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Under the radar: Israel's security establishment supports new Iran agreement

The Israeli brass’ stated view of the Geneva talks and Sunday’s accord is plainly at odds with the loud, sustained ‘gevalt!’ coming from the Prime Minister’s Office and cabinet.

The news from Israel is that Israel hates the Iranian nuclear deal struck in Geneva – but the news is not entirely accurate. It’s true, of course, that Netanyahu and his government ministers (with the exception of Justice Minister Tzipi Livni) think the agreement is bad, very bad, very very bad, and that Obama and the West sold the Jews out to Hitler again. But there are some other extremely powerful Israelis who don’t think the agreement is so bad, and who certainly prefer it to the no-agreement that Bibi and AIPAC were driving toward – and these Israelis make up the country’s military-intelligence establishment.

It shouldn’t be a big surprise; these are the same people who, with an assist from President Shimon Peres and the Israeli media, stopped Netanyahu and then-defense minister Ehud Barak from bombing Iran like they wanted to last year. Israel’s generals don’t relish going head-to-head with the United States, they don’t live on paranoia, apocalyptic visions and scare-mongering, and right there you have enough to understand why they don’t go along with Netanyahu on Iran. The Israeli brass are certainly not peaceniks. They’re not sanguine at all about the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran. They are not opposed in principle to bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities – in fact, like with most Israelis, their preferred solution is for the U.S. to bomb them. But unlike Netanyahu and the right, they don’t automatically see red when they look at Iran, and they don’t delude themselves that the West can force Iran to surrender outright, to give up its nuclear program, at the negotiating table, which is what Netanyahu has been demanding all along.

Unlike the prime minister and his followers, the Israeli military-intelligence establishment are a sober bunch, they deal in possibilities, and they are not denouncing this agreement or the negotiations that preceded it. Instead, their message has been that an agreement which slows down but does not dismantle Iran’s nuclear project is far preferable to the alternative – which is not, as Bibi would have it, more Iranian concessions, but rather Iran’s departure from the negotiations and no Iranian concessions.

Unfortunately, this dissent on the part of the brass is not coming through clearly in the news. But there have been a series of public statements by leaders of the military-intelligence establishment that are plainly at odds with the loud, sustained “gevalt!” coming out of the Prime Minister’s Office and cabinet.

After the Geneva agreement was signed on Sunday, retired Gen. Amos Yadlin, former head of Military Intelligence, deputy commander of the Air Force and now director of the country’s leading strategic think tank, told reporters,  “If this were the final agreement – then it would really be a bad agreement, but that’s not the situation.” The situation, he said, is that this is an interim, six-month agreement, and that it’s the final pact to be negotiated later that will be decisive. He said the final agreement must not only freeze Iran’s progress toward a bomb, like the current, interim one does, but reverse it. He also gave Netanyahu credit for getting the world powers to extract additional concessions from Iran. But Yadlin said Sunday’s agreement, which Netanyahu condemns for having “made the world more dangerous,” did just the opposite:

It is possible that had there been no agreement, [Iran] would have decided to make the breakthrough to a bomb, because the sanctions are hurting it badly.”

And Yadlin is a hawk in the security establishment; other members were more avid for an accord. Last week, a senior Israeli intelligence official told reporters that the country’s brotherhood of spooks was hoping a deal would be struck in Geneva because the easing of sanctions on Iran would help Rouhani in his battle against his country’s militants. The Christian Science Monitor reported:

We see a bit of a possibility, although it’s quite problematic, of more … stability,” said the officer, who spoke on the basis of anonymity. But that is dependent on the success of negotiations “over the nuclear project, but more than that, over the relief of the sanctions on the Iranian economy,” he said.

Also last week, retired Gen. Giora Eiland, a former National Security Adviser whose voice remains very prominent here on matters of war and peace, was quoted in The New York Times using language that should have tipped people off about the brass’ discomfort with Netanyahu’s harangues against the Geneva talks:

The situation has changed and everybody else except Israel understands that a deal means to be more flexible,” said Eiland. … “Netanyahu speaks only about a good deal. The Americans are speaking about a reasonable deal, which is better than having no deal at all.”

