AS the P5+1 and Iran try to breathe life back into the JCPOA, as the nuclear deal is officially known, it appears that Israel is resorting to subterfuge and sabotage to try and derail any solution and keep the Middle East on a knife-edge. On Sunday, the Iranian nuclear facility of Natanz was targeted by a “small explosion” which Tehran has squarely blamed on Tel Aviv, while sections of the Israeli and American press have also pointed to the Jewish state’s role. Israel has long been trying to neutralise Iran’s nuclear capabilities. In the past, it was believed to have targeted the Islamic Republic’s nuclear programme with Stuxnet malware, while a number of assassinations of Iranian nuclear officials — most recently that of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh last year — were also believed to be the handiwork of Tel Aviv. However, such reckless behaviour has its limits, and there is a high possibility that this covert and proxy war may transform into a ‘hot’ war. Already there have been numerous attacks on both Iranian and Israeli vessels in Middle Eastern waters, with each side blaming the other for the incidents.

If the international community, especially Israel’s Western backers, want to truly revive the nuclear deal and prevent a fresh conflagration in the Middle East, they must communicate to their friends in Tel Aviv that the current path of sabotage must be abandoned. Indulging in a cloak-and-dagger game, which Israel has been adept at since its inception, is relatively easy; containing a conflict in a volatile region with multiple battlefronts will be a very difficult task. Therefore, diplomacy must be given a chance to succeed and the parties to the JCPOA must continue their negotiations undisturbed by hostile actors seeking confrontation. And while Tehran should demonstrate restraint, Tel Aviv will bear the brunt of the responsibility should a wider conflict break out. Moreover, this time the front line will likely be drawn from the waters of the Gulf to the shores of the Levant.

Published in Dawn, April 14th, 2021

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