The leadership of Iran, engaged in a long shadow war with Israel on land, air and sea, did not try to conceal the pleasure it took in the most recent Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Over the 11 days of fighting this month, Tehran praised the damage being done to its enemy, and the state news media and conservative commentators highlighted Iran’s role in providing weaponry and military training to Palestinian militants in Gaza to hammer Israeli communities.
Iran has for decades supported Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that controls Gaza and whose own interests in battling Israel align with Iran’s. Experts say that over the years, Iran has provided Hamas with financial and political support, weapons and technology and training to build its own arsenal of advanced rockets that can reach deep into Israeli territory.
But in the assessment of Israeli intelligence, Hamas made its decisions independently of Iran in the latest conflict.
sabotaging of Iran’s nuclear facilities. While Iran’s leaders have made no secret of their desire to punish Israel for the wave of attacks, they have struggled to find an effective way to retaliate without risking an all-out war or derailing any chance for a revised nuclear accord with the United States and other world powers.
So the conservative factions in Iran that had been urging payback for the Israeli strikes seized on a chance to portray the thousands of rockets fired by the Gaza militants as revenge.
a devastating response from Israel’s vastly superior military, whose airstrikes killed scores of militants, destroyed 340 rocket launchers and caused the collapse of 60 miles of underground tunnels.
While the Israeli strikes may temporarily set back the military capability of Iran’s Gaza allies, Israel’s international standing does seem to be taking a beating with cracks in the once rock-solid support of Western allies.
Iran watched in dismay last year as four Arab countries — the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco — normalized ties with Israel and declared Iran the biggest threat to regional stability. In the months before the Gaza fighting, Tehran lobbied intensely to prevent other Arab countries from following suit.
outraged Arab public opinion, could dim the prospects of any more countries in the region normalizing relations with Israel anytime soon.
hit civilian neighborhoods.
They celebrated the violent clashes erupting across Israeli cities between Jewish and Arab residents. And they felt that the Israeli strikes on Iran, including the assassinations of a top nuclear scientist and a leader of Al Qaeda, had been at least partly avenged.
“It feels like we had rage stuck in our throats against Israel, especially after the assassinations. And with every rocket fired, we gave a collective, deep sigh of relief,” said Mehdi Nejati, 43, an industrial project manager in Tehran who moderated a daily Clubhouse chat on developments in Gaza.
There was also much boasting on social media about Iran’s role in enabling militants to amass more advanced rockets.
While Israel will have to continue to contend with Iran’s influence in Gaza going forward, Tehran’s support for the militants there is just one of the many factors standing in the way of a longer-term peace, said Mr. Javedanfar, the political analyst.
“Confronting Iran is only going to be part of the solution for Israel’s challenge in Gaza,” he said. “A bigger part of the challenge can be solved with smarter Israeli policies in Jerusalem.”
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President Biden and Iran’s leaders say they share a common goal: They both want to re-enter the nuclear deal that President Donald J. Trump scrapped three years ago, restoring the bargain that Iran would keep sharp limits on its production of nuclear fuel in return for a lifting of sanctions that have choked its economy.
But after five weeks of shadow boxing in Vienna hotel rooms — where the two sides pass notes through European intermediaries — it has become clear that the old deal, strictly defined, does not work for either of them anymore, at least in the long run.
The Iranians are demanding that they be allowed to keep the advanced nuclear-fuel production equipment they installed after Mr. Trump abandoned the pact, and integration with the world financial system beyond what they achieved under the 2015 agreement.
The Biden administration, for its part, says that restoring the old deal is just a steppingstone. It must be followed immediately by an agreement on limiting missiles and support of terrorism — and making it impossible for Iran to produce enough fuel for a bomb for decades. The Iranians say no way.
financial restrictions that go beyond that deal — mostly involving conducting transactions with Western banks — because it would create what one senior administration official called a “ripe circumstance for a negotiation on a follow-on agreement.”
