Mossad chief to visit Washington as Israel steps up efforts to reshape Iran deal

Mossad chief David Barnea will travel to Washington next week as part of Israel’s intensified efforts to shape the emerging nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, which, in its current form, both Barnea and senior government officials blasted it as bad business.

A senior government official confirmed on Sunday that the White House was aware of Barnea’s trip, but did not say whether the Biden administration was involved in his planning. Barnea will be the third senior Israeli official to travel to Washington in recent days to discuss the Iran deal, after Defense Minister Benny Gantz and National Security Advisor Eyal Hulata.

As part of a reinvigorated Israeli media effort over the past two weeks, Mossad director makes few comments last Thursday, telling reporters the deal was “very bad for Israel” and “based on lies.” Barnea, Prime Minister Yair Lapid and Gantz were united in their message that the deal is “wrong” and Israel will not be bound by it, reserving the right to take action against Iran’s nuclear program.

Ahead of Barnea’s visit, Lapid said Israel’s military and intelligence services were redoubling their efforts to combat the threat of a nuclear Iran.

“We asked the Tsahal and the Mossad to prepare for any scenario. We will be ready to act to maintain Israel’s security. Americans get it, the world gets it, and Israeli society should know it too,” Lapid told reporters Sunday during a press briefing at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem.

Among those scenarios, Lapid also said a “credible military threat” should be “put on the table” in order to pressure Iran into a better deal.

Prime Minister Yair Lapid holds a press conference at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, August 28, 2022. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Lapid added that this threat – posed in large part by the presence of US munitions capable of penetrating underground bunkers – is “what forced the Iranians to sign off last time.”

A source familiar with the matter confirmed that Israel was pressuring the United States to issue such a threat.

“A credible military threat is what we believe will lead to a good deal. This is the language that Iran understands,” according to the senior government official, who said that Israel had made this position clear to the Americans.

Under former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel fought the original 2015 deal in the court of public opinion and in a particularly controversial direct speech by Netanyahu to the US Congress, coordinated without White House participation. The United States pulled out of the deal under former President Donald Trump in 2018, and under Biden it has been negotiating a return for months.

Lapid and former Prime Minister Naftali Bennett – who is currently vacationing abroad – have shifted the debate to private channels, trying to avoid fallout from the relationship that has occurred between Israel and the Obama administration.

“We must not go back to where we were in 2015. To this day, we are paying for the damage caused by Netanyahu’s speech in Congress, following which the US administration ended its dialogue with us and did not allow Israel to make any amendments to the agreement,” Lapid said.

Netanyahu, however, has attacked his successors for failing to deliver results as a potential deal draws closer. In his narrative, no deal can address Iran’s nuclear program. On the contrary, Israel should pursue a combination of crippling sanctions and the creation of a credible military threat.

Likud party leader MK Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to the media at the Likud headquarters in Tel Aviv on July 26, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Lapid and Gantz said Israel could live with an agreement, but the current one is unsatisfactory.

“This deal is bad. It was not good when he was signed in 2015. Today, the dangers inherent in it are even greater. It’s closer to its end date, and Iran is in a different position technologically,” Lapid told reporters.

“We told the Americans, ‘This is not what President Biden wanted,’” Lapid said of the current draft agreement. “That’s not what [Biden] what he talked about during his visit to Israel is not what he signed into the Jerusalem Declaration,” Lapid added, building on his comments last week that the draft agreement current breaks what Biden has himself red lines to contain Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Lapid reiterated several key points of contention between the current unpublished draft agreement and Israel’s position. He stressed that a better deal would be “longer and stronger”, borrowing American language to explain how a resumption of negotiations would be better for countries affected by Iran’s alleged nuclear ambitions.

Specifically, Lapid said Israel would like a deal with a later end date and with “tighter” oversight, and one that also addresses Iran’s long-range ballistic missile program and “involvement in terrorism” across the Greater Middle East.

The senior government official said Israel wants a “minimum amount” of funds to flow to Iran through the lifting of sanctions, but did not say whether there is a figure that Israel could accept. Lapid claimed last week that the deal would see $100 billion a year flowing into Iran’s coffers, money he said could be directed to financing terrorism.

“We can live longer and stronger, although we have reservations about it,” the official said.

Netanyahu is expected to meet Lapid for an Iran-focused security briefing, according to the senior government official. The meeting between the two is scheduled for Monday afternoon at the Prime Minister’s office in Jerusalem.

The official added that one of the sticking points is Iran’s demand for its own guarantees that the United States will not withdraw from a deal again, but said Tehran is unlikely obtain such guarantees.

Last week, the United States submitted its response to the latest draft nuclear deal.

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