Thursday, August 27, 2015

Is Israeli intelligence in favor of the Iran deal? - Martin Kramer

by Martin Kramer

Most of the people who argue that Israel should not fight the agreement still think it's a bad one, they simply believe there is no point in provoking U.S. President Barack Obama when the deal will inevitably be approved and implemented. This argument is not the same as supporting the deal -- it is resigned acquiescence.

J.J. Goldberg, the Forward editor-at-large, has been running a campaign to persuade Americans that Israel's intelligence community is at odds with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the Iran deal. Not only retired professionals, but now also currently serving ones dissent from Netanyahu's read of the deal. Netanyahu can't silence the former, but he has imposed a "gag order" on the latter -- to no avail. Military intelligence has even produced a "surprising," "game-changing" assessment that undermines him completely, according to which the "upsides [of the deal] aren't perfect," but "the downsides aren't unmanageable…. The disadvantages are not too calamitous for anyone to cope with them." Military intelligence sees "an imperfect but real opening in Iran. It believes that opportunities are being lost." Netanyahu's own "diagnosis doesn't match his own intelligence."

It's all polemical and politicized nonsense.

Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv's Emily Landau, a real expert, has already taken Goldberg to the woodshed about the retired professionals who have come out in favor of the deal (Goldberg has a weird predilection for calling them "spooks"). Landau, without naming these "experts," points out that Iranian politics and nuclear issues are well beyond the expertise of most of them. 

Not everyone with a pension and an opinion is equal. Most of the people who argue that Israel should not fight the agreement still think it's a bad one, they simply believe there is no point in provoking U.S. President Barack Obama when the deal will inevitably be approved and implemented. This argument is not the same as supporting the deal -- it is resigned acquiescence. 

But what about Goldberg's claim of "game-changing" assessments issued by current intelligence officials (a reference to an analysis prepared by Israel's military intelligence that was recently presented to Netanyahu and the political echelon)? The main points of the analysis appeared shortly after the presentation in the Israeli press. Judging by Goldberg's account, one would think that this document is an endorsement of the Iran deal, and that it proves that the deal's flaws are balanced perfectly by its advantages. Neither Goldberg nor I have seen this document. But even a cursory reading of the press reports here, here and here reveals that that it's not what Goldberg claims it is.

Yes, the intelligence assessment is that Iran won't be able to build a bomb under the terms of the agreement. (That is, if Iran doesn't cheat -- the assessment says the mechanisms for inspection are flawed.) Iran might even show short-term restraint in terms of its support of terrorism to consolidate its gains from sanctions relief. But the estimate also holds that when the agreement expires, Iran will be only weeks away from a nuclear breakout. 

In the meantime, Iran will have gained undeserved legitimacy from the deal, which will prompt Arab states to stock up on conventional weapons and accelerate their own nuclear programs. Some of these programs could be militarized over time. The bottom line of the assessment, as reported in the press, is that the risks of the deal outweigh the opportunities. (This formula appears in more than one press report. Goldberg habitually omits it.)

The reason that this "game-changing" assessment isn't turning the world upside-down is simple: it isn't actually game-changing. Goldberg's headline announces that Netanyahu "fears" the report for "defying the gag order." But I doubt that Netanyahu experienced even a moment's discomfort upon hearing it, and it hasn't been "game-changing" or even especially noteworthy in Israel. 

Leave it to Goldberg to cherry-pick a few highlights from the assessment and inflate the whole thing into some sort of insurgency. He's counting on readers of the Forward not to know any better.

Goldberg also omits an important point about the authors of the brief. At one point, he writes that earlier Israeli press reports flagged "trepidation within the military" among officers who "feared retribution." The included link leads to just one such "press report"-- an opinion piece by Haaretz military correspondent Amir Oren. In that piece, Oren attacks the head of military intelligence, Maj. Gen. Herzl Halevy, and the chief of the research division, Brig. Gen. Eli Ben-Meir, for backing Netanyahu. Oren accuses the two generals of "falling into line toward the right. Eating with their mouths closed, in unison. Hiding any disturbing thoughts." (Oren doesn't explain how he's accessed these thoughts.) 

Oren claims that "there are those in the Intelligence Corps, including those in the research division dealing with Iran, who have a very positive view of the nuclear agreement." But Halevy and Ben-Meir have "concealed them from the public," and in doing so, are "in breach of their national duty."

Oren's (and his newspaper's) agenda against the prime minister is boundless, but even Oren admits that the top heads of military intelligence are on board with Netanyahu ("falling in line," in his demeaning words). Indeed, they are the ones who (he alleges) are silencing "those" analysts further down the hierarchy (who or how many "those" are, if they even exist, is anyone's guess). Yet Goldberg would have us believe that these same two generals have just delivered an assessment that blows Netanyahu's case against the deal right out of the water.

Well, the "eruption of dissent" is imaginary, and so is the gag order. Debates within Israel's intelligence community not only occur, they're encouraged (there's even a military intelligence officer whose job it is to be a designated "devil's advocate"). Likewise, it is vital for Israeli planners to think about the day after a done deal on Iran, and how Israel can make the most of it. But that is all it is. Goldberg's latest effort is a conspiracy theory for the gullible. You don't have to be an intelligence officer to know that it is a red herring.

Dr. Martin Kramer is president of Shalem College, Jerusalem.


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

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