The bombardment of the Gaza Strip by Israeli artillery has been described by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as required to “restore calm in the state of Israel”. This follows days of protests by Palestinians regarding an Israeli court ruling allowing Israeli settlers to evict Palestinians from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah and the attack on Al-Aqsa Mosque by Israeli security forces. It has been reported that at least 254 Palestinians were killed, including 66 children, before the May 21st ceasefire, with 13 Israelis being killed by Hamas’ barrage of rockets.
With the talks in Vienna regarding the restoration of the Iran Nuclear Deal still being at a sensitive stage, such events have the potential to disturb the negotiation process. For example, Iran Deal opponents in the US criticized the Biden’s administration’s diplomatic efforts in Vienna aimed at restoring the Iran Nuclear Deal. US Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) accused the administration of funding “the people who are raining rockets on Israel” through the Deal’s sanction relief for Iran. This reflects a joint Republican effort opposing the Deal, in which in a letter to President Joe Biden, all but six Senate Republicans argued that any sanction relief under the Iran Nuclear Deal would allow for increased funding towards Hamas.
Such sentiment was also reflected by Jonathan Schanzer, Senior Vice President at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, who stated that “amid nuclear negotiations that will soon yield the Islamic Republic a massive windfall, the Biden administration is on the cusp of indirectly providing Hamas with the cash it needs to replenish its rocket supplies.” Moreover, Jason Brodsky, a senior Middle East analyst at Iran International has argued that “Iran’s non-nuclear malign behavior needs to be addressed and not put on the back-burner in order to revive the nuclear deal” when referring to the Iran-headed Axis of Resistance’s provision of Badr-3 missile to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
However, the Biden administration has resisted such claims from opponents concerning the ceasing of negotiations. Most notably, US Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken dismissed such criticism reflected in the Republican rhetoric, “I don’t have anything to offer on whether or not there is Iranian involvement in what is taking place [in Gaza] (…) But when it comes to any of the malign activities that Iran may or may not engage in (…) that only underscores the importance that we do everything we can to ensure that Iran never acquires a nuclear weapon”. He continued, stating that “an Iran with a nuclear weapon or the capacity to have one on very short order is an Iran that is even more likely to act with even greater impunity when it comes to these other actions”. Such claims of non-direct interference were also reflected by Karim El Mufti, professor of political science at Saint Joseph University in Beirut, who recognized that while Iranian “non-interference is a sign of good will” he still claims that “Iran will use the war to advance its pawns with the Biden administration”, for example through its use of “Hezbollah’s military strength as a bargaining chip”.
Moreover, while reports have been circulated that Iran is responsible for the recent protests, such claims have been denied by the Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lior Haiat, stating that “I don’t have any intelligence that shows the direct connection of Iran now to the situation”. However, he did draw connections between Iran and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, stating Iran “is connected to the Islamic Jihad in its ideology, and also is supporting their military infrastructure and terroristic infrastructure”. Moreover, Jonathan Conricus, the International Spokesperson of the Israel Defense Forces came to a similar assessment, recognizing that there exists “no clear, specific evidence of direct Iranian control of what’s happening” but that despite this, “there remains a clear Iranian involvement” in terms of funding to Hamas.
Nevertheless, claims regarding Iran’s increase in influence in Palestine through sanction relief by top policy actors require more careful analysis. For example, Esfandyar Batmanghelidj, founder of Bourse & Bazaar Foundation Think Tank, has challenged such claims by Republicans. In response to Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) claims that returning to the Deal would provide the country with significant funds to terror proxies, Batmanghelidji emphasizes how ultimately there is no “instant bailout or payday that follows sanctions relief and anyone with a rudimentary understanding of how trade works would know that these claims don’t make any sense.
Sanctions relief restarts a process in which Iran earns export revenues and accrues reserves”. Furthermore, Ali Vaez, a Senior Advisor at the Crisis Group, an independent organization committed to preventing and resolving deadly conflict, also reflected such claims. More precisely, he emphasizes how both Israeli and US assessment actually indicate how since Trump’s policy of maximum pressure, proxy/defense funding has not dropped, but has actually increased. Thus, it seems like the Iran Nuclear Deal is not the security threat that opponents frame it to be.
In conclusion, the evidence has been pointing to a lack of Iranian interference in the Palestinian protests against the Israeli government’s settlement policy. Moreover, claims regarding increased Iranian proxy support in Palestine through sanction relief also seem to present an immaterial and non-existent threat to the Biden administration’s hopes of nuclear diplomacy with Iran. However, whether the Biden administration will make concession to the Nuclear Deal opponents, both abroad and at home, still remains to be seen.