The Iranians refuse to even discuss a larger agreement. And American officials say it is not yet clear that Iran really wants to restore the old deal, which is derided by powerful hard-liners at home.
campaign of sabotage and assassination to cripple the Iranian program — and perhaps the negotiations themselves. So it was notable that the director of the Mossad, who has led those operations, was recently ushered into the White House for a meeting with the president. After an explosion at the Natanz nuclear plant last month, Mr. Biden told aides that the timing — just as the United States was beginning to make progress on restoring the accord — was suspicious.
The split with Israel remains. In the meetings in Washington last week — which included Mr. Blinken; the C.I.A. director, William J. Burns; and the national security adviser, Jake Sullivan — Israeli officials argued that the United States was naïve to return to the old accord, which they think preserved a nascent nuclear breakout capability.
Mr. Biden’s top aides argued that three years of “maximum pressure” on Iran engineered by Mr. Trump and his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, had failed to break its government or limit its support of terrorism. In fact, it had prompted nuclear breakout.
told the BBC.
Iran wants more sanctions lifted than the United States judges consistent with the deal, while insisting on keeping more of its nuclear infrastructure — in particular advanced centrifuges — than that deal permits. Instead, Iran argues that the International Atomic Energy Agency should simply inspect the new centrifuges, a position that is unacceptable to Washington.
While the talks continue, Iran is keeping up the pressure by adding to its stockpile of highly enriched uranium and the equipment to make it, all in violation of the deal.
Both Iran and the United States are working under delicate political constraints. Even as Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has supported the Vienna talks, Mr. Rouhani and Mr. Zarif are mocked by powerful conservatives who do not trust Washington and who expect to capture the presidency.
For his part, Mr. Biden must contend with a Congress that is highly skeptical of a deal and largely sympathetic to the concerns of Israel.
increasing enrichment to just short of bomb grade in small quantities and barring international inspectors from key sites in late February — Mr. Zarif insists that these moves are easily reversible.
American intelligence officials say that while Iran has bolstered its production of nuclear material — and is probably only months from being able to produce enough highly enriched uranium for one or two bombs — even now, there is no evidence Iran is advancing on its work to fashion a warhead. “We continue to assess that Iran is not currently undertaking the key nuclear weapons-development activities that we judge would be necessary to produce a nuclear device,” Avril D. Haines, the director of national intelligence, said in a report last month.
scandal over Mr. Zarif, whose criticism of internal decision-making recently leaked, apparently in an effort to damage his reputation and any chance he had to run for the presidency.
Ayatollah Khamenei refuted the criticism without naming Mr. Zarif, but he said the comments were “a big mistake that must not be made by an official of the Islamic Republic” and “a repetition of what Iran’s enemies say.”
At the same time, by downplaying Mr. Zarif’s role, the supreme leader reaffirmed his support for the talks while also sheltering them from criticism by hard-liners, said Ellie Geranmayeh of the European Council on Foreign Relations.
Steven Erlanger reported from Brussels, and David E. Sanger from Washington. Farnaz Fassihi contributed reporting from New York.
WASHINGTON — For the second time in a month, vessels from Iran and the United States came dangerously close in the Persian Gulf on Monday night, the Navy said on Tuesday, escalating tensions between the two nations as their negotiators have resumed talks toward renewing the 2015 nuclear deal.
According to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet in Bahrain, three fast-attack craft from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps sailed close to a Navy coastal patrol ship and a Coast Guard patrol boat as the two American vessels were patrolling international waters in the northern part of the Persian Gulf.
At about 8 p.m. local time Monday, the Iranian boats rapidly and repeatedly approached the American ships, the Firebolt and the Baranoff — at one point coming as close as 68 yards, according to a Navy statement.
The American crews issued multiple warnings via bridge-to-bridge radio and loudspeakers, but the Iranian vessels continued their close-range maneuvers, the Navy said. When the Firebolt’s crew fired warning shots, the Iranians vessels moved away “to a safe distance from the U.S. vessels,” the Navy said.
Iranian forces captured and held overnight 10 U.S. sailors who strayed into the Islamic Republic’s territorial waters.
