In break with PM, Mossad said to warn US against new Iran sanctions

Kerry says an Israeli intelligence official likened sanctions bill to ‘throwing a grenade into the process’

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (right) shakes hands with then US secretary of state John Kerry (left) in Geneva, January 14, 2015. (AFP/Rick Wilking/Pool)
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (right) shakes hands with then US secretary of state John Kerry (left) in Geneva, January 14, 2015. (AFP/Rick Wilking/Pool)

The Mossad intelligence agency has warned US officials against a bill that would hit Iran with sanctions if the nuclear talks fail to secure an agreement by the June deadline, diverging sharply from the Israeli government’s formal position, Bloomberg reported Wednesday.

The report maintained that Israeli intelligence officials have advised US officials that a bill sponsored by senators Robert Menendez and Mark Kirk could drive the nuclear negotiations with the Islamic Republic to collapse.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has backed the bill, which is seen as likely to be vetoed by US President Barack Obama.

The report came shortly after Netanyahu was lined-up to address the US Congress on the Iranian nuclear project in February, upon the request of House Speaker John Boehner on Wednesday.

Boehner’s invitation to the prime minister prompted a chilly response from the White House, with a spokesman saying it was a breach of diplomatic protocol.

Obama has argued forcefully against any new measures against the Islamic Republic, saying Iran is already chafing under existing sanctions and imposing new ones could torpedo ongoing talks on an agreement to prevent Tehran from developing a nuclear bomb, a goal it denies having.

In the State of the Union speech Tuesday, Obama vowed he would veto the sanctions bill.

According to the Bloomberg report, two US officials confirmed the Mossad had said that the passage of the bill would torpedo the talks — a view that is consistent with the US intelligence assessment.

“We’ve had a standing assessment on this,” a senior US official said. “We haven’t run the new Kirk-Menendez bill through the process, but the point is that any bill that triggers sanctions would collapse the talks. That’s what the assessment is.”

On Wednesday, Secretary of State John Kerry said an Israeli intelligence official had described the sanctions bill as a move akin to “throwing a grenade into the process,” the report said.

The Mossad has not limited its warnings to US officials abroad, but official from the spy agency also approached a congressional delegation during an Israel visit last week, according to the report.

Among the visitors to Israel was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Corker, who is advancing separate legislation that would require a senate vote to affirm any agreement made with Tehran, but no sanctions. Corker told Bloomberg that during his Israel visit, he did not encounter any opposition to his plan.

“We have heard no one, no one, say that if Congress were to weigh in on the final agreement it would in any way destabilize the negotiations,” he said.

But other US lawmakers in the delegation said they received conflicting messages from Israeli officials on the sanctions bill.

“We met with a number of government officials from many different parts of the government. There’s not a uniform view there,” Republican John Barrasso said.

Menendez, who has fiercely fought for his bill, and on Wednesday sharply criticized the Obama administration’s approach, was reportedly irked by the Mossad intervention, and contacted Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer for an explanation.

Menendez has chafed for over a year at Obama administration pushback against efforts he is leading with Kirk to pass sanctions that would go into effect should Iran walk away from talks with major powers over its nuclear capabilities.

The Senate Democrats, in the leadership last year, managed to quash the Menendez-Kirk initiative. Now that the Republicans are in the Senate majority, it’s back on, and Menendez says he’s ready to push ahead. The Kirk-Menendez bill, although it has yet to formally appear, is strongly backed by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

Obama, in resisting new sanctions now, has the backing of some top Senate Democrats, including Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calid.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Tim Kaine (D-Va.), and two Republicans: Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.).

It remains unclear whether Kirk-Menendez has the 67 votes needed to override Obama’s veto.

AFP contributed to this report.

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