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Israeli Officials Reportedly Defy Netanyahu, Warn Against Tougher Sanctions On Iran

CREDIT: PHOTO BY CHIP SOMODEVILLA/GETTY IMAGES
CREDIT: PHOTO BY CHIP SOMODEVILLA/GETTY IMAGES

House Speaker John Boehner (R) invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress next month in an effort to undermine President Obama’s opposition to imposing additional sanctions against Iran while that country is engaged in negotiations to roll back its nuclear program.

The prime minister of America’s closest ally supports taking a harder line with Iran. But fissures are emerging in the Israeli government over the wisdom of imposing tougher sanctions.

According to a report in Bloomberg, the country’s intelligence services have told lawmakers traveling in Israel last week that they would oppose additional sanctions or triggered sanctions, the kind that are included in a bipartisan bill advanced by Sens. Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Bob Menendez (D-NJ). Their proposal would reimpose sanctions lifted during last year’s interim agreement and escalate them absent a final agreement with Iran.

A separate measure, offered by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-TN), would required the administration to submit a final deal for Congressional approval. The administration opposes both bills and has threatened to veto Kirk-Menendez.

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Divisions within the Israeli government came to light earlier last week, after leaders of Mossad — the national intelligence agency of Israel — informed a Congressional delegation traveling in Israel that Congressional action could provide the Iranians with a pretense to leave the negotiations and alienate America from its world partners. That assessment is shared by the American intelligence community.

“We met with a number of government officials from many different parts of the government. There’s not a uniform view there,” Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) told Bloomberg’s Josh Rogin and Eli Lake in describing the Israeli government’s view of Congressional action against Iran. Secretary of State John Kerry quoted an Israeli official who likened more sanctions to “throwing a grenade into the process.” On Thursday, Tamir Pardo, the head of Mossad, issued an unusual statement denying that he opposed additional sanctions. The chief argued that “in negotiating with Iran, it is essential to present both carrots and sticks and that the latter are currently lacking.” “The Head of the Mossad noted further that in the absence of strong pressure, the Iranians will make no meaningful compromises,” the statement also read.

Meanwhile, the Israeli public seems more concerned about economic issues than the threat coming out of Iran. According to a Jan. 2013 poll, just 12 percent of Israelis saw Iran as the nation’s most pressing issue; 43 percent cited economic matters as top priorities. As the Times of Israel described the poll, “The Iranian threat, at 12 percent, is a right-wing issue entirely.”

The Israeli government has already publicly criticized the emerging deal for only keeping Iran one year away from building the capacity to create enough fissionable material to create a single bomb. It also argues that Iran should not be able to engage in research and development of advanced centrifuges and worries that the monitoring and verification regime would prove ineffective and insufficient.