A couple of months ago, the current head of Military Intelligence, Gen. Aviv Kochavi, wrote a report on Iran saying that Rouhani’s election in June signaled the country’s strong desire for an end to the impoverishment and isolation that the sanctions had brought, which presented an opportunity to Israel and the West. Kochavi wrote that under Rouhani, Iran’s nuclear goal hadn’t changed – but he didn’t say Iran’s goal was to annihilate Israel or even build a nuclear bomb. Instead, he said the Islamic Republic’s goal was to become a “nuclear threshold” state, one that maintained the capability to build a bomb in short order if it decided to. From Haaretz:

Kochavi wrote that while there has been no change in Iran’s nuclear program, there have been some real changes in Iran’s internal political situation since the election, of a kind not seen in many years. Rohani’s victory sparked a process of deep change that can’t be ignored, Kochavi maintained, describing the changes as “significant” and even “strategic.” …

Kochavi [partially] based his analysis on the stated intention of Rohani and his cabinet to promote internal reform, increase the country’s openness to the West and end the economic sanctions on Iran.

In all, this is a very different message than Netanyahu, Lieberman, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and AIPAC have been broadcasting about the negotiations and interim agreement with Iran. It’s even further away from the bleatings of “Munich!” by Alan Dershowitz and neocon William Kristol. But the Israeli brass’ message has largely gone “under the radar” as the political leaders, lobbyists and hasbaratists, with their constant, high-volume declarations, define for the mainstream media Israel’s reaction to the West’s opening to Tehran. That’s a shame, because it might change the debate on Iran if the world knew that the Israelis who may know the most about that country, and who are not known for their naiveté, don’t buy into Bibi’s hysteria.

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    1. I see Rouhani’s election as an internal struggle over the Iran constitution as ostensibly defined. His victory is a test of one part of that constitution, and I think he needs to push back the military’s expansion into their economy to keep moderates alive. This doesn’t mean he will win, nor that he is against a nuclear bomb as such; but I suspect he doesn’t see the need to go there if the economy can be improved. Long term, I continue to believe that Iran will have to decide internally to walk away from a few nuclear bombs. Although indeed a gamble, the US’s present stance is an attempt to make that internal path possible.

      I do not think there is “a process of deep change” YET, which requires some economic recovery along with pushing back military incursion into that economy. There are going to be mixed signals from the Supreme Leader, and I am not surprised at his anti-Semitic statements of recent given Bibi et al.’s public stand; I do not excuse these statements, seeing them as a warning that the military side could indeed win. So, no surprise, I think the US is taking a brave gamble. If the sanctions are maintained, we do have another North Korea. The question is whether they can be moderated while tied to internal political change, change portended by an election the West had nothing directly to do with.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Average American

      What is wrong with Iran having a strong economy, to have a vibrant and successful country?

      I would think Israel would love having a trading partner who has some money to spend.

      What is wrong with Iran having nuclear weapons, to maintain a regional balance and protect itself from Israel?

      Israel is obviously a threat to Iran by publicly threatening to bomb Iran. In law you might call that pre-meditated.

      Israel says it’s because Iran has threatened to wipe Israel off the face of the earth. But it’s crazy to think Iran would nuke Israel. First of all Iran doesn’t have a nuke. Second it would invite Israel to certainly and gleefully use their bombs on Iran.

      So Israel’s rantings can’t really be about Iran’s “bomb”. It must be a cover for a real objective. After all, the morals and values of Israel say it’s ok to use covers for real objectives when you’re talking to non-Jews, it says so in the Talmud.

      Reply to Comment
      • Joel


        For any of a host of reasons, you should go fuck yourself.

        Reply to Comment
        • spring12

          is this what you do in Israel when you disagree”fuck yourself”

          Reply to Comment
          • Joel


            You have to be a complete idiot or a 12 year old not see Average’s blatant, anti-Semitic agenda.

            What are you?

            Reply to Comment
        • Average American

          It doesn’t say so in the Talmud?

          Here’s a Talmud lesson of selectivity: A Jew must be honest in business. However, if a Jew is buying from a non-Jew, and the Jew gives the non-Jew one zuz less than he said he would, and if the non-Jew is so poor a businessman as to not count his change, then the Jew can keep the item for less than he said he was going to pay.

