Mossad chief’s harsh criticism of looming Iran deal caught Lapid off guard — report

Spymaster called emerging agreement ‘a strategic disaster’ in remarks that were not coordinated with prime minister and differed from official talking points, report says

Mossad chief David Barnea meets Prime Minister Yair Lapid in Jerusalem, August 25, 2022. (PMO)
Mossad chief David Barnea meets Prime Minister Yair Lapid in Jerusalem, August 25, 2022. (PMO)

Prime Minister Yair Lapid was surprised by Mossad chief David Barnea’s harsh warnings about an emerging Iran nuclear deal between the Islamic Republic and world powers, according to Friday reports.

In comments to reporters on Thursday, Barnea was quoted calling the nuclear deal being negotiated “a strategic disaster” for Israel and saying the United States “is rushing into an accord that is ultimately based on lies.”

The message was more strident and seen as more critical of the US position than other recent statements from Jerusalem.

Lapid had met with Barnea between the Mossad chief’s briefing to reporters and the publication of the remarks, catching Lapid off guard, Channel 12 news said.

Barnea had briefed reporters at 11 a.m. under the condition that his comments not be published until 8 p.m. Barnea and Lapid held a pre-scheduled meeting during that gap in time, which was announced by the prime minister’s office.

Lapid was aware of Barnea’s media briefing, but they had not coordinated the comments, and Barnea’s statements differed from talking points circulated by the prime minister’s office several days ago and from the message Lapid has been attempting to convey, the Channel 12 report said.

Shortly after Barnea’s comments were published, Lapid called the Mossad chief, telling him he had gone off script in his criticism of the US and asking for a clarification. It wasn’t clear if Lapid had directly reprimanded Barnea, reports said.

It also appeared that one or more Hebrew media outlets quoted Barnea inaccurately, as though he had directly criticized the Biden administration’s handling of the Iran issue when he had not done so, Channel 12 also said.

Barnea said Thursday that the emerging Iran deal was “very bad for Israel” and based on lies, citing Iran’s claim that its nuclear activities are peaceful in nature.

Barnea added that an accord appeared to be inevitable “in light of the needs of the US and Iran.” Washington is seeking to prevent Tehran from acquiring the capability to build a nuclear bomb, while the Islamic Republic is seeking relief from crippling financial and economic sanctions.

According to Barnea, the deal, due to its sunset clauses, “gives Iran license to amass the required nuclear material for a bomb” in a few years, and will also provide Tehran billions of dollars in currently frozen money, increasing the danger Iran poses throughout the region via its proxies.

Lapid’s recent statements on the deal have been less grating. He told reporters on Thursday that Israel’s efforts to influence the outcome of negotiations had borne fruit, but that the accord was still “a bad deal” for Israel.

The prime minister pointed both to the trip to Washington this week by national security adviser Eyal Hulata for “very intensive discussions” on the issue and to Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s visit to the US, which began on Thursday.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz meets with US national security adviser Jake Sullivan in Washington DC, August 26, 2022. (Yossi Mai/Defense Ministry)

Gantz told US President Joe Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan on Friday that Israel “needs” the US to have a credible military option against Iran, a senior Israeli official said to reporters Friday.

According to the defense official, Israel received “good hints” with regard to the US having a working offensive plan against Iran. He did not elaborate, but said it that would potentially make Tehran more flexible during negotiations.

The official said the meeting between Gantz and Sullivan in Washington was “intimate” and “positive.” He said Gantz emphasized Israel’s objection to the potential deal.

Channel 12 also reported Friday that the Mossad has told Lapid a renewed Iran deal will likely be signed in the coming days or weeks. The Israel Defense Forces and Mossad are preparing a series of actions against Iran in response, including targeting its nuclear program, terror activities and weapons smuggling.

On Wednesday, Iran announced that it had received the US’s response to its proposal for a return to the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, which then-US president Donald Trump pulled out of in 2018.

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby declined to characterize the administration’s response to the latest proposal, but noted that “we are closer now than we were even just a couple of weeks ago because Iran made a decision to make some concessions.”

Israel has long opposed the deal, arguing that Iran is seeking to build a nuclear bomb, and has published intelligence it says reveals the Iranian weapons program. Iran has denied any nefarious intentions and claims its program is designed for peaceful purposes, though it has recently been enriching uranium to levels that international leaders say have no civil use.

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