A new report on a recent Israeli intelligence assessment indicates that Israel’s military intelligence service disagrees with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s public statements on the current leadership in Iran. Since the election of Hassan Rohani as president in Iran this past June, Netanyahu has repeatedly said that there’s no real difference between Rohani and his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and that Rohani’s conciliatory approach to the international community is just a trick by the Iranian regime.
“Rohani doesn’t sound like Ahmadinejad,” Netanyahu said in his speech to the United Nations General Assembly in October. “But when it comes to Iran’s nuclear weapons program, the only difference between them is this: Ahmadinejad was a wolf in wolf’s clothing. Rohani is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, a wolf who thinks he can pull the eyes — the wool over the eyes of the international community.”
“This is a ruse,” Netanyahu continued. “It’s a ploy.”
But Haaretz’s Amos Harel reports that Israeli military intelligence “discerns a genuine struggle over the future image of [Iran] between the spiritual leader Ali Khamenei and his conservative allies, and a more moderate group headed by the new president, Hassan Rohani”:
Expert analysis does not view Rohani’s election as a deception by Khamenei intended solely to mislead the West, but rather as an authentic leader who is creating an independent power center. The internal struggle between the blocs in Iran has yet to be resolved, but Rohani enjoys broad public support, despite the clout of the Revolutionary Guards and the senior army officers who are loyal to the spiritual leader.
Haaretz reported in September that on the eve of Netanyahu’s departure for the United Nations General Assembly in New York, the head of MI, Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, provided him with an assessment holding that a deep strategic change was being played out in Iran, expressed in Rohani’s election victory in June.
Kochavi appears to be sticking to this opinion. Earlier this month, he presided over a ceremony at which prizes for creative thinking were awarded to intelligence officers. According to a report on Israel Radio, a group of officers from the research division who “identified the change in Iran” received a special certificate of appreciation from Kochavi. Officially, senior Israeli figures such as Netanyahu, [Defense Minister Moshe] Ya’alon and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman are scoffing at the change in Tehran and saying that Rohani’s “charm offensive” is simply a mask assumed by the regime solely in order to get relief from the international sanctions. It turns out that MI, without for a moment detracting from the dangers of Iran’s nuclear project and its support for terrorism, thinks otherwise.
In a new interview with the Times of Israel, former Israeli ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren insisted that Netanyahu’s statements are backed by the intelligence community. “Netanyahu doesn’t get up in the morning and decide on a whim to take these polices,” Oren said. “He is conferring with a very sizable community of intelligence experts — among the world’s best, if they aren’t the world’s best — from Mossad, from military intelligence, who are basically adducing the same evidence to support a case. That’s his responsibility as prime minister.” We know that the former head of Mossad, Meir Dagan, differed sharply with Netanyahu’s assessment of Iran. According to Harel’s reporting, this is apparently also the case with Israeli military intelligence.