Shortly after this article is published, Mossad Director David Barnea might be walking through the large lobby at the CIA Langley’s “wall of stars” for fallen intelligence heroes, into one of the most critical and tense meetings of his career.
The fateful questions in the balance: Can Israel influence the US after the shaky first week of Iran nuclear talks, and has Barnea increased or lost personal influence following his major combative speech last Thursday?
During that speech, Barnea left no doubts about where he stands in the internal Mossad debates and the broader global discussions about how to handle the Islamic Republic.
Former Mossad chiefs Tamir Pardo, Shabtai Shavit, Efraim Halevy and Danny Yatom have all, in different ways, said that Israel should try hard to stop Tehran from getting a nuclear weapon, but it may need to plan for living with such a reality.
In contrast, the most recently retired former Mossad director, Yossi Cohen, has said Israel and the clandestine agency have the power to act aggressively indefinitely to prevent Iran from getting the bomb.
One side wants to prevent a nuclear Iran, but is also concerned about acting too aggressively in a way that could lead Jerusalem into a regional war or permanently damage relations with the US.
The other side believes the Jewish state is a mini-super power that can use overt or covert force to stop the ayatollahs – the consequences be damned since a nuclear Iran would be far worse.
Last week, Barnea said, “Iran will not have nuclear weapons – not in the coming years, not ever. This is my personal commitment, this is the Mossad’s commitment.
“Our eyes are open, we are alert, and together with our colleagues in the defense establishment, we will do whatever it takes to keep that threat away from the State of Israel and to thwart it in every way,” said the Mossad chief.
Barnea also sharply criticized the 2015 JCPOA nuclear deal as “terrible” and “barely tolerable.”
Reports are hazy, but it is also possible that Israel and the Mossad might have been behind a failed drone attack on Natanz over the weekend.
If Washington is Jerusalem’s big-brother, Barnea might be worried that CIA Director William Burns is ready to chew him out for going loud and public against everything the Biden administration is striving for.
Was Barnea thinking he would get a more attentive ear by going public with his criticism of US policy like Benjamin Netanyahu did as prime minister?
There is one argument for this: If the US really believes Israel is on the verge of overt or covert action against Iran, it might push harder for a deal on Jerusalem’s terms.
But Biden’s policy of wanting to rejoin the JCPOA takes into account many more factors than Israel’s security needs.
One combative speech by a new Mossad chief is unlikely to change that policy, but it could lead to Barnea being ignored.
If Barnea wanted to be seen as a trusted, non-political, convincing intelligence provider, wouldn’t he keep his criticisms private?
It turns out that either the government of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is not as different from Netanyahu, as some might have thought, in publicly fighting with the US over Iran, or that Barnea himself has chosen Cohen’s path over the other former chiefs.
Five or so years from now when evaluating Barnea’s legacy and ability to convince or be ignored by his US counterparts, last week’s speech might stand out, and Monday’s meeting might be when he gets some major CIA pushback.