.” Netanyahu is supported in that position by his defence minister, Avigdor Lieberman, and the US ambassador in Washington, Ron Dermer. But he is reportedly not backed by the Israeli defence and intelligence establishment, which believes Iran is abiding by the agreement and its strict limits on nuclear activities and stockpiles of fissile material.
“The nuclear agreement is a good example of the kind of solutions to which I aspired,” Carmi Gillon, a former chief of the internal security service Shin Bet, wrote in July. “It has neutralized a major threat to the world, while ensuring that the United States and its allies have the tools, the information and the leverage that they need to confront the Iranian danger and make the region, and the world, a safer place.”
“In line with Netanyahu’s perception of what serves Israel, his interest is in maintaining a strong American presence in the region including militarily and in a maximally adversarial US-Iran relationship,” Levy said. “Getting Trump to do his bidding on Iran also helps Netanyahu to present a domestic political image of being a winner.”
Trump has signalled his intention to withdraw certification of the Iran deal in a report the state department is due to submit to Congress by 15 October. Although that would not lead directly to the end of the agreement, it would open the door to new US sanctions which would represent a violation of the deal and trigger its unravelling.
Such a move is known to be opposed by both the secretaries of defense and state, James Mattis and Rex Tillerson. Both are generally hawkish on Iran but argue that the US should not provoke a new crisis – and possibly a nuclear arms race – in the Middle East in the midst of a tense nuclear and missile stand-off with North Korea.