          Here’s another one: A Jew must pay a non-Jew his wages. However, being that it’s a non-Jew, if the non-Jew was so careless as to not have arranged a payment schedule ahead of time, then the Jew doesn’t have to pay right away, can pay at his convenience, including possibly never. This only borders on robbery, for actual robbery means taking something the non-Jew already had.

          Now you want me to trust what Israel tells me about Iran?

          Reply to Comment
          • Aaron Gross

            We’ve had other anti-Semites here who contributed positively to the discussion because they were informed and intelligent. You’re not. You’re just stinking up the room.

            Reply to Comment
          • Average American

            Maybe I’m making an association here, but a government called The Jewish State, that has State Rabbis that study the Talmud, that allows the Rabbis to make some civil law based on the Talmud, I’m just associating that it looks like the government would be following the Talmud. So I look to the Talmud to learn what are the philosophies and principles that guide the government and the majority of the country.

            Reply to Comment
          • Marcos

            You can’t possibly be this vapid and willfully ignorant. If you support the Palestineans, you are doing their cause a grave injustice.

            Reply to Comment
      • Average, Israel is not all Jews, nor are all Jews Israel, nor do all Jews create conspiracies of lies. Indeed, on the facts presented in this piece, Israeli retired generals (those active cannot publicly speak to the same degree) disagree with Bibi et al on the West’s interm deal with Iran.

        Nor are all Arabs alike. You are doing exactly what right nationalists tend to do on this site. All you will get for it is another round of comment attack arguments–which is perhaps what you want.

        Reply to Comment
        • Average American

          I have seen what you write Greg, and you are probably right again. A good influence on me really, moderated, focused on the points of debate, leave religion out of it. I’ll try again tomorrow.

          Reply to Comment
      • The Trespasser

        >What is wrong with Iran having a strong economy, to have a vibrant and successful country?

        Depends on who is asking.

        Meaning that for USA and Israel it better to have a weak enemy than a strong one, obviously.

        It is worth noticing that it is Iranian Ayatollahs who are openly animus towards USA and Israel from the very beginning.

        It is really not Israel’s failure that Iran had decided that they are not friends anymore.

        >I would think Israel would love having a trading partner who has some money to spend.

        For that, diplomatic relations should be restored first. But it is not possible when body A (Iran) does not recognize legitimacy of body B (Israel).

        >What is wrong with Iran having nuclear weapons, to maintain a regional balance …

        Regional balance is maintained now and should Iran obtain nukes it would change drastically. Hizbullah-Assad-Iran block would become untouchable. You don’t really have to bomb anyone else. Sufficient is that you can destroy the invading army on your own territory.

        Should that happen, ALL regional countries would want nukes too. Turkey, Saudis, Egypt, even Kuwait.

        However, there is nothing wrong with them having nukes. All they have to do is leave the non-proliferation treaty.

        Not too much of a demand, right?

        > … and protect itself from Israel?


        According to Mark Phythian, the fact “that the Iranian air force could function at all” after Iraq’s initial attack and “was able to undertake a number of sorties over Baghdad and strike at strategic installations” was “at least partly due to the decision of the Reagan administration to allow Israel to channel arms of US origin to Iran to prevent an easy and early Iraqi victory.”[21]
        Despite all the speeches of Iranian leaders and the denunciation of Israel at Friday prayers, there were never less than around one hundred Israeli advisers and technicians in Iran at any time throughout the war, living in a carefully guarded and secluded camp just north of Tehran, where they remained even after the ceasefire.[22]

        > Israel is obviously a threat to Iran by publicly threatening to bomb Iran. In law you might call that pre-meditated.

        Not exactly.

        1) Iran, being in non-compliance with the NPT, is a threat to regional stability and might cause a military race.

        2) Israel is only threat to the illegal military part of Iranian nuclear problem.

        All Israel demands is that Iran would be in compliance with the document it signed.

        >Israel says it’s because Iran has threatened to wipe Israel off the face of the earth.

        Not only that. Also
        On 15 August 2012, during a meeting with veterans of the Iran-Iraq War, Ayatollah Khamenei said that he was confident that “the fake Zionist (regime) will disappear from the landscape of geography.”

        In addition, on 19 August, Khamenei reiterated comments made by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, which members of the international community, including the United States, France, European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, and United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon condemned,[31] during which he called Israel a “cancerous tumor in the heart of the Islamic world” and said that its existence is responsible for many problems facing the Muslim world.”

