After Gantz’s resignation, the far right reasserts dominance over the Israeli government at a particularly sensitive time

Nimrod Goren
Senior Fellow for Israeli Affairs

Nimrod Goren
  • Centrist politician Benny Gantz joined Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition in October to help Israel overcome an unprecedented crisis and balance the impact of extremists during war time.

  • His resignation marks a return to the pre-Oct. 7 government composition, but within a new context, in which the Israeli public has lost faith in Netanyahu’s leadership and seeks a way out of the nation’s troubles.

Following the June 9 resignation of Benny Gantz and his National Unity party from Benjamin Netanyahu’s war government, Israel is once again led by a coalition that relies on far-right parties and extremists. This is happening at a particularly sensitive time for the country: Israel faces an additional risk of escalation along its northern border, needs a realistic “day after” plan for the Gaza Strip, has been offered the prospect of normalization with Saudi Arabia, and is on the receiving end of growing international criticism.

When Gantz, a political rival of Netanyahu, joined the coalition shortly after Oct. 7, he sought to help Israel navigate an unprecedented moment of crisis. His intention was to inject responsible and security-minded considerations into decision-making processes, to help Israel win the war, and to encourage a sense of unity within the heavily divided Israeli society. His party’s participation in the war cabinet at times limited the impact of Netanyahu’s far-right coalition partners and led to a sharp increase in Gantz’s favorability ratings.

As months passed, however, Gantz and his colleagues became less influential. They claimed Netanyahu was siding with far-right Ministers Itamar Ben-Gvir and Betzalel Smotrich. With “day after” plans torpedoed and hostage release negotiations stalled, in May, Gantz spelled out to Netanyahu a list of conditions for him to stay in the government, which the prime minister disregarded. Once the three-week ultimatum passed, leaving the coalition became Gantz’s natural next step.

Israeli opposition activists for months hoped that Gantz’s exit would mobilize the masses to intensify their protests and increase pressure on the government to collapse. But this momentum seems to have run out steam, at least in part because of Gantz having so prolonged his political maneuvering. The resignation, thus, did not have an immediate impact, although it is still viewed as a box that had to be ticked on the path to leadership change in Israel.

Netanyahu’s government is now back to its original composition, as established in late 2022. It enjoys a majority in parliament (64 out of 120 seats) so is seemingly stable, but a large majority of Israelis see this government as unfit for purpose. The extremist nature of the coalition harmed Israel’s national interests even prior to Oct. 7, and it will likely cause additional damage in the months ahead — on the war front, domestically, and on the international stage. While Netanyahu focuses on political survival, many Israelis want early elections.

Gantz is calling for such elections to be held in the fall but has limited capacity to make this happen. His departure from the coalition may catalyze political moves by others — such as Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant — and could eventually speed up the dissolution of the Knesset, though rather indirectly.

Gantz’s resignation lowers the chances that Netanyahu will agree to a deal with Hamas, which US President Joe Biden actively pushes for, necessitating a significant halt to the Israel Defense Forces’ (IDF) operations in Gaza and the release of many Palestinian prisoners. The prime minister’s increased dependence on far-right coalition partners who oppose such a deal make it even less likely.

The United States seems to have quickly understood the meaning of these changes. While Secretary of State Blinken is visiting Israel again, the US is reportedly looking into a possible hostage deal of its own with Hamas, which would not involve Israel and enable the release of five dual Israeli-American citizens held hostage in Gaza. Similarly, the US may be moving ahead with bilateral understandings with Saudi Arabia, which will not include an immediate normalization with Israel, as would have been possible under an Israeli leader willing to commit to the two-state solution.

Follow: @GorenNimrod

Secretary of State Antony Blinken returns to the Middle East for another round of “mission impossible” diplomacy

Brian Katulis
Senior Fellow for US Foreign Policy

Brian Katulis
  • Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to the region, his eighth since the Israel-Hamas war began, comes at a time when the diplomatic pathways to a cease-fire seem to have narrowed in recent days.

  • More than 10 days after US President Joe Biden announced a plan to end the war, the two main combatants have yet to give a clear response, and the wider plans that the Biden administration has for concluding the conflict remain stalled.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is currently in the Middle East on his eighth trip since Hamas began this war by attacking Israel a little over eight months ago, and the prospects for a diplomatic breakthrough remain slim. Blinken is scheduled to visit Egypt, Israel, Jordan, and Qatar, before joining President Joe Biden at the G7 meeting in Italy.

