Back in November, when the P5+1 negotiators (the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany) reached an interim deal to curb Iran’s nuclear program, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attacked it as a “historic mistake” that would make the world “a much more dangerous place.” Last week, the negotiators failed to reach a final accord and instead extended the negotiations by four months. This time, however, there was hardly a peep from Netanyahu.
Netanyahu’s muted response may seem surprising given his previous vocal and public rebuke of the talks. Some might say that the escalating conflict in Gaza has distracted the Israeli leadership; one Israeli headline even suggested that “Netanyahu wanted to attack Iran, but got stuck in Gaza instead.” For his part, Netanyahu made it clear that Israel prefers no deal to a bad deal, which also might help explain his relatively subdued response to the extension of the talks. Yet Hamas has not replaced Iran as Israel’s top security challenge in Netanyahu’s mind. If anything, the Gaza conflict is likely to exacerbate his concerns about Iran and may make the ongoing nuclear negotiations, already tenuous, even more difficult to conclude.
U.S. negotiators have tried to compartmentalize regional issues involving Iran during the talks, for example, by avoiding topics such as Iranian missile development, its links to terrorist groups, its human rights abuses. The Iranian negotiators have also made it clear that they do not have a mandate to discuss broader regional issues such as Syria and Iraq with the Americans, and are interested in keeping the nuclear talks separate from everything else. The logic is that doing so will enhance the prospects of reaching a deal, particularly when the nuclear discussions are already complex enough on their own. However, such segregation is nearly impossible in practice; crises like the one in Gaza affect the calculations of all the parties in the nuclear negotiations as well as the stance of states