How Iran Could Get Israel to Take Sides in the 2020 U.S. Election

WASHINGTON – Ten months ago, Israel’s ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer, gave a speech at the annual AIPAC conference that didn’t generate many headlines but could prove to be important in the U.S. presidential election campaign this year. Dermer focused on Iran and provided a polite but clear warning to American politicians on the Iranian issue: If you adopt certain positions during the campaign, Israel will contradict you publicly.

Dermer said the Israeli government finds the idea that the United States would reenter the 2015 Iran nuclear deal “totally unacceptable.” Around the time of his speech, several Democratic presidential hopefuls criticized President Donald Trump for withdrawing from the agreement, and they promised that if elected, they would recommit to the nuclear deal, which was signed by the Obama administration.

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“There are leaders who are calling to return to that deal. And that is something that has to be seen as totally unacceptable,” Dermer said. “You know, in 2015 when we were having this debate there were a lot of question marks. What would happen? Would this moderate Iran? Is this a good thing? Is this going to make war less likely?”

Dermer added that “now in 2019 there’s exclamation points. It made Iran more dangerous. It made war much more likely. So anyone who is saying that they’re going to return to the deal is basically saying that they’re going to give hundreds of billions of dollars to people who are committed to Israel’s destruction and our Arab neighbors’ destruction and giving them a clear path to nuclear weapons.”

The ambassador’s speech made clear that Israel will speak up against reentering the Iran deal, even if that means a direct clash with the eventual Democratic presidential nominee. The primaries were still months away when Dermer spoke at AIPAC, one reason his words didn’t receive much attention from the media.

But now, with the voting over in Iowa and New Hampshire, the possibility of Israel clashing with a Democratic presidential nominee looks more relevant than ever – especially if that nominee is Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who has promised to rejoin the deal on the first day of his presidency.

Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders speaking in Manchester, New Hampshire, February 11, 2020.Timothy A. Clary / AFP

It’s almost certain that Israel – especially if Benjamin Netanyahu remains prime minister – will confront Sanders on his promise to reenter the Iran deal on “day one,” but there is less clarity about how Israel will respond to the positions of other Democratic contenders. Several of them have said they would return to the Iran deal but demand changes to address key issues that the 2015 agreement didn’t resolve.