However, such incidents had mostly stopped in 2018 and for nearly the entirety of 2019, Commander Rebarich said. The episodes at sea have almost always involved the Revolutionary Guards, which reports only to the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
The earlier encounter this month happened on April 2, when a Revolutionary Guards Corps ship, the Harth 55, accompanied by three fast-attack vessels, harassed two Coast Guard cutters, the Wrangell and the Monomoy, as they were conducting routine security patrols in the international waters of the southern Persian Gulf, the Navy said in a separate statement issued earlier on Tuesday. That episode was earlier reported by The Wall Street Journal.
the deadly attack in 2000 on the destroyer Cole in Yemen — that are specifically devised to take out small fast-attack craft like these from the Iranians. But the American vessels targeted this month have no such weaponry aboard.
The incident on Monday night occurred just days after a leaked audiotape offered a glimpse into the behind-the-scenes power struggles of Iranian leaders. In the recording, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the Revolutionary Guards Corps called the shots, overruling many government decisions and ignoring diplomatic advice.
In one extraordinary moment on the tape, Mr. Zarif departed from the reverential official line on Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, the commander of the Guards’ elite Quds Force, the foreign-facing arm of Iran’s security apparatus, who was killed by the United States in January 2020.
“In the Islamic Republic, the military field rules,” Mr. Zarif said in a three-hour conversation that was a part of an oral history project documenting the work of the current administration.
John Ismay contributed reporting.
The new working groups are intended to create a road map for a synchronized return of both countries to compliance. But even if there is agreement, verification will take some time given the technical complications and the absence of trust on both sides.
For instance, companies that want to do business with Iran, and that were burned badly when Mr. Trump reimposed powerful American sanctions, will want to be sure that a new administration won’t reimpose sanctions. Iran will want to see economic benefits, not just the promise of them, and the United States will want the International Atomic Energy Agency to ensure that Iran has returned to compliance and is not cheating, as it has done in the past.
In Vienna, Iran met with the other current members of the deal — Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia, under the chairmanship of the European Union — in a grand hotel ballroom, while the American team, led by special envoy Robert Malley, worked separately in a nearby hotel. Iran has refused to meet directly with the United States, so the Europeans have been undertaking a kind of shuttle diplomacy.
The United States also wants to convince Iran to negotiate longer time limits for the accord and to begin further talks on limiting Iran’s missiles and support for allies and Shia militias through the region, including in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon. Iran has said that it has no interest in considering further negotiations until the United States restores the status quo ante and rejoins the deal.
More broadly, American officials are trying to gauge whether the United States and Iran can agree on how each can come back into compliance with the nuclear deal — or, at least, work toward bridging any gaps in a mutual understanding.
Iran was represented by Abbas Araghchi, the deputy foreign minister, who was crucial to negotiating the 2015 deal, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or J.C.P.O.A., with the administration of President Barack Obama and Mr. Biden, then vice president.
Mr. Araghchi said in a statement after the talks that lifting U.S. sanctions would be “the first and most necessary step in reviving the J.C.P.O.A. The Islamic Republic of Iran is fully ready to stop its retaliation nuclear activity and return to its full commitments as soon as U.S. sanctions are lifted and verified.”
BRUSSELS — In Vienna on Tuesday, the signers of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal will come together with what would appear to be a simple task. They want to restore compliance with an agreement that put strict controls on Iran’s nuclear enrichment, to ensure that it cannot build a nuclear weapon, in return for the lifting of punishing economic sanctions.
Both Iran and the United States insist that they want to return to the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or J.C.P.O.A. But nothing about the meeting will be simple.
President Donald J. Trump pulled the United States out of the accord in May 2018, calling it “the worst deal ever negotiated,’’ and restored and then enhanced harsh economic sanctions against Iran, trying to force it to renegotiate.
Iran responded in part by enriching uranium significantly beyond the limits in the agreement, building more advanced centrifuges, and acting more aggressively in support of allies in the Middle East, like Hezbollah, Hamas, Shia militias in Iraq and the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad.
intended to create a road map for a synchronized return of both Iran and the United States to compliance with the 2015 deal. It has been at risk of collapse since Mr. Trump repudiated American participation.