The top priority of Blinken’s trip is a cease-fire, just as it was on his previous trip. A main point Blinken is likely to stress is the urgent need for Hamas to accept the proposal on the table, “which is nearly identical to one Hamas endorsed last month,” as the State Department said in a statement announcing this latest trip. In addition, Blinken will continue to highlight the administration’s goal of preventing a wider regional escalation, and he will attend a conference on the Gaza humanitarian response organized by Jordan, Egypt, and the United Nations.

This visit comes just days after a daring Israeli raid in Gaza that secured the release of four Israeli hostages held by Hamas, but which came with high human costs to Palestinians living in the Nuseirat refugee camp, in central Gaza. Some senior Biden administration officials have speculated that the raid will likely complicate the efforts to secure the release of those hostages who remain alive because it may increase Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s resolution to pursue a military campaign to release hostages, rather than rely on diplomacy. In addition, Hamas has not accepted the latest deal, presented publicly at the end of May by President Biden, despite a concerted diplomatic effort by the United States, Egypt, and Qatar, among others.

An estimated five Americans remain hostage in Gaza, and the Biden administration has reportedly started to explore negotiating a unilateral deal with Hamas to secure their release if the current diplomatic effort doesn’t achieve a cease-fire. It is unclear whether this idea is anything more than just a trial balloon in a press leak to show America’s determination to secure the release of its citizens and pressure the two main combatants to end the conflict.

Speaking this weekend, Biden’s National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan continued to maintain the focus on an to agreement to pause the fighting, saying, “the most effective, certain and right way to get all of the hostages out is to get a comprehensive cease fire and hostage deal that President Biden described in public a few days ago, that Israel has accepted, and now that we are awaiting Hamas to respond to.” He emphasized that Hamas has not yet offered a clear response. Sullivan also expressed the hope that by the time Netanyahu comes to speak to a joint session of Congress on July 24, a cease-fire and hostage release in exchange for Palestinian prisoners could open the pathway to wider diplomatic efforts to advance stability in the region.

Given the recent trajectory of the war, this may represent the triumph of hope over the bitter reality of a war that has already reshaped the region and world in many unexpected ways. The Biden administration should continue its efforts to pursue this cease-fire deal, but it would be wise to conduct contingency planning and develop alternatives if Hamas and the current Israeli government can’t get to a “yes.”

Follow: @Katulis

Biden supports Gaza raid amid mounting civilian casualties

Carol Daniel Kasbari
Non-Resident Scholar

Carol Daniel Kasbari
  • Israel’s high-stakes hostage-rescue operation late last week reportedly left hundreds dead and wounded, while sparking controversy over the documented use by the Israeli forces of civilian and aid trucks as well as the American-built pier; the incident has drawn significant international condemnation for the civilian death toll, casting a shadow over the assistance role of the United States and the future of the hostage negotiations.

  • The United Nations Security Council’s potential involvement, as requested by the Palestinian Authority, in addressing the devastating impact of the attack on the civilian population could be a critical step toward international mediation and accountability.

In a dramatic turn of events, and eight months into the war on Gaza, Israel conducted a high-stakes operation in the Gazan refugee camp of Nuseirat to rescue four hostages held by Hamas. While the mission succeeded in freeing the captives, it left a trail of devastation, with at least 274 Palestinians dead, according to the Gaza Ministry of Health, and hospitals overwhelmed by the influx of casualties. Civilian eyewitnesses described “hell on earth” unfolding during the attack, which drew rebukes, on Sunday, from some regional leaders.

US President Joe Biden, alongside French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris, lauded the rescue, expressing relief at the hostages’ safe return. Biden reaffirmed America’s commitment to bringing all hostages home and achieving a cease-fire, a goal he deemed essential. This unwavering support from the United States has been consistent since Oct. 7, with hostage recovery high on Biden’s agenda.

The operation’s aftermath, however, has sparked significant controversy. Images of civilian and aid trucks and the American-built pier apparently used in the operation have fueled criticism, casting a shadow over the role of the US and the future of the hostage negotiations. Despite the operation aligning with US policy, the heavy civilian toll has drawn international condemnation.

A US official confirmed that the government’s hostage-release cell, comprising representatives from various agencies, provided critical intelligence for the mission. Although details remain sparse, Israeli intelligence acknowledged the substantial value of US contributions in locating the hostages.

