Are the IDF and the Mossad fighting over control of Iran policy as well as who should take credit for certain covert and less-covert operations?
If they are, does some of this derive from personal animus between IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kohavi and Mossad Director Yossi Cohen?
And after that, could this rivalry end up costing Israel dearly regarding its security interests?
The immediate background is multiple attacks on Iranian targets which the Islamic Republic or various reports are attributing to Israel.
Last week, The New York Times reported that Israel informed the US that it had carried out Tuesday’s attack on an Iranian cargo ship, which was a central pillar of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps intelligence apparatus in the region.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman also confirmed last week that the Saviz was slightly damaged in the Red Sea off the coast of Djibouti.
He said the event occurred around 6 a.m. on Tuesday due to an explosion, though they had not reached a definitive conclusion about the cause.
Revealing alleged Israeli involvement was unusual in that Jerusalem generally prefers to keep a low profile when it undertakes such attacks.
The goal of keeping a lower profile is to provide the attacked entity, here Iran, an alibi to save face and avoid needing to retaliate.
Following the revelation, there were calls over the weekend by Israeli defense officials to probe the leak to foreign media of an alleged sensitive IDF operation against Iran.
Some of the vibe coming out of these calls appeared to show IDF officials pointing the finger at the Mossad as making an unauthorized leak to grab some media glory – even in an operation that, if Israeli, would have been carried out primarily by the IDF and the Israel Navy.
This means there was anger both about the leak potentially thwarting IDF goals of keeping the operation clandestine and the possible endangerment of forces still in the field.
ANOTHER SOURCE of consternation seemed to be – once credit is taken – that anyone would take credit for the IDF’s alleged win.
From the Mossad’s point of view is the flip side: that they have an arrangement with the CIA to give it short advance notice on certain operations so that the US is not overly taken by surprise, but with the understanding that Washington will keep the secret.
According to this narrative, the Biden administration broke the arrangement and leaked Israel’s role either to distance itself from the operation or to punish Jerusalem since Washington is trying to warm relations with Tehran to mutually return to the 2015 nuclear deal.
But before anyone could catch their breath from last week’s attack on a major Iranian asset being attributed to Israel, news broke in the middle of the night on Sunday morning that the ayatollahs’ key nuclear facility at Natanz had a power outage.
Though Iran initially tried to play down the event as an accident, by mid-morning The Jerusalem Post reported that the event was intentional and had caused far graver damage than what the Islamic Republic would admit.
With reports that Israel may have been involved using its cyber prowess, many turned their attention to the Mossad, which had been credited by foreign reports with a major cyber sabotage of Natanz, together with the US, in 2009-2010.
Before anyone’s attention stayed focused long on the Mossad, Kohavi himself gave a speech with a much heavier hint to Israeli involvement than one normally hears from the IDF.
Suddenly, observers were getting whiplash reeling their heads from wondering who was taking credit in Israel and for which operation, and then back again to figure out who was trying harder to keep things low-profile or to purposely ratchet up the noise in the media, perhaps in an effort to intimidate Iran.
THIS WEEK is far from the first one where Kohavi and the Mossad’s Cohen have butted heads.
Though publicly both may proffer their mutual respect and point to their joint value of good relations, behind the scenes many say there is a tone of competition and outright anger.
In mid-February, it was leaked in Yediot Aharonot that Cohen showed frustration with the IDF chief when Israel’s defense establishment met with top political decision-makers.
According to the leak, Cohen was upset that Kohavi went public with an uncoordinated and spirited speech against the US rejoining even a partially improved nuclear deal and for getting more concrete about potential Israeli attack plans on Iran.
The Post learned that Cohen was unhappy with the public leak about suggested differences between him and Kohavi, and would have downplayed such differences.
But even if he would have preferred that his closed-door comments had been kept private, there is no denying the presence of tension between the two.
Following that event, senior IDF officials started leaking opinions that they were unhappy with the idea that Cohen would represent Jerusalem to Washington on the Iranian issue, because they considered him too aggressive and uncompromising.
A THIRD front even appeared in which Cohen and National Security Council Chief Meir Ben-Shabbat were competing for being the lead Israeli representative to the US regarding the Iran issue.