The accord was the outcome of years of negotiations with Iran. Under the chairmanship of the European Union, Britain, France and Germany made the first overtures to Iran, joined by the other permanent members of the United Nations Security Council: Russia, China and the United States.
But it was not until the United States started secret talks with Iran under President Barack Obama and agreed that Iran could enrich uranium, though under safeguards, that a breakthrough occurred. Even then, the deal was widely criticized as too weak by many in Congress and by Israel, which saw Iran’s possible reach for a nuclear weapon — an aspiration always denied by Iran — as an existential threat.
The Europeans tried to keep the deal alive, but proved unable to provide Iran the economic benefits it was due after Mr. Trump restored American sanctions that had been lifted under the deal’s terms. The American sanctions, based on the global power of the dollar and the American banking system, kept European and other companies from doing business with Iran, and Mr. Trump intensified the pressure by adding many more sanctions.
agreed in late February to keep recording information on its inspection equipment for three months, but without granting I.A.E.A. access. If economic sanctions are not lifted in that time, Iran says, the information will be deleted, which would leave the world in the dark about key parts of the nuclear program.
Iran insists it can return to compliance with the deal quickly, but wants the United States to do so first. The Biden administration says it wants Iran to go first.
What are the obstacles?
Trust is one big problem. The Iranian regime was established by a revolution more than four decades ago that replaced the American-backed Shah of Iran with a complicated government overseen by clerics and the strong hand of the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The ayatollah only reluctantly agreed to the 2015 deal with the “Great Satan” of America. After Mr. Trump pulled out, Mr. Khamenei’s mistrust only deepened.
Mr. Trump also imposed many economic sanctions on Iran beyond those originally lifted by the deal, trying “maximum pressure” to force Iran to negotiate much more stringent terms. Iranian officials now say as many as 1,600 American sanctions must be lifted, about half of them imposed by Mr. Trump. Some are aimed at terrorism and human rights violations, not nuclear issues. Lifting some of them would create opposition in Congress.
Many in Washington, let alone in Israel and Europe, also disbelieve Iran’s assertions that it has never pursued a nuclear weapon and would never do so.
Further complicating restoration of the accord are its “sunset” clauses, or time limits, that would allow Iran to resume certain nuclear enrichment activities. The Biden administration wants further negotiations with Iran to extend those time limits as well as put limits on Iran’s missile program and other activities.
Iran says it simply wants the United States to return to the deal it left, including the lifting of sanctions, before it will return, too. It has so far rejected any further talks.
Even under the Islamic regime, Iran has politics, too. There are presidential elections in June, with candidates approved by the clerics. The current president, Hassan Rouhani, who cannot run for another term, and the foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, are considered relatively moderate and negotiated the 2015 nuclear deal. But powerful forces in Iran opposed the deal, including the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. The moderates hope that quick progress on lifting economic sanctions will help them in the presidential elections; the hard-liners are expected to oppose any quick deal in Vienna that might benefit the moderates.
Iran has lived with tough Trump sanctions for three years now and survived popular discontent and even protests, and hard-liners will argue that another six months are not likely to matter.
How will the talks be structured?
The meeting of senior diplomats is formally a session of the Joint Commission of the deal, called by the European Union as chairman. Since the United States left the accord, its representatives will not be in the room, but somewhere nearby. Diplomats from Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China and Iran will meet, with a European Union chair, and start to discuss how to revitalize the accord.
Iran refuses to meet face-to-face with American diplomats. So the Europeans suggest that they will either meet the Americans with proposals, or that the Iranians will leave the room before the Americans enter. This process of indirect talks could take time.
But European diplomats say that after a few days, the job will be left in Vienna to working groups on the complicated political and technical issues. If a rough agreement can be reached on a synchronized return to compliance, the expectation is that officials of Iran and the United States will meet to finalize the details.
What is the prospect for success?
The talks may take a long time, and some in Washington hope at least for an agreement in principle in the next few months that would bind any new Iranian government after the June elections.
But some European diplomats fear that too much time has already elapsed, and that the deal is effectively dead, and will essentially serve as a reference point for what may be a fundamentally new negotiation.
So the timeline is unclear, as is the prospect for success.