Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyhu reportedly attempted to cancel a January briefing to US senators by Mossad officials aimed at warning the lawmakers that an Iran sanctions bill could scuttle the ongoing negotiations with Tehran over its nuclear program.
Netanyahu removed the meeting from an itinerary of a delegation of senators visiting Israel in early 2015, led by Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, Time magazine reported Saturday.
Citing sources “familiar with the events,” the magazine reported that Corker, who also serves as the head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, protested Netanyahu’s move, and threatened to cut the trip short.
Corker asked Israel’s ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer, to intervene, and the January 19 briefing went ahead as planned.
According to reports, the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, 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 — a stance that diverges sharply from the Israeli government’s formal position.
In addition to Corker, Mossad Chief Tamir Pardo briefed Republican senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham and John Barrasso, Democratic senators Tim Kaine and Joe Donnelly, and Independent senator Angus King. He described the sanctions bill as a move akin to “throwing a grenade into the process.”
This is not the first time Israel’s intelligence agency has appeared to contradict Netanyahu’s assessment of Iran’s ambitions for nuclear weapons.
In an alleged Mossad cable from 2012 published by Al Jazeera in February, the agency said that Tehran had not yet begun work on building a nuclear bomb. The cable was sent shortly after Netanyahu’s 2012 speech to Congress in which he asserted that Iran was less than one year away from building a nuclear bomb.
Netanyahu has been vocal in his support of maintaining sanctions against Iran, and has repeatedly warned of the global consequences of a “bad” deal with Tehran.
Corker, together with Democratic Senator Robert Menendez, recently introduced the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015, which would require any final agreement with Iran to be submitted to Congress for review before the US could officially suspended economic sanctions against the Islamic Republic.
Obama has vowed to veto any such legislation, prompting Corker and Menendez to seek out a 67-vote congressional majority to override the president’s veto.
Corker was one of a handful of Republican senators who declined to sign a controversial letter to Iran’s leadership arguing that any nuclear deal could be voided once US President Barack Obama leaves office.
On Sunday, US Secretary of State John Kerry said he was hopeful that an interim deal with Iran was possible “in the next days,” provided that Tehran can prove the peaceful nature of its controversial nuclear program.