Israel on Iran Deal: Making The Best of a Bad Deal

YERUSHALAYIM (Reuters) -

With a deal on Iran’s nuclear program drawing near, Israel is beginning to look at what comes afterwards and how best to position itself for the longer term.

Publicly, the Israelis have not given up trying to influence what appear to be the closing stages of negotiations.

Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s lead official on the issue, is exerting pressure where he can to try to tighten technical aspects of the deal.

“We are very worried,” he told Reuters this week. “What we are seeing is a certain crumbling, or signs of a crumbling, even in the clauses that had looked very clear and settled,” he said.

But away from the nitty-gritty of the negotiating table, Israeli officials broadly accept that a deal will be done and have begun examining how to align themselves to ensure Israel’s interests are best protected if sanctions on Iran are lifted.

Dore Gold, a senior adviser to Netanyahu recently appointed director-general of Israel’s foreign ministry, has been meeting with retired Saudi general Anwar Eshki, an informal effort to see where the two countries’ interests coincide, especially on Iran. They appeared together at a Washington conference this month.

“There hasn’t been a time when our interests and those of moderate Arab states have overlapped as much as they do now,” said a senior Israeli official who is engaged in the region.

“I’m not saying this is going to develop in to some formal peace process. But there is a very strong coincidence of interests and that has allowed for regional dialogue.”

“Indirect secret cooperation vis-a-vis Iran is happening with these countries and there is the possibility to deepen it,” said Haim Tomer, a former head of international operations at Mossad, Israel’s foreign intelligence agency.

“It’s always easier to cooperate with intelligence sharing than it is when it comes to military assets,” he said, adding that any coordination would remain “under the table”.

In an interview with Israel’s Army Radio on Wednesday, the U.S. ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, discussed the emerging nuclear deal at length, before adding at the end when asked about Israel’s military edge if Iran is freed from sanctions:

“We are ready now to hold a very, very detailed discussion with Israel about its needs should there be a deal with Iran, as we have already started to do with our allies in the Gulf.”