On Thursday, Israel’s intelligence agency reportedly threw cold water on a plan by a bipartisan group of congressional officeholders to impose new sanctions on Iran if the regime fails to abide by agreements reached during nuclear negotiations or walks away from the process.
The report was a bombshell. It would indicate that Mossad, the organization on the front lines of Israel’s covert war against Iran and the terrorist organizations sponsored by the regime, is more supportive of President Barack Obama’s approach to nuclear negotiations than the line favored by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“Already, the Barack Obama administration and some leading Republican senators are using the Israeli internal disagreement to undermine support for the bill, authored by Republican Mark Kirk and Democrat Robert Menendez, which would enact new sanctions if current negotiations falter,” Bloomberg’s Eli Lake and Josh Rogin reported.
Israeli intelligence officials have been briefing both Obama administration officials and visiting U.S. senators about their concerns on the Kirk-Menendez bill, which would increase sanctions on Iran only if the Iranian government can’t strike a deal with the so-called P5+1 countries by a June 30 deadline or fails to live up to its commitments. Meanwhile, the Israeli prime minister’s office has been supporting the Kirk-Menendez bill, as does the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, ahead of what will be a major foreign policy confrontation between the executive and legislative branches of the U.S. government in coming weeks.
Evidence of the Israeli rift surfaced Wednesday when Secretary of State John Kerry said that an unnamed Israeli intelligence official had said the new sanctions bill would be “like throwing a grenade into the process.” But an initial warning from Israeli Mossad leaders was also delivered last week in Israel to a Congressional delegation — including Corker, Graham, McCain and fellow Republican John Barrasso; Democratic Senators Joe Donnelly and Tim Kaine; and independent Angus King — according to lawmakers who were present and staff members who were briefed on the exchange. When Menendez (who was not on the trip) heard about the briefing, he quickly phoned Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer to seek clarification.
But conflicting reports over Mossad’s supposed support for Obama’s position on new Iranian sanctions soon began to emerge. Via Netanyahu’s office, Mossad chief Tamir Pardo issued a rare public statement denying that his agency opposes the imposition of new sanctions on the Iranian regime (via Haaretz).
“Contrary to what has been reported, the Head of the Mossad did not say that he opposes imposing additional sanctions on Iran, ” read the statement. Rather, “the Head of the Mossad emphasized in the meeting that the exceptional effectiveness of the sanctions imposed on Iran in recent years are what brought Iran to the negotiating table.”
The statement was released after the Bloomberg news service published a report that Pardo took a stance opposing Netanyahu’s, by which further sanctions on Iran would negatively affect the negotiations.
“The Head of the Mossad noted that in negotiating with Iran, it is essential to present both carrots and sticks and that the latter are currently lacking,” read the statement issued through the Prime Minister’s Office. “The Head of the Mossad noted further that in the absence of strong pressure, the Iranians will make no meaningful compromises.”
The revelation that Mossad might have opposed new sanctions was not implausible. In 2012, former Mossad chief Meir Dagan came out against military action against Iran over its nuclear program, saying that Israel would quickly become the front in the war with Iran that those strikes would ignite. But it is counterintuitive that Mossad would also oppose new sanctions designed to create an incentive for Iran to abide by the terms set in nuclear negotiations with Western powers. If Mossad opposes war with Iran then surely the agency would also back measures aimed at ensuring that nuclear negotiations are fruitful.
Even if Netanyahu has only reined in rogue elements within Mossad, the White House has been robbed of an opportunity to claim that their approach to negotiations with Iran enjoyed the support of those most affected by the outcome of those talks.