International bodies and numerous countries have denounced the high Palestinian casualties. Gaza authorities reported 698 injuries, describing the attack as unprecedentedly brutal, with hospitals struggling to manage the crisis. Civil defense crews continue to uncover dead and wounded individuals amidst the rubble, hampered by ongoing airstrikes across the enclave. The humanitarian toll is staggering, with Gaza’s Ministry of Health reporting over 37,000 Palestinians killed and 84,000 injured since the conflict began.

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Mustafa has called for an emergency United Nations Security Council (UNSC) session to address the Nuseirat attack. Hamas, meanwhile, dismissed the significance of the rescue, asserting that it does not mitigate Israel’s strategic failures in Gaza, particularly given the eight-month duration of the broader military campaign. Hamas also accused the US of complicity in what it terms war crimes against Gaza’s besieged population.

The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, essentially echoed these sentiments, condemning what he explicitly called a civilian massacre and demanding, “The bloodbath must end immediately.” His stark words highlight a pressing question: How can a cease-fire be reached when US support appears to endorse actions resulting in significant civilian casualties?

As the global community grapples with these issues, the path to a sustainable cease-fire and the resolution of the hostage crisis remains fraught with uncertainty. Diplomatic efforts must intensify, focusing on immediate humanitarian relief. The UNSC’s potential involvement, as requested by the Palestinian Authority, could be a critical step toward international mediation and accountability.

Follow: @CarolDkas

After attack on US embassy in Beirut, plight of Syrian refugees in Lebanon back in the spotlight

Dalal Yassine
Non-Resident Scholar

Dalal Yassine
  • For the ninth year in a row, Syrian refugees are at the top of the global list of communities most in need of resettlement, though their daily struggles have been overshadowed by the wars in Ukraine and Gaza.

  • Last May’s Brussels conference on “Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region” pledged 560 million euros to aid refugees in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Jordan; however, these funds are insufficient and will only help secure some of their basic humanitarian needs, while also ignoring the need for asylum and resettlement.

Last week’s attack on the United States’ embassy in Beirut briefly returned the issue of Syrian refugees to the headlines. Qais Farraj, a Syrian refugee, opened fire on the diplomatic compound and wounded a guard. Farraj was subsequently himself wounded, after exchanging fire with the Lebanese army, and arrested. He claimed that he carried out the attack in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza. Some Lebanese politicians quickly seized on the incident to justify their anti-refugee policies and rhetoric.

For the ninth year in a row, Syrian refugees are at the top of the global list of communities most in need of resettlement. Yet they have been overshadowed by the wars in Ukraine and Gaza. None of the major powers want to address the Syrian refugee crisis or engage in a diplomatic solution that would facilitate an end to the war, reconciliation, and voluntary return. Instead, the host countries are left to handle an unmanageable humanitarian crisis on their own.

In addition to their daily struggle to survive as international humanitarian support and interest declines, Syrian refugees face a hostile environment inside Lebanon. This group has become enmeshed in Lebanon’s political, economic, and security chaos. Lebanon remains on the brink of economic collapse, and the potential for a wider war with Israel has increased. Even before the embassy attack, voices calling for the deportation of Syrian refugees from Lebanon were growing daily. Although the Lebanese political parties are deeply divided, they agree that Syrians must return home.

Syrian refugees in Lebanon live in precarious conditions, especially in areas dominated by Lebanese right-wing parties. They are increasingly criminalized and have been attacked frequently by the Lebanese army. Hundreds of Syrian refugees in Lebanon have been subjected to violence and expulsion from their dwellings. Moreover, discriminatory curfews have been imposed by local authorities on a number of Lebanese municipalities and governorates. Those curfews were first implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic, but they continue to restrict the freedom of movement of Syrian refugees at specific hours of the day.

In May, the European Union hosted the eighth Brussels conference on “Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region.” The international community made a generous financial commitment of 7.5 billion euros, of which, 560 million euros were allocated to support refugees in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Jordan. However, these funds are insufficient and will only help secure some of the basic humanitarian needs of Syrian refugees as they remain sheltered in host countries that themselves rely on Western assistance.

The promised funding also ignores the need for asylum and resettlement of Syrian refugees. With the rise of far-right and populist parties in Europe promoting anti-immigration policies, the chances of resettling refugees there are increasingly limited. Instead, EU countries are restricting the influx of Syrian refugees and other migrant groups through partnership agreements with Mediterranean and North African states that oblige local authorities to more stringently monitor their land and sea borders.

