Not so subtle leaks have emanated from Israel and Saudi Arabia about their immense displeasure with the nuclear deal the P5+1 nations are preparing to finalize with Iran. Those leaks have gone far beyond mere expressions of alarm. In fact, they include not so subtle “secret” meetings between their intelligence chiefs, and stories from cozy journalists who warn that both countries are contemplating an attack on Iran if the nuclear deal is as favorable to Iran as they fear it will be:
“Once the Geneva agreement is signed, the military option will be back on the table. The Saudis are furious and are willing to give Israel all the help it needs,” the Times quoted the source as saying.
An Eilat newspaper reported that Israel’s Mossad chief, Tamir Pardo met “secretly” in an Aqaba hotel with Saudi Arabia’s intelligence chief, Prince Bandar. For more on the strange relationship these two are cultivating and the clear limitations Prince Bandar is facing both in Saudi Arabia and the rest of the region, read this interesting profile of the Saudis’ top spook.
Pardo and Sultan weren’t in Aqaba to soak up that warm winter sunshine. This is the second such meeting that I’ve reported between them over the past few weeks. The source of the story is supposedly the “Jordanian government.” You have to ask yourself if two well-known intelligence chiefs of supposedly hostile nations want to meet secretly, why choose a Jordanian hotel? No, I’d say they wanted their meeting to be known. Perhaps not known throughout the world, but certainly known to the intelligence agencies in certain capitals like Tehran and Washington. The fact that Israel and Saudi Arabia may be plotting God knows what behind the back of the P5+1 states is supposed to give Obama, Rouhani and the other pause before they sign that so-called sweetheart deal. But will it?
That brings us to the next story, published in the Sunday Times and covered by all the Israeli press. This report claims that Saudi Arabia and Israel are actually plotting to go to war against Iran if a deal is struck. Before we get hot and bothered about this, let’s consider the source: the story was written by Uzi Mahnaimi. He appears to be an outlet favored by some elements of Israeli intelligence (he himself is a former military intelligence officer who retired in 1984). But worse than that, many of his stories seem either made up out of whole cloth or at least extremely dubious. He and Marie Colvin co-authored a story for the Sunday Times in 1998, which appeared based in a science fiction scenario penned by an Israeli scientist, claiming that Israel had created an “ethno-bomb” that would target specific Arab genetic weaknesses. Mahnaimi appeared not to know the plot he was reporting was fictional and the report, a hoax. Both he and Colvin have never spoken about the report or explained it. Thus in fact, if Mahnaimi predicted something would happen, I’d feel comfortable betting it wouldn’t.
So the Sunday Times reporter tells us breathlessly that Saudi Arabia is “all in” for such an attack. The Arab state has offered rights to its own airspace for overflight. It’s supposedly offered to base Israeli drones and helicopters in the country to use as support vehicles.
But let’s try to look at this realistically: would Israel attack Iran after six major nations just signed a nuclear deal with Iran? Yes, I can understand voicing your extreme displeasure in every way possible. But send in the F-16s and bunker busters? Truly, it IS possible that Bibi might do this. He is crazy and reckless enough to try it. But will he? Is he willing to be Samson toppling the pillars of the Philistine temple in order to kill his tormentors? My bet is that he isn’t. He would risk leaving Israel as the odd man out not just opposing an agreement negotiated under international auspices, but wrecking such a deal with a military attack on Iran.
Is Bibi that reckless? Nahum Barnea, Israel’s best-known columnist, writes that the prime minister enters every crisis like a champion weightlifter and exits like a crumbled candy bar. So no, my bet is that Israel is all bluff and holding very few good cards. Further, the fact that they chose Mahnaimi to publish this report, with his record, casts even greater doubt.
Larry Cohler Esses, writing for the Forward, argues correctly that Israel is increasingly left with little or no leverage to influence events related to Iran:
Unfortunately for Israel, its position on this point [Iran’s right to enrich uranium] remains frozen in time: zero-enrichment, and only zero-enrichment, is acceptable when it comes to Iran.
As one Israeli foreign ministry official put it to me, “Enrichment is unacceptable, period. Because we don’t believe it’s for peaceful purposes. Why would Iran need nuclear energy when they have the second largest oil reserves in the world?”
…This stance risks driving Israel further into international isolation. But it’s even worse; unlike the Palestinian issue, this issue is not one on which the United States or other Western countries accept that Israel is the key negotiating partner. Unless Israel’s supporters in Congress succeed in upending the whole premise the administration accepts as the basis for these talks — as Israel hopes they will — Netanyahu will simply get left in the dust as the rest of the world moves forward — and quite quickly at that.
Most importantly, Israel’s position will leave it with no way to influence the issues that actually are being discussed by those who are at the table — issues in which it has a crucial interest.
Pres. Obama understands that in order to get this deal he will have to, if not abandon Israel, then show a clear demarcation between the Israeli government’s perceived interests and our own.
Coher-Esses’ piece is prescient I think in warning that if there is a nuclear deal, then pressure against Israel to come to terms with the Palestinians will mount exponentially. Netanyahu has always argued that Iran is the most important (“existential”) issue for Israel. That any other issue, like the Palestinians, should take a back seat till Iran is resolved. Once that happens there will be no further excuses for inaction (though Bibi will try to find many or any). This could be another reason Bibi hates the idea of a deal with Iran so much.
Returning to Mahnaimi’s story, what astonishes me is that virtually every major Israeli paper republished this nonsense as if it was God’s honest truth. That bespeaks either their desperation to cover every bit of this story; or their gullibility (or both).
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.