Lt. Gen. Gadi Eiskenot is the Chief of Israel’s Defense Forces (IDF). Back in March he gave an interview to Haaretz. I want to highlight a couple of his statements (emphasis mine).
Compared with the saber-rattling rhetoric emanating from both Jerusalem and Washington on the Iranian nuclear deal, Eisenkot is cautious, noting that no violations of the agreement by the Iranians “can be seen at present, but we assume that Iran can operate secretly. Therefore, keeping watch on developments there is the No. 1 mission for both the IDF and intelligence agencies. We are investing vast resources in obtaining the best intelligence about Iran and its operational ability,” he says. “If its intentions change, we will know. Right now the agreement, with all its faults, is working and is putting off realization of the Iranian nuclear vision by 10 to 15 years.”
One issue not addressed by the agreement is the Iranian missile project, he says, which is alarming Europe and the Gulf nations as well. “I observe more international will to handle the Iranian missile threat than to reopen the nuclear agreement,” says the chief of staff.
“Regarding Iran, the window of strategic opportunity is still open in our favor. If the Americans decide to withdraw from the agreement on May 12, we will have to rethink our strategic risk management.”
Eisenkot, as Israel’s Chief of Staff, has made it clear that the JCPOA is working. This is in line with other Israeli military and intelligence leaders over the past couple of years. Here’s Efrain Halevey, former head of Mossad, in a 2015 interview with NPR:
INSKEEP: Halevy does agree with Netanyahu that Iran should be prevented from acquiring nuclear weapons of its own. But he believes that international diplomacy is the best option and that Iran negotiated on issues it said it never would.
HALEVY: I think the United States scored a great success in creating this international coalition to face down the nuclear threat which threatens the world at large. The president put together a coalition of the five-plus-one, of all the permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany. And despite a variety of other issues which the world is seized with, including grave differences between the United States and Russia in the last few years, the president has kept the coalition on the issue, the nuclear threat, together.
INSKEEP: What do you think about when you hear Israeli government officials question details of this agreement? For example, there would not be immediate inspections. There would be a demand for inspection that would have to be dealt with within 24 days or so. The argument is made that there may be opportunities for Iran still to hide elements of their program.
HALEVY: Look, this is not a perfect agreement. The agreement has weaknesses, no doubt. But when you negotiate, you win some; you lose some. And the question is not whether on one specific issue the Iranians have not come up with the ultimate in terms of what is desirous for the five-plus-one and for Israel. But they have come up with a host of other methods in which they have, if you like, caved in almost. And on the issue of inspections which you raised, inspections are going to be handled by the U.N. agency in Vienna. They’re going to extend the scope of their inspections, which will necessitate recruiting manpower in the numbers the like of which are without precedent. And how exactly these inspections are going to be carried out on military matters, on what is called the PMD, the previous military dimension – in other words, what it is Iran has done up to now – this has been a sticking point for years. And the Iranians have now worked out a model in which they would address this problem. And I think one has to reserve judgment on that and see how this pans out.
Eiskenot’s and Halevey’s views are vastly different from what the current head of Mossad thinks, which is far more in line with what Prime Minister Netanyahu presented this morning.
“As head of the Mossad, I am 100 percent certain that Iran has never abandoned its military nuclear vision for a single instant. This deal enables Iran to achieve that vision,” Cohen said. “That is why I believe the deal must be completely changed or scrapped. The failure to do so would be a grave threat to Israel’s security.”
Last evening in Israel/this morning in the US, Bibi put on a show. It was intended for an audience of one: the President. From Anshel Pfeffer in Haaretz:
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu began his press conference in Tel Aviv on Monday evening at a distinct disadvantage. In his desire to discredit the Iran nuclear deal – from which President Donald Trump is expected to withdraw on May 12 – he had to clear a bar set by Israel’s security establishment over the last three years: That despite all he has said, the deal is not such a bad thing and actually serves to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions for the time being.
Instead of dealing with the discrepancy between his stated views on the Iran deal and what most of the chiefs of the security establishment have been saying (in private and occasionally in public), Netanyahu put on a great show. This included the kind of props and visual aids that have become the hallmarks of his rhetoric since his days as Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations three decades ago.
He missed only one thing: Crucial dates that could prove Iran has actually done anything in contravention of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) since it was signed in 2015.
What he had wasn’t a smoking gun but a photograph of a smoking gun taken years ago.
That flaw was so glaring as to render an incredible intelligence coup – obtaining Iran’s nuclear archive – almost irrelevant and obsolete to Netanyahu’s current purpose.
But he still went ahead with his overblown and overhyped press conference because he knows that the man about to make the decision on the Iran deal will never in a million years be capable of explaining it.
The prime minister is now both Trump’s coach and cheerleader, trying to prepare him with handy quotes and easy-to-remember talking points – and already setting the mood music to try and cover up for the president’s inevitable fumbles.
What Bibi did was reminiscent of the counterterrorism lessons he provided over 30 years ago when living in the US. He also offered them in Israel. In these lectures he’d deliver slanted classes on the threats of terrorism for US officials in the attempt to move US policy and strategy into line with his preferred views. When he was out of government and back in Israel in the late 80s, he offered these courses for US tourists there. I have a cassette tape of one of these classes in a box somewhere. I brought it home from Israel in 1987!
What remains to be seen is just how effective Bibi’s audio-visual extravaganza was. While the President is telegraphing that he’ll pull out of the JCPOA on two weeks, there is still pushback within the administration. Specifically from Secretary of Defense Mattis.
Without explicitly giving his opinion about whether the United States should stick with the agreement, Mattis said that after reading the full text of the deal three times, he was struck by provisions that allow for international verification of Iran’s compliance. He said that since becoming defense secretary in January 2017, he also has read what he called a classified protocol in the agreement.
“I will say it is written almost with an assumption that Iran would try to cheat,” he said in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee. “So the verification, what is in there, is actually pretty robust as far as our intrusive ability to get in” with representatives of the International Atomic Energy Agency to check on compliance.
“Whether that is sufficient I think is a valid question,” he said after Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, said the nuclear deal was not supported by the Congress. The committee’s senior Democrat, Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, told Mattis the Iran deal is “working as intended” and that withdrawing would ease Iran’s path to nuclear weapons.
Mattis said Iran’s history of hiding a nuclear weapons program makes it “suspect,” and he noted his concern about other Iranian activities, including its role in supporting Syria’s president, Bashar Assad , and supplying its proxy forces in Yemen.
The Pentagon chief said the administration was still considering whether the nuclear deal can be improved enough to persuade Trump it is worth preserving. “It’s going on today as we speak,” he said of the consultations. Trump has said he will decide by May 12.
Mattis reiterated his view that the deal is “imperfect” and said “there are obviously aspects of the agreement that can be improved upon.”
The question being discussed within the administration, and between the U.S. and its European allies, he said, is “whether we can repair it enough to stay in it or if the president is going to decide to withdraw from it.” He said Trump has not yet made a decision.
Secretary Mattis’s assessment is a thin reed to clutch as we move towards May 12th, when the next statement of compliance and waiver of sanctions needs to be issued. Withdrawing from the agreement will make the US, its allies, and its partners less safe and the Middle East much less stable. What remains to be seen is whether the toxically co-dependent and enabling relationship between the US and Israel does more harm than good this time. This time, however, the path of enabling is reversed with Bibi trying to enable the President, rather than the US enabling Israel by refusing to remind it who is the patron and who is the client and telling it no.