Although EU countries have not reconciled with Bashar al-Assad’s government in Syria, the policies they are pursuing suggest that the status quo is acceptable to them. After 13 years of civil war, this means more misery and violence for Syrian refugees.

Follow: @Dalal_yassine

Assessing the evolution and likely trajectory of the clashes along the Israel-Lebanon border: The view from Tel Aviv

Mark A. Heller
Non-Resident Scholar

Mark A. Heller
  • Although Israel has had the upper hand in the majority of its tactical-level clashes with Hezbollah since Oct. 7, it has incurred a serious setback at the strategic level, including a large-scale evacuation of the border area and a neutralization of traditional Israeli military doctrine, which seeks to shift combat to the territory of the adversary.

  • In recent weeks, Hezbollah has intensified its strikes, using deeper penetration drones to attack urban areas and cause civilian casualties and extensive environmental damage; this has created a clear sense that the conflict may shift to high-intensity war with little early warning.

Since the Hamas attack on Oct. 7 of last year, world attention has mostly focused on Israel’s response in Gaza. Less noticed, but no less strategically significant, has been a parallel campaign launched the following day by Hezbollah along Israel’s border with Lebanon. This is not a separate conflict but rather part of the same multi-front war involving Iranian clients or proxies.

For the most part, this campaign has been fought at a lower level of intensity, with fewer casualties and less infrastructural damage on both sides. Nevertheless, although Israel has had the upper hand in the majority of these tactical-level interactions, it has incurred a serious setback at the strategic level. Cross-border rocket and missile strikes, along with the fear that elite Hezbollah troops (the Radwan Force) would emulate Hamas’ ground and subterranean attacks, prompted Israel to evacuate about 60,000 residents from the border area (and to approve and subsidize the voluntary departure of about 30,000 more). This has resulted in serious economic damage and the creation of civilian no-go areas: i.e., the denial of part of its territory for civilian use. In sum, Hezbollah’s actions have neutralized a key element of Israel’s traditional military doctrine, which is to shift combat to the territory of the adversary.

Not surprisingly, this situation produced significant pressure inside Israel for large-scale military action. The authorities have resisted it, thus far, due to concern about high-intensity combat on multiple fronts, knowledge of Hezbollah’s undeniable military capabilities, apprehension about possible Iranian intervention, and anticipation of international, especially American, reaction.

Thus, as long as conflict was confined to areas close to the border and civilian casualties were largely avoided, Israel was prepared, barely, to tolerate the situation. In recent weeks, however, Hezbollah has intensified the level of violence, using deeper penetration drones to attack urban areas and cause civilian casualties and extensive environmental damage. Israel’s response, thus far, has been graduated, involving deeper air strikes into Lebanon, but there is a clear sense that things are moving in an unacceptable direction and that, rather than incremental escalation, a quantum leap may be needed. Barring some change, there is a significant probability that low-intensity conflict may shift to high-intensity war with little early warning.

What might divert this undesirable chain of events is a dramatic if improbable change of posture by Hezbollah. From Israel’s standpoint, the surest path to de-escalation would involve two steps. First would be a withdrawal of Hezbollah’s forces back from the frontier, preferably to the Litani River, in keeping with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701 that ended the Second Lebanon War in 2006. Second, Israel wants to see a declaration approving the idea of the Lebanese government formally demarcating the land boundary with Israel, just as the two sides earlier demarcated their maritime boundary.

Of course, this idea will remain a fantasy as long as any Israeli military threat lacks credibility — that is, as long as Hezbollah believes it can contain Israeli-dealt damage to a sufficient degree through a combination of military counter-action, Iranian support, and international, especially American, diplomatic intervention. The key to avoiding a major war along and beyond the Israeli-Lebanese border, therefore, lies in forcefully persuading Hezbollah that in the absence of a serious redeployment, the United States will not restrain Israel but will constrain the Islamic Republic from intervening on Hezbollah’s behalf. And in the absence of such a change in Washington’s posture, there is a discouragingly high likelihood of major escalation soon.

Egypt moves toward Russia to ensure food security

Mirette F. Mabrouk
Senior Fellow and Founding Director of the Egypt program

Mirette F. Mabrouk
  • Continued grain supplies are an existential matter for Egypt, the world’s top importer, and so Cairo has presented a project to Moscow: a Russian grain supply hub on Egyptian territory.

  • The conflict in Gaza and perceived Western double standards appear to have freed non-Western countries from maintaining the pretense of sidelining Russia.

