In secret visit, CIA chief said to brief Netanyahu on Iran

John Brennan discussed emerging nuclear deal with Israeli officials in high-stakes powwow last week, report says; US Chief of Staff Dempsey also in Israel

CIA Director John Brennan. (AP/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
CIA Director John Brennan. (AP/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

The director of the US Central Intelligence Agency, John Brennan, met with senior Israel officials last week during a classified trip to the country to discuss the emerging nuclear deal with Iran, the Haaretz daily reported Tuesday.

The report was sourced to two unnamed Israeli officials, and noted that Brennan had met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Mossad chief Tamir Pardo, National Security Adviser Yossi Cohen, Military Intelligence head Herzl Halevi and other senior members of Israel’s intelligence community.

Along with Iran’s nuclear program and the emerging accord between Tehran and the world powers — a deadline for a long-term deal has been set for June 30 — the talks reportedly focused on Iranian activities in the region, presumably including its increasing involvement in Syria and its weapons transfers to Hezbollah.

Trailing Brennan, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey arrived in Israel Monday for high-level meetings with IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot as well as Netanayhu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon.

Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey  landing in Israel and greeted by Major General Yaacob Ayish, Israel Defense and Armed Forces Attache to the US. Monday June 8, 2015. (Matty Stern/U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv)
Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey landing in Israel and greeted by Major General Yaacob Ayish, Israel Defense and Armed Forces Attache to the US, Monday June 8, 2015. (Matty Stern/U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv)

Netanyahu has repeatedly warned that aside from Iran’s nuclear project — which Israel says has a military dimension — the Islamic Republic has territorial ambitions in the region and was already “gobbling up” four Arab capitals: Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut and Sanaa.

To that effect, Israel has come out strongly against the pact with Iran, arguing that the deal does not mention Tehran’s supply of long-range missiles; that despite inspections, Iran will clandestinely break out to the bomb; and that once lifted, sanctions cannot be snapped back on.

Jerusalem also argues that sanctions relief will give Iran a massive infusion of cash with which to fund its proxies in the region, including the Lebanese militia Hezbollah, a bitter enemy of Israel.

Last week, Brennan highlighted the strength of US-Israel intelligence ties, despite frictions between Netanyahu and President Barack Obama. “There is very, very strong relationship between United States and Israel on the intelligence, security and military fronts. It’s one of the great things, I think, about our system; there can be policy differences between our governments but the intelligence and security professionals know that we have an obligation to keep our countries safe and secure,” he told CBS. “And so although there’s been great debate about the Iranian nuclear negotiations that are ongoing, the CIA, NSA and other intelligence community entities are working very close with their Israeli as well as other counterparts.”

In April, Brennan slammed criticism of the framework nuclear deal with Tehran as “disingenuous” and noted that he was “pleasantly surprised” by Iran’s concessions.

“I must tell you the individuals who say this deal provides a pathway for Iran to a bomb are being wholly disingenuous, in my view, if they know the facts, understand what’s required for a (nuclear) program,” Brennan said then. “I certainly am pleasantly surprised that the Iranians have agreed to so much here. In terms of the inspections regime, the reduction as far as the centrifuges, the stockpile, what they’re doing with the Arak reactor, all of that I think is really quite surprising and quite good,” he said.

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