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Iran nuclear deal could weaken U.S. efforts to end Israel-Gaza violence

The U.S. plans to revive the Iran nuclear deal, and that could undercut efforts to end the conflict between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza, one analyst told CNBC on Monday.

Escalating violence in the Middle East — including Israeli air strikes on the Gaza Strip and rocket assaults from terrorist group Hamas on Israeli cities — have killed at least 188 people in the Gaza Strip and eight in Israel since tensions flared last week. Among the dead are 55 children in Gaza and a 5-year-old boy in Israel, reported the Associated Press.

President Joe Biden has shown little signs he would publicly ramp up pressure on Israel to agree to an immediate ceasefire — and that could partly be because he wants to revive the Iranian nuclear deal, suggested Jonathan Schanzer, senior vice president for research at the hawkish Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Schanzer told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Asia” that Washington’s silence may have something to do with the Iran nuclear deal — formally named the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) — which was abandoned by the previous administration in 2018.

Iran and Hamas

Returning to the deal would result in Iran receiving billions of dollars in sanctions relief in exchange for limiting its nuclear program. Tehran could use that money to fund the militants since “Iran is Hamas’ top sponsor,” explained Schanzer.

He added that the U.S. would inadvertently find itself indirectly supporting both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Israeli Iron Dome missile defence system (L) intercepts rockets (R) fired by the Hamas movement towards southern Israel from Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip as seen in the sky above the Gaza Strip overnight on May 14, 2021.

Anas Baba | AFP | Getty Images

“That, by the way, may contribute to some extent (to) why the U.S. has been a little more silent as Israel has been operating with impunity over the last day or so,” he added, saying that Israel has “got the upper hand in this conflict.”

The U.S. may remain silent for a few more days, which would allow Israel to weaken the Hamas militant group further, he said.

Ryan Bohl, a Middle East and North African analyst at risk consultancy Stratfor, told CNBC’s “Street Signs Asia” that the U.S. is the only country in the world that could change Israeli behavior, and there are “emerging signs” that Washington wants a ceasefire. He agreed that Israel is in the driver’s seat of the conflict.

The U.S. last week objected to efforts by the United Nations Security Council to issue a public statement on Israeli-Palestinian tensions, worrying that a statement could hurt behind-the-scenes diplomacy, reported Reuters.

A separate Reuters report said U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield told the Security Council that “the United States has been working tirelessly through diplomatic channels to try to bring an end to this conflict.”

Iran nuclear deal negotiations

The Israel-Hamas conflict has not “seriously impacted” nuclear deal negotiations with Iran, analysts from risk consultancy Eurasia Group said in a note over the weekend.

Before the latest clashes, negotiations to revive the nuclear deal were already mired in “the complexities of sanctions relief and nuclear constraints,” the analysts said.

Still, the Biden administration has pushed back against critics who claimed that the U.S. should stop negotiating with Iran at a time when Hamas, an Iranian ally, is firing rockets at Israel, according to the Eurasia Group note.

“Yet, the confrontation will likely increase the pressure on the administration — including from moderate Democrats — to produce a credible plan for follow-on talks with Tehran, especially regarding its support for regional proxies,” the report said.

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