Last week, Egypt moved one step closer to safeguarding its essential grain supply and one step closer to Russia while maintaining an independent international policy. Egyptian Minister of Trade and Industry Ahmed Samir told the Russian news agency RIA Novosti that an Egyptian company had sent the government of Russia a feasibility study for the construction of a grain hub in Egypt, with the capacity to both store and process Russian grain. Samir mentioned the Mediterranean ports of Damietta and Port Said as well as the Red Sea port of Sokhna as possible sites for the hub.

The announcement marked a step forward in a bilateral plan that has been percolating since August of last year. Both countries had originally discussed establishing a logistics center in the Suez Canal Zone, which would not only supply Egypt but also facilitate the export of Russian grain to Egypt’s neighbors. The free flow of grain supplies is an existential matter for Egypt, the world’s largest importer of this commodity; while Russia is its major exporter.

The war between Russia and Ukraine has had a disastrous impact on Egypt as approximately 80% of the latter’s wheat imports come from the two warring countries. The resulting scarcity of exports and spiraling prices, which Egypt had to pay with rapidly dwindling hard currency reserves, helped push it to the brink of a fully-fledged economic disaster in 2022. Clearly, Egypt has now decided it needs to safeguard its supplies, and it has wisely positioned itself as a partner rather than a mere customer. With the Russo-Ukrainian war having triggered a grain shortage across Africa, Egypt hopes it will be uniquely positioned to help facilitate the supply to the rest of the continent.

The new grain hub deal with Russia, if it comes to fruition, will be another clear indication that Egypt’s policies will be driven by domestic priorities and not the interests of its international partners. Calls by the United States and others to sanction Russia for its attack on Ukraine have been treated with polite caution by partners in the Middle East, Egypt among them. However, the conflict in Gaza and perceived US complicity in the grotesquely spiraling human catastrophe there appears to have freed non-Western partners from even having to maintain the pretense of sidelining Russia.

Follow: @mmabrouk

Afghan Taliban increasingly in good graces of regional powers

Marvin G. Weinbaum
Director, Afghanistan and Pakistan Studies

Marvin G. Weinbaum
  • Despite continuing calls for Afghanistan’s Taliban regime to respect human rights and become more inclusive, many countries have become convinced that engagement with the government in Kabul is the only viable option.

  • There has been a visible warming toward the regime, particularly by Russia and China, and many regional powers are prioritizing security issues and economic well-being in their relations with Afghanistan over other concerns.

While Afghanistan’s Taliban regime remains under international sanctions and diplomatically unrecognized by any country, these measures are becoming increasingly meaningless. Gradually, the regime’s relations are normalizing with much of the global community, particularly with regional states. Calls persist for the Kabul government to become more inclusive, give no quarter to groups exporting terrorism and radicalism, and soften social policies, especially toward women; however, many countries have relaxed some demands and settled on other priorities. For its part, the Taliban, while seeking to gain international approval along with financial and development assistance, stands firm in resisting foreign meddling in its internal affairs, rebuffing all attempts to coax it into changing the regime’s hardline core Islamic policies. Ideology aside, in interactions with foreign powers, the Taliban has learned that, with patience, it can usually count on foreign interlocutors to yield concessions.

Behind the visible warming toward Afghanistan is the appreciation of the country’s critical role in achieving regional security and economic wellbeing. A recent increase in cross-border terrorism originating in Afghanistan has led regional powers to put greater pressure on the country for security guarantees and cooperation, prioritizing them along with economic concerns at the expense of other demands on the Kabul regime, most notably human rights. The interest of Afghanistan’s neighbors, particularly China, in its natural resources— mainly copper and iron ore — is long-standing. So too is the country’s strategic location as a land bridge for the transit of commercial goods and energy resources, as well as hopes of creating regional prosperity through economic integration.

For some time, the distinction between de facto and de jure recognition of the Taliban regime has been blurred. China, Russia, and Pakistan maintain working embassies in Kabul, and a growing number of countries have established diplomatic representation. Taliban delegations have attended conferences dealing with Afghanistan in Moscow and Beijing. Several recent political developments underscore a further broadening of relations. Kabul was welcomed as a participant at the Russia-convened 27th St. Petersburg International Economic Forum. While economic investment and cooperation were the main items on the conference agenda, both the Russians and the Taliban seized the opportunity to deepen their political engagement on the sidelines. President Vladimir Putin also offered Afghanistan the prospect of eventual membership in Asia’s foremost regional body, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Along with China’s, Russia’s growing embrace of the Taliban is meant to provide Afghanistan with an attractive alternative to the West’s liberal international order.

