Since the time of reaching the agreement in 2015, the Israeli government has relentlessly opposed the nuclear deal with Iran. However, a growing number of senior members of Israel’s defense and intelligence establishments say a new agreement along the lines of that treaty would be in Jerusalem’s best interests.
The split over the Iran nuclear deal is primarily between the Israel Defense Forces and its intelligence wing, and the Mossad, the spy agency responsible for intelligence gathering and covert operations. outside the country’s borders.
The debate has mostly raged since 2018, when President Donald J. Trump abrogated the nuclear treaty. But it is becoming more prominent as President Biden pushes for a revival of the deal, as he is doing this week in the Middle East, where he is trying to reassure allies like Israel and Saudi Arabia that restoring the treaty would strengthen their security.
Although there are many hurdles to overcome before an agreement can be reached, senior Israeli officials believe that both the United States and Iran have a significant stake in concluding the deal. Tehran is worried about being spared harsh economic sanctions while Washington, in addition to security concerns, wants to get the flow of Iranian oil to lower energy prices.
In a series of interviews in recent weeks, military officials said that the new IDF Intelligence Corps Director, Major General Aharon Haliva, and his aides were arguing in discussions. internally that any deal, even one with major flaws, would be better than the status quo, with Tehran making rapid progress on its nuclear program. They say it would freeze Tehran’s activities at current levels and give Israel time to rebuild its ability to attack Iran’s nuclear infrastructure.
On the other hand, Israeli intelligence officials with detailed knowledge of Mossad activities and policy positions say their leaders still believe that Iran will never give up its nuclear ambitions. without a combination of economic sanctions, diplomatic pressure and a campaign of sabotage and assassination against the nuclear project. Officials say a nuclear deal would require the repeal or substantial reduction of all those efforts and would pour billions of dollars into the Islamic Republic’s coffers.
Military officials dismiss that approach, saying covert sabotage operations in recent years have hardly hindered Tehran’s nuclear development. No one has claimed responsibility for those activities, but Iran, confident that Israel is behind it, can retaliate on its own or through an affiliated militia like Hezbollah, in Lebanon, or Hamas in Gaza .
Neither Prime Minister Yair Lapid nor his predecessor, Naftali Bennett, were as strongly opposed to the nuclear deal as Benjamin Netanyahu, the former prime minister, who attacked the treaty in a speech to the US Congress. But they also don’t want to loosen Israel’s longstanding opposition.
Both Mr. Bennett and Mr. Lapid have tried to limit their disputes with the United States to closed rooms. But they have made clear their stance against Iran and its leadership, saying they will not hesitate to take action against Iran, publicly or secretly, if they feel Israel’s security is threatened. .
By contrast, military intelligence officials say that if a new nuclear deal is not reached, the US and Europe will abandon the topic. In that case, Israel could be left alone on the international stage, facing an Iran racing forward on its nuclear project, which analysts say is just weeks away. accumulate enough enriched uranium to build a nuclear warhead.
Israel was once prepared to send bombers to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities, but stopped working at the last minute in the face of resistance from the Obama administration. “It’s not a hoax, it’s real,” Netanyahu said in an interview. with The New York Times in 2019. “And it’s only because it’s real that Americans are really worried about it.”
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But some officials say the threat, while actually seen as real in Washington, backfired on Mr. Netanyahu.
“I was under the impression at the time that the Israeli threat to attack Iran, a threat intended to get the United States to take more aggressive action, had achieved the exact opposite result,” said Tamir Pardo, the director. of the Mossad at the time, said in an interview. recent interview. “The Obama administration began negotiations prior to the signing of the nuclear agreement to create an international situation in which Israel would not allow itself to take military action.”
When Trump took office, he questioned the nuclear deal, and Israel under Netanyahu did everything to convince him to cancel it.
“Mossad stole Iran’s nuclear archives to provide evidence that Iran lied when it claimed it had no military nuclear project,” said Udi Lavie, former deputy director and head of operations. Mossad, said in an interview. “Those pieces of evidence were used to help convince Trump to pull out of the nuclear deal.”
After President Trump pulled out of the pact in 2018, Washington and Jerusalem devised a plan called “The Fist” that combines severe sanctions and a range of sanctions. Positive activities are done inside Iran, according to a senior Israeli official who participated in the strategy sessions.
In the end, however, Iran was not under pressure, nor did it take direct military action against the US over the nuclear issue, despite the shadow war being waged against it. Instead, Tehran, which meticulously adhered to the terms of the deal for a year after its cancellation, gradually restarted uranium enrichment and reduced the ability of international inspectors to monitor it. economic.
“Israel’s move to persuade Trump to withdraw is one of the most serious strategic mistakes since the founding of the state,” Pardo said. “In the end, instead of harming the Iranian nuclear project, we put ourselves in a situation where they got closer to a bomb.”
This debate today has a direct impact on Israel’s stance on the nuclear deal. In the event that a new deal is reached, the United States will most likely ask Israel to limit attacks inside Iran.
A new Mossad leader, David Barnea, took office days before the inauguration of the Bennett government on June 13 last year. Ten days later, drones laden with explosives hit a centrifuge manufacturing facility in Iran. The New York Times reported that the site is on the list of Mossad targets presented to the Trump administration a year earlier.
Mr. Bennett, working in tandem with Mr. Lapid, accepted the Mossad’s position on the nuclear issue, strongly opposed the agreement, continued and even strengthen Operations against Iran’s nuclear project, said a senior intelligence official and two other officials, who were familiar with discussions under Mr. Bennett.
However, officials say that General Haliva and his senior staff believe that sabotage and assassination activities to date have not significantly delayed Iran’s nuclear program, let alone prevented it. block it – and in some cases, even provide an excuse for Iran to accelerate its activities.
Gideon Frank, who served as head of the Israel Atomic Energy Commission, said in a recent interview: “The choice here is between two very bad alternatives. “Without a deal, Iran, currently only about two weeks away from being able to produce enough enrichment material for one bomb and two more months for another, will be able to move forward at a rapid pace. .
“If there is a deal,” he continued, “Israel will have time to allow them to prepare an important military option. But on the other hand, the regime there will receive a money supply, especially after the oil price spike, which will greatly help it to survive.
“The solution,” Frank said, “should be an attempt by Israel to persuade the United States to use force against Iran in the event it crosses the nuclear threshold.”