US President-elect Joe Biden has expressed interest in returning to the Iran nuclear deal. Israeli Ambassador Jeremy Issacharoff told DW that preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon is the "bottom line."
Iran accused Israel of the assassination of its top nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh during his funeral service on November 11. Israel has since warned its citizens in the region to be cautious of potential retaliation in light of Iranian threats.
The Israeli ambassador to Germany, Jeremy Issacharoff, spoke to DW about the tense situation in the Middle East and highlighted his country's determination to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
With regards to Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) agreement between Iran and several Western states, and incoming US President-elect Joe Biden's plan to return to the deal, the Israeli ambassador expressed his government's skepticism, referring to a "string of violations" of the deal on the Iranian side.
Israel has yet to confirm or deny Iran's accusation that it was behind the killing of the Iranian chief nuclear scientist.
DW: US President-elect Joe Biden has said he wants to reenter the Iran nuclear deal. That's a deal that is supported by Germany as well as the EU, by Russia and China, but opposed by Israel. So what is Israel going to do about this?
Jeremy Issacharroff: I think one of the most important things is to recall what he said Thursday evening about the bottom line being to stop Iran getting a nuclear weapon. And that has always been our goal. I think it's always been Germany's goal and it's always been the goal of the P5+1 and the nuclear agreement.
Read more: What is the Iran nuclear deal?
The question is, how do you achieve it? And one thing we've seen over the last months is very clear — a string of Iranian violations of the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action], whether in terms of the amount of enriched uranium, the level of enriched uranium, the use of advanced centrifuges — as well as a continued destabilizing activity in the Middle East in general.
So are you saying that the nuclear deal is not the right instrument to achieve that goal?
I'm saying that it's been seen that the nuclear deal, as it was drafted in 2015, has been shown to have gaps which need to be addressed. And clearly, the steps taken by the Iranian government to violently destabilize the Middle East in general, [to] continue their missile program and violate the actual clear terms of the nuclear agreement, provide us with no confidence that the agreement is working.
What would provide you with confidence then?
There's a transition in Washington and obviously a new US administration will have to address this. It'll take time to appoint the teams and the policies to have consultations with partners like Europe and, I would imagine, also with Israel.
So the deal is not dead. You're saying?
We need to have effective diplomacy which prevents Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. And that, in my view, is very much dependent on these consultations that will happen in the weeks and months ahead, to put together an effective and vibrant policy that will secure that goal.
But this week, a top Iranian nuclear scientist was assassinated. Tehran blames the attack on Israel. What's your comment?
Iran blames Israel for virtually every ill in the Middle East. And from that point of view, I think it's more important to keep an eye on what Iran is doing.
And again, you're not denying it, but you're not confirming it.
I'm not relating to it at all. They might have their speculations. And we've seen a number of times where they've said things that have proven to be untrue, particularly in terms of what they are supposed to be doing in terms of complying with the nuclear deal.
But it's a clear setback for Iran when their top scientist is no longer around.
It's a setback for Iran when it continues to pursue nuclear weapons activity [and] missile development and when it continues to interfere in the politics of Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen. That I think is the key thing that we need to keep an eye on.
Well, just today, Israel has warned its citizens in the region of an increased threat from Iran after this attack. So what intelligence is that warning based on?
Well, first of all, I remind our viewers that about three weeks ago, the Iranians placed improvised explosive devices on our border, in the southern part of the Golan Heights. We identified this and we responded. So this is an ongoing problem that we face vis a vis Iran.
We face Iran's involvement in Syria. It's also in Lebanon providing Hezbollah with very extensive weaponry. [It's] not just an abstract thing. It happens on the ground.
As an ambassador to Germany, Germany and the EU help maintain stability in the Middle East. And with regard to Iran especially.
Well, first of all, I think they can. I think that the first two visits of the Israeli foreign minister, Gabi Ashkenazi, after the new government was established was to Berlin, to meet with his counterpart, who we see is a great friend of Israel and who just also recently improved Germany's voting record in the UN.
I think this was a very clear example of how Germany can contribute to the new paradigm shift, the process of normalisation and peace in the Middle East, which is happening.
Trump remains very popular in Israel. How do you see relations with the US under the new incoming president?
I served in Washington twice and met with President-elect Biden. I see him as a great friend of Israel. And I think that any administration that comes in, realizes the need for the continuation of the strategic partnership with Israel, I think they will also be supportive of this new normalization process and also the peace treaties that we have with Egypt and Jordan and now with these other countries.
And I think they'll also be very cognizant of the threats that we and our Arab neighbors face from Iran and other problems like Hezbollah, ISIS etc. I think President elect Biden has also appointed a very strong foreign policy team that we have had contact with before. And I have every confidence that we will continue to work to strengthen the relationship between us in a very consistent way.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.