U.S. Stresses Diplomacy Is 'Best Path' on Iran After Israelis Threaten Military Action

The State Department has urged American allies to rely on diplomacy, not military action or threats, to stop Iran's nuclear program, following last week's belligerent remarks from Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz.

On Thursday August 5, Gantz said: "The world needs to deal with Iran, the region needs to deal with Iran and Israel also needs to do its part in this situation."

"Now is the time for deeds—words are not enough. It is time for diplomatic, economic and even military deeds—otherwise the attacks will continue," Gantz said.

Israeli leaders oppose President Joe Biden's efforts to revive the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal, believing that the government in Tehran cannot be trusted to abide by any accord.

Israel and the U.S have previously used covert actions and military strikes to hinder Iran's nuclear program. The Biden administration believes diplomacy is the only long-term guard against a nuclear Iran, but Republicans and Israelis largely believe in more direct measures.

Recent attacks on Israel-linked commercial shipping in the Persian Gulf has sharpened existing regional tensions.

Responding to Gantz's comments, a State Department spokesperson told Newsweek that the U.S. is "working closely with our allies and partners to consider our next steps and consulting with governments inside the region and beyond on an appropriate response. We take the security of Israel and all of our other partners and allies very seriously."

"We remain in close contact with our Israeli counterparts, and update them before and after every round of negotiations," the spokesperson said of JCPOA talks. "We've been consulting with them during these negotiations as well."

"We have conducted ourselves with a great deal of transparency, knowing that the United States and Israel share a common interest: seeing to it that Iran never acquires a nuclear weapon. We believe diplomacy, in coordination with our allies and regional partners, is the best path to achieve that goal."

"We have had many discussions with various U.S. partners about the U.S. approach, including our partners in Israel and among Gulf Arab states. We will continue consulting closely with these key partners as this process proceeds."

The State Department spokesperson added that the U.S. is "deeply concerned and join our partners and allies in our strong condemnation of the attack against the Mercer Street vessel," referring to the suspected drone attack in July off Oman that killed one Briton and one Romanian.

U.S. Central Command has blamed Iran for the attack.

"There is no justification for this attack, which follows a pattern of aggressive behavior," the State Department spokesperson said. "These types of aggressive actions threaten freedom of navigation through this critical waterway, international shipping and commerce, and the lives of those on the vessels involved."

"We do not support unlawful military actions by any nation taken against commercial vessels that interfere with navigational rights and freedoms and international shipping."

Israeli leaders have made no secret of their opposition to ongoing JCPOA negotiations. Then Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in April: "A deal with Iran that threatens us with annihilation will not obligate us."

Current Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said in June that Israel "will hold on to its complete freedom of action" on Iran, warning: "Resuming a nuclear deal with Iran is a mistake that will legitimize one of the world's most violent regimes."

Netanyahu maintained vociferous public opposition to the JCPOA and engagement with Tehran throughout his time in office. With his departure, many reports suggested his successors would scale back public Israeli criticism of the White House strategy, instead engaging with the U.S. and Europeans behind the scenes to voice their opposition.

Israeli and Iranian leaders have maintained a steady rhythm of threats in recent years.

This bedrock of tension has been sprinkled with Iranian and Israeli attacks against shipping in the Persian Gulf; Israeli strikes against Iranian targets in Syria; Israeli covert actions against Iranian nuclear personnel and facilities; cyberattacks by both sides; and Iranian-backed attacks on Israel by its militia allies in Lebanon, Syria, the Palestinian West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Iranian diplomatic and military officials warned last week that Tehran is ready to respond to any Israeli or American aggression.

The recent spike in tensions comes at a delicate moment. Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi—a conservative who oversaw mass executions of dissenters in the aftermath of the Iranian Revolution—took office last week, and is currently forming his cabinet.

Raisi said in June that he would "not allow negotiations to be for negotiations' sake. Negotiations should not be dragged out but each sitting should bear results." Raisi also said he would not meet with Biden even if the U.S. lifted the sanctions imposed by former President Donald Trump after he left the JCPOA in 2018.

JCPOA critics say the accord is too limited, and fails to address Iran's ballistic missile program and use of regional proxy forces. Biden has said he wants the JCPOA to be a foundation for a "longer, stronger" deal encompassing these elements.

But Iranian officials have dismissed this proposal repeatedly. Raisi said in June that Tehran's ballistic missile program was "not negotiable."

Israeli guns fire towards Lebanon and Hezbollah
Israeli self-propelled howitzers fire towards Lebanon from a position near the northern Israeli town of Kiryat Shmona following rocket fire from the Lebanese side of the border, on August 6, 2021. The U.S. State Department has urged allies to rely on diplomacy, not military action or threats, to stop Iran's nuclear program. JALAA MAREY/AFP via Getty Images