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PM: Iran draft deal 'is not what Biden wanted'

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

Lapid calls for US to lay down a ‘credible military threat’ to force a better agreement; violence is ‘the language Iran understands,’ senior government official says

Carrie Keller-Lynn is a political and legal correspondent for The Times of Israel

Mossad chief David Barnea attends a ceremony marking Remembrance Day for Israel's fallen soldiers and victims of terror in Jerusalem on May 3, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Mossad chief David Barnea attends a ceremony marking Remembrance Day for Israel's fallen soldiers and victims of terror in Jerusalem on May 3, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Mossad chief David Barnea will travel to Washington next week as part of Israel’s intensifying efforts to shape the emerging nuclear agreement between Iran and world powers, which in its current form both Barnea and senior government figures have lambasted as a bad deal.

A senior government official confirmed Sunday that the White House was aware of Barnea’s trip, but would not elaborate as to whether the Biden administration was involved in its planning. Barnea will be the third senior Israeli official to visit Washington in recent days to discuss the Iran deal, after Defense Minister Benny Gantz and national security adviser Eyal Hulata.

As part of a reenergized Israeli media effort in the past two weeks, the Mossad director made rare comments last Thursday, telling reporters that the deal was “very bad for Israel” and “based on lies.” Barnea, Prime Minister Yair Lapid, and Gantz have been unified in their message that the deal is “bad” and Israel will not be bound by it, reserving the right to take action against the Iranian nuclear program.

In advance of Barnea’s visit, Lapid said that Israel’s military and intelligence services are redoubling efforts to combat the threat of a nuclear Iran.

“If an accord is signed, we won’t be obligated by it. We’re not a party to it, and it won’t limit our activities. The IDF and the Mossad have been instructed by us to prepare themselves for any scenario. We will be ready to act to maintain Israel’s security. The Americans understand this, the world understands this, and Israeli society should also know it,” Lapid told journalists on Sunday in a briefing at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem.

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

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

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

A source close to the issue confirmed that Israel is pressing the United States to issue such a threat.

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

Under former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel fought the original 2015 agreement in the court of public opinion and in a particularly contentious direct address by Netanyahu to the US Congress, coordinated without White House involvement. The US pulled out of the agreement under former president Donald Trump in 2018, and under Biden has been negotiating a return for months.

Lapid and former prime minister Naftali Bennett — who is currently abroad on vacation – moved the debate into private channels, attempting to avoid the relationship fallout that occurred between Israel and the Obama administration.

“We must not get to the situation 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 amendments to the agreement,” Lapid said.

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

Netanyahu is set to meet with Lapid on Monday afternoon at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem for a security briefing focused on Iran.

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 have said that Israel could live with a deal, but that the current one is unsatisfactory.

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

“We told the Americans: ‘This is not what President Biden wanted,'” Lapid said of the current draft deal. “This is not what [Biden] talked about during his visit to Israel, this is not what he signed in the Jerusalem Declaration,” Lapid added, building on his comments last week that the current draft deal breaks Biden’s own red lines in terms of containing Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

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

Specifically, Lapid said that Israel would want an agreement with a later end date and with “tighter” supervision, and that also addresses Iran’s long-range ballistic missile program and “involvement in terrorism” across the broader Middle East.

The senior government official said that Israel wants “a minimum amount” of funds to be released to Iran through lifted sanctions, but did not specify if there’s a figure Israel could accept. Lapid last week claimed that the deal would enable $100 billion a year to flow into Iran’s coffers, money that he said could be directed to its terror financing.

“Longer and stronger we can live with, even though we have reservations about it,” the official said.

Referring to Barnea’s Thursday comments, which were reported in some Hebrew media outlets as featuring a direct attack on the US handling of the Iran talks, and as showcasing a stance at odds with Lapid’s, the senior official said the two men had spoken at length, “and sought to work out why it had emerged that there was a confrontation between them when there isn’t. What happened was that there was media commentary claiming the Mossad chief fiercely criticized the Americans, and we decided to correct this.”

The official added that one of the sticking points is Iran’s demand for its own guarantees that the US will not again pull out of an agreement, but estimated that Tehran is unlikely to get such guarantees.

Last week, the US submitted its response to the latest draft of the nuclear agreement.

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