Military Intelligence, Mossad at odds over Iran deal - report

IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kohavi is said to be opposed to a deal while Defense Minister Benny Gantz is in favor of one.

 IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Shin Bet head Ronen Bar on April 24, 2022 (photo credit: DEFENSE MINISTRY)
IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Shin Bet head Ronen Bar on April 24, 2022
(photo credit: DEFENSE MINISTRY)

As Western powers are set to return to the negotiating table with Iran over its nuclear program, the Israeli defense establishment is at odds over whether a deal would be good for the country, according to a report in Yediot Aharonot.

Several Israeli generals, including OC Military Intelligence Maj.-Gen. Aharon Haliva, are in favor of a return to a deal with Tehran, in opposition to IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kohavi and Israel’s official policy, the report said.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell on Saturday said talks would “immediately” resume after a three-month stalemate and ahead of a visit to Israel and Saudi Arabia by US President Joe Biden.

Western powers, including the US, are continuing on the diplomatic path and hope to bring Tehran to sign a new deal. But the Americans are fully aware of Jerusalem’s concerns about a future deal.

The report said Haliva and several other senior officers believe a bad agreement is better than no agreement at all because it allows Israel to prepare for extensive military responses against Iran.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz visits the IDF's drill in Cyprus on May 31, 2022 (credit: DEFENSE MINISTRY)Defense Minister Benny Gantz visits the IDF's drill in Cyprus on May 31, 2022 (credit: DEFENSE MINISTRY)

The other officials named by the newspaper as being in support of a deal are Brig.-Gen. Amit Sa’ar, head of Military Intelligence’s Research Division; Brig.-Gen. Oren Setter, head of the IDF’s Strategic Division; and Maj.-Gen. Tal Kalman, head of the Strategy and Third Circle Division.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz also thinks returning to a deal is the least bad option for Israel, the report said.

Israel’s official position is that it opposes a bad nuclear agreement but not an agreement in general, Gantz said Monday at the start of a Blue and White Party faction meeting.

“With the expected resumption of nuclear talks, we will continue to work together with the United States and other countries to clarify our position and to influence the design of the deal if there indeed will be one,” he said. “In any case, we will continue intently to defend ourselves with our own forces, to build that force, to act against Iran and its process and to be prepared for the possibility that it breaks out to a nuclear weapon.”

Gantz said he hopes Biden’s visit will “have a positive influence and maybe even bring a breakthrough in our ability to act against Iranian aggression in the region.”

In response to the Yediot Aharonot report, Gantz on Sunday night said Israel was dealing with the Iranian threat “day and night as the most important and strategic issue” currently facing the country.

“This is done in coordination among all the security arms, and while giving freedom of opinion, the decisions are made by the political echelon,” he said on Twitter.

“We will continue to hold this open and deep discourse only in the closed rooms,” he added. “Any other way harms the security of the State of Israel.”

Kohavi opposes the return to a deal similar to the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) plan. He believes the JCPOA is dangerous and has directed the IDF to prepare fresh operational plans to strike Iran to stop its nuclear program if necessary.

Kohavi’s position regarding Iran is said to be closer to that of Mossad Director David Barnea, who believes the deal being negotiated in Vienna is catastrophic not only for Israel but for the entire world.

According to the report, the Mossad believes Haliva’s tactic may gain time in the near future, but it will lose in the long run. According to people familiar with the matter, a deal with Iran would “at most” buy two and a half years of quiet in which the Islamic Republic would not be able to advance its program.

The Mossad believes that by 2025, when the sunset clause would come into effect, Tehran would accelerate its plans even further and enrich uranium to the level that it wants without any oversight.

Iran is now facing significant economic difficulties. But with the lifting of economic sanctions, it would be able to accelerate work on its nuclear and ballistic-missile programs and advance its plans for regional hegemony and provide more funds for its proxies to carry out attacks throughout the Middle East and against Israel.

Iran is said to be developing capabilities to produce a nuclear-weapons arsenal and to produce ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads. It has several rockets that could reach Israeli territory, including the Khorramshahr 2, with a range of up to 2,000 km., and the Shahab-3.

The IDF has admitted that Iran’s conventional missile threat is a major concern for Israel. Despite Israel’s multilayered air defenses, it may not be able to contend with intensive missile barrages fired by Iran and its proxy groups, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and Shi’ite militias in Iraq.