        >But it’s crazy to think Iran would nuke Israel.

        >First of all Iran doesn’t have a nuke.

        Yes Cap. That’s why they are trying to get them (nukes) ASAP.

        >Second it would invite Israel to certainly and gleefully use their bombs on Iran.

        Did you ever seen Israel on map?

        If Iran nukes Israel there would be no Israel left after just three 20-kiloton devices, similar to those dropped on Japan.

        >So Israel’s rantings can’t really be about Iran’s “bomb”.

        Well, it clearly is. Nuclear-capable Iran is a threat to regional balance.

        >It must be a cover for a real objective.

        Obviously, the real objective is to overthrow the current regime. But no one even tries to cover it.

        >After all, the morals and values of Israel say it’s ok to use covers for real objectives when you’re talking to non-Jews, it says so in the Talmud.

        Could you please provide exact quote?

        Reply to Comment
    3. Important to understand here is that Israel and Saudi Arabia are an iteration of the “king of the South” and Iran and Russia are an iteration of the “king of the North” in the fractal Prophecy of Chapter 11, verses 40-45 of the Book of Daniel.

      The “kings of the East” are also involved.


      Reply to Comment
      • sh

        According to whose interpretation of Daniel? None of the countries you mention have a king at all.

        Reply to Comment
    4. sh

      The success of Rohani’s charm offensive made me wonder. What would have happened if, instead of refusing to let Palestinians back to their towns and villages in 1948, we had welcomed them once our victory was assured and the foreign Arab armies had gone back to where they came from?

      Reply to Comment
      • The Trespasser

        >What would have happened if, we had welcomed them…?

        Two questions arise than:
        1) What is Jewish Homeland in jurisdictional terms.
        2) Whether Palestinian Arabs agree to that terms.

        I often thought about and discussed with Jews and Arabs what would have been here if Arabs had agreed that Jews can have live in Palestine as full citizens, including unlimited Jewish immigration of course, and with government similar to that of Lebanon.

        Everyone agreed that it could have been one of world’s most developed countries.

        Right now Israel is spending on the military $15.2 billion per year. If Israel would invest quarter of the amount in Palestinian economy (astounding $3 800 000 000), within 5 years (nineteen billions of US Dollars total) there can be opened 950 factories, plus 95 hospitals, plus 475 schools plus 237 500 free automobiles for public needs.

        By the way, Israel is doing not too bad for her mere 60 years, despite somewhat questionable past.

        World’s most developed 3rd world country – or least developed 1st world country?

        Reply to Comment
    5. jjj

      Bibi is concerned about the eventual end-game. And by the agreement and specifically, the spirit of the agreement – Iran would have nukes with a proabability of 1000% (i.e., 10x nukes it planned…).

      And since Iran has vowed to destroy Israel – not as a side rhetoric, but as a formal explicit policy, I would think that Iran possessing a nuke toy farm is, to some extent, problematic to Israel, and possibly its neighbors which would “enjoy the nuke fallout” – all in the cause of Allah the mercriful and his prophet.
      But maybe that’s just me.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Aaron Gross

      As I’ve said before, you don’t know that Netanyahu and Barak wanted to bomb Iran. Their public statements conveyed that impression, but they could have been exactly the same if Netanyahu and Barak were trying to put pressure on the US. It’s impossible to discern their motivations from their public statements on this issue.

      Reply to Comment
      • It wasn’t just their public statements – it was the reports of their fury behind closed doors when faced with recalcitrant generals, it was the media campaign against bombing waged by Peres on the record and the generals off the record, it was Bibi’s battle for votes in the inner cabinet in favor of bombing, it was the shuttle of U.S. security chiefs to convince Bibi that America would do the job if necessary, it was Barak’s public climbdown in the end that put the thing to rest. There’s much more evidence than just the public statements.

        Reply to Comment
        • Aaron Gross

          You’re right, thanks for the correction.

          Reply to Comment
      • Average American

        Alot of people feel the same way! There is a disconnect between what this government says and what it means. That’s called talking out of both sides of its mouth. Forked tongue. Deceit. And that breeds distrust.

        Reply to Comment
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