Iran 'facing one of its most difficult periods,' Meir Dagan says

Former Mossad chief says economic troubles, ethnic tensions and conflict with the Sunni world contributing to Iran's difficulties.

Meir Dagan (photo credit: Reuters)
Meir Dagan
(photo credit: Reuters)
Iran is facing one of its most difficult periods since its war with Iraq in the 1980s, making the current period conducive for reaching a potential deal, former Mossad chief Meir Dagan said on Thursday.
Addressing the Iran at a Cross Roads conference at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) in Tel Aviv, Dagan said that economic troubles caused by sanctions, growing ethnic tensions within Iran (such as discord among Azeris and Baluchis), and conflict with the Sunni world have all contributed to Iran’s difficulties.
“This is the most comfortable time to gain achievements in talks with Iranians,” Dagan said, citing high levels of hostility developing against the regime inside and outside of Iran.
He stressed, however, that the Islamic Republic “hasn’t changed its policies because of Rouhani’s election. The president does not set the policies in Iran.”
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei retains all decisions on matters of war and peace, Dagan said, adding that it is impossible to disconnect Khamenei’s conservative personality from the regime’s worldview.
During talks with the West, Iran will seek to buy time and safeguard its nuclear capabilities, and the outcome of the current diplomatic drive remains uncertain, Dagan said.
Israel, for its part, must safeguard the military threat as a credible option, and advise the international community on how to engage the Iranians, he added.
Iran’s nuclear program is intended to prevent outsiders from interfering in its affairs, and to bolster its ambitions to become a leader of the region and the Islamic world, he said.
It is also intended to serve as a protective layer for Iran’s proxies, such as Hezbollah as Islamic Jihad, Dagan stated.
Addressing the conference, former special adviser to the US Secretary of State and Brookings Institution analyst Robert Einhorn warned that a military strike on Iran could cause it to decide to get nuclear weapons.
“Some in Iran might welcome an attack which might provide a pretext for crossing the nuclear threshold and entering weaponization,” he said.
The Iranians are prepared to live without an agreement, especially if they calculate that the US and its partners would be blamed for an impasse, and that sanctions would erode before very long, he added.
“Like us, the Iranians believe that no deal is better than a bad deal.
“The ideal agreement is not achievable. The key question is: Can an agreement that falls short of the ideal be better than a non-diplomatic outcome?” Einhorn said.
The former adviser said that the US is “acutely conscious” of the need to refrain from lifting critical key oil and banking sanctions before seeing tangible concessions from Iran.
He added that an interim agreement in which some minimal sanctions are lifted could pave the way for a comprehensive deal and also test Iran’s intentions.
INSS head and former Military Intelligence chief Amos Yadlin said that the trauma of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have caused US military chiefs to focus on “unintended consequences” when assessing military action in Iran, to the point of overestimating Iran’s willingness and ability to spark a regional war in response to an attack.
Yadlin said it would be a mistake to launch strikes too soon, but that it would also be a mistake to fail to act in time.
“Iran has had, for the past three years, all the components needed to break through to nuclear weapons in a time period that varies according to estimation, but in this institute’s assessment, within six months to a year,” Yadlin said. In places outside of the range of Iranian missiles, in Virginia, the estimation is that it’ll take them a bit longer,” he added.
“The Iranians just have to decide. They haven’t decided yet because they don’t want to get to the bomb as quickly as possible but as safely as possible, Yadlin said.
“But we are in a place where, for first time in a decade, the Iranians are wondering whether it’s right to broaden their program for a fast breakthrough... They’re wondering whether maybe they should stop,” Yadlin said.
Maj.-Gen. (res.) Amos Gilad, director of politicalmilitary affairs at the Defense Ministry, said, “I think that the Iranians are determined to obtain the ability to decide to get nuclear weapons. If Khamenei talks to [the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Ali Akbar Salehi], he wants to hear ‘Yes we can.’”
Describing claims that Khamenei issued a fatwa against nuclear weapons as a lie, Gilad said, “When you look at the full picture, there is a clear government directive to prepare for reaching the ability to decide.
“They stopped the program in 2003 and 2013, due to an existential threat to the regime. Apparently, they love themselves more than their own ideas.
“I’m surprised by the influence of sanctions. Apparently, they are more severe than what some of us thought, strong enough to convince Khamenei to see an existential threat,” Gilad said, citing reports of food shortages, inflation and unemployment in Iran.
Rouhani’s goal is to lift the choke hold around Iran’s neck, and he is an “excellent public relations agent to accomplish this,” Gilad said.
“We must not miss any opportunity to make sure that Iran doesn’t get nuclear weapons,” Gilad said.