Further evidence of Afghanistan shedding its pariah status was demonstrated six months ago with Kazakhstan’s decision to remove the Taliban from its list of banned organizations. In addition, there was an invitation to an official Afghan delegation led by interim Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani and spy chief Abdul Haq Wasiq — both sanctioned by a $10 million bounty offered by the US — to travel to the United Arab Emirates, where they met with Abu Dhabi’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. The delegates also received travel exemptions from the United Nations Security Council for a planned visit to Saudi Arabia. While the US and the West seem mostly resigned to accept the reality of a Taliban Afghanistan, Russia, China, and Iran, among others, are taking their relations with the Taliban regime to a new level.

For all of Afghanistan’s weaknesses, its Taliban rulers are finding that regional powers want to see the country achieve stability in the security and economic realms almost as much as the Afghan state needs the international aid to carry out some of the normal functions of governing. The Taliban’s demonstrated willingness to muddle through a period of serious deprivation and endure the suffering of its citizens rather than discard what it considers its Islamic birthright, thus, gives it a strong bargaining hand. In any case, the Taliban has managed to convince much of the global community that ostracism has failed and that engagement is the only viable option.

Research assistant Naad-e-Ali Sulehria contributed to this piece.

Follow: @mgweinbaum

IAEA censures Iran, but no crisis is likely in the offing on its nuclear program

Alex Vatanka
Director of Iran Program and Senior Fellow, Black Sea Program

Alex Vatanka
  • The International Atomic Energy Agency’s censure resolution against Iran is highly unlikely to break the deadlock between Tehran and the West, but the current status quo — of Iran consolidating its position as a threshold nuclear state but without weaponizing — will likely hold until at least after the US presidential election.

  • The terms of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal will expire in October 2025, giving Western powers very little time to push Tehran into accepting a new agreement; though if no new deal is reached, Western sanctions will effectively become permanent, and the West may decide that only military action can forestall Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon.

Last week, the 35-member Board of Governors of the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), issued a resolution against Iran for its lack of cooperation with the agency. This measure was tabled by the E-3 (the United Kingdom, France, and Germany) and had the backing of 20 member states. Two countries on the board — China and Russia — voted against it, while 12 abstained.

The censure had been anticipated given the IAEA’s long-running frustration with Tehran’s lack of cooperation. In fact, reports of possible American reluctance to join the European-led censure was the one aspect about this latest move that was most unusual. Iran was last censured in November 2022. The Americans had feared the resolution would only provoke Tehran to further expand its nuclear program or, worse still, encourage Iranian retaliation outside the nuclear area. The resolution came amidst careful efforts by both Tehran and Washington to make sure the various areas of conflict between them do not get out of hand.

Accordingly, this latest action at the IAEA is highly unlikely to break the deadlock between Iran and the West. However, it does not mean this vote is a precursor to a deeper crisis to come. Most likely, the current status quo — dating back to the Trump administration’s May 2018 unilateral withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, JCPOA) — will hold roughly steady until the end of 2024 or at least until after the US presidential election. Namely, Iran will continue to slowly consolidate its position as a nuclear threshold state but without weaponizing. The downside for Tehran is that it will have to keep paying the heavy economic price of associated international sanctions.

In Tehran, few senior members of the regime still believe in the possibility reviving the 2015 JCPOA. Only one of the six candidates registered to run in Iran’s June snap presidential elections has spoken of the need for Iran to compromise with the West; but as a whole, the Islamist regime — led, since 1989, by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei — seems reconciled to live with US-led sanctions. As long China and Russia continue to side with Iran — and in the case of Beijing help keep its ailing economy afloat —Tehran is highly unlikely to make any major new concessions until Washington either re-enters the nuclear deal or fresh rounds of negotiations begin.

Neither is very likely until after the US elections. But the Iranians are already expecting some major push by the Western states at that point. The terms of the JCPOA end in October 2025. After that date, the West is unlikely to be able to secure Russia and China’s support at the UN Security Council against Iran (as was the case before 2015) — hence, the West has limited time. But a scenario of the clock running out on the JCPOA would be a double-edged sword for Tehran, effectively making the Western sanctions on Iran permanent, even if not actually approved by the UN. And worse still, Western powers might conclude that some kind of military action is the only way for them to contain Iran’s nuclear program.

Follow: @AlexVatanka

Photo: Kobi Wolf/Bloomberg via Getty Images

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