Senior IDF Intelligence Officer: Israel’s Iran Policy a “Colossal Failure” Army Chief of Staff Disagreed with Netanyahu, Supported JCPOA
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Over 40 years, Israel has consistently misunderstood Iran, its interests, and its leaders . Now former senior IDF intelligence officer, Maj. Danny Citrinowicz, has come forward to warn the emperor has no clothes, and that Israeli policy has been misguided. dangerous and ineffectual. His critique is scathing and convincing.
Citrinowicz characterized Jerusalem’s policy on Iran as a “failure,” and lamented his government’s decision to ignore the shift taking place in the Islamic Republic that he…identified [in 2013]. By encouraging the Trump administration to withdraw from the deal and to impose “maximum pressure” sanctions against Tehran, Israel helped dramatically weaken a more moderate force and blunt the impact of that shift…
Now, Citrinowicz…Israel and Iran are on a “collision course,” with Tehran as emboldened and aggressive as ever. Unlike Rouhani, Iran’s newly elected president Ebrahim Raisi does not prioritize a return to the nuclear deal and believes Tehran can withstand US sanctions thanks to growing alliances with Russia and China…
“Iran will only change its strategy if it feels like the regime is in real jeopardy,” Citrinowicz said. “And they believe that the only country capable of really threatening them is the US, not Israel. The only thing threats from Israel will do is push us toward some sort of confrontation.
He was dismissive of previous attacks attributed to Israel on Iran’s nuclear program, arguing that they at best delayed Tehran’s efforts and at worst led the regime to double down in its effort, craftily evading inspections in the process.
The former head of research at the Military Intelligence Directorate also warned that a more significant strike from either Israel or the US would lead to a regional war, which would include retaliation on Israel’s northern border from Hezbollah.
Citrinowicz also derided the “maximum pressure” sanctions regime imposed by the US and its allies:
…It was a catastrophe. It was very naïve to think that they could force the regime to choose between its survival and its nuclear program. Because backing down from its nuclear ambitions means losing its independence, in a way.
…During Trump they [sanctions] were a hopeless cause. Because (a) you didn’t have Russian support, (b) you didn’t have Chinese support, and (c) the Iranians already knew how to cope with the maximum pressure campaign. They already established a well-oiled system to bypass the sanctions…As a result, the maximum pressure campaign has made no difference.
The former intelligence analyst is downbeat regarding Israel’s ability to influence matters, including the current negotiations, due to its unrealistic expectations:
Israel’s ability to influence the negotiation is slim to none. Israel is still thinking in terms of zero enrichment…That’s like talking about achieving a COVID infection rate of zero. It’s no longer relevant, but Israel still is adopting this position.
Israel is caught in a policy toward Iran in which no one has the political maneuverability to think differently, and I don’t see anyone changing this because then they don’t want to be considered a “lefty.”
…The bottom line is that Israel has never been in a worse place against Iran.
To add insult to injury, even Israeli threats to attack Iran as a last resort seem empty:
…Israel’s threatening to use force. But I think it’s irrelevant. Because bombing Iran now [wouldn’t prevent it from reaching a bomb]. As for sanctions, you need the international community [which Israel doesn’t have]. Israel can [take certain actions], but I doubt that it will have an effect. In the past when the Mossad targeted the nuclear facility in Natanz, it played into Iran’s hands because Iran then challenged and limited inspections there.
Citronowicz also warns against Israeli delusions that it can not only attack Iran without outside support, but that it can also defend itself from the subsequent counterattack without outside (US) assistance:
[Take the slogan] “Israel can protect itself by itself.” Yes, theoretically, it’s true. But let’s assume that we attack Iran. We’ll subsequently find ourselves in a war on our northern border. Do you think that we can wage this war alone without help from the Americans? I doubt it.
So yes, we can say for political reasons that “we’ll defend ourselves by ourselves,” but practically it’s not accurate. It’s not like we can do whatever we want. To say, ‘We’ll always reserve the right to act independently’ — yeah, I agree with that too, but do you think we could act independently without our biggest ally? It doesn’t work like that. It’s too complex.
Here he derides Israel’s ignorance of Iranian leaders and the country’s interests, as they define them:
I think they don’t understand this [Iran]. They don’t understand the nuances. Iran is not a monolith. [Parliament Speaker Ali] Larijani is not like Raisi. And I’m sorry, but they don’t wake up in the morning and think about how to destroy Israel. It doesn’t work like that in Iran. But we’re imprisoned [by the politics of this all], and everything gets mixed up.
In Israel, when the Iranian president is moderate, they tell you that he’s weak and a puppet. When the president is an extremist, they say that he decides everything and eats cake after ordering people to their deaths. It’s a basic misunderstanding of the Iranian system.
Because at the end of the day it’s not just about pushing them back, further from a bomb, but also strengthening those in the regime who believed in the agreement. Now, we’ve found ourselves in a catastrophe, which could lead to war.
…One of the main problems in our research of Iran is that we do not understand Iran. What’s worse, we make incorrect working assumptions about Iranian goals and strategy based on very shaky knowledge…
Zvi Barel, writing in Haaretz, reinforces Citrinowicz’ characterization of the abject failure of both Israeli policy and the sanctions regime. In particular, Barel offers a telling comparison between the strangulation (“maximum pressure”) imposed by sanctions on the Iranian people, and Israel’s siege of Gaza:
Israel should have internalized this lesson [the failure of Iran sanctions] a long time ago, since for 14 years it has been conducting a hopeless miniature version of applying “maximum pressure” in the Gaza Strip. The rationale for imposing a suffocating blockade on Gaza has changed over the years, but in principle, the blockade was meant to prevent Hamas from threatening Israel militarily, to stop its armament and even to generate a revolution in which an impoverished, frustrated and desperate public toppled it.
In contrast to the conflict with Iran, Israel has on endless occasions brutally exercised its “military option.” And the result? Israel, with its Arab partners, is trying to reach a long-term agreement with Hamas, which will include the lifting of sanctions, providing assistance in economic rehabilitation and the building of an infrastructure that would motivate Hamas to hold its fire.
Such an agreement, Israel understands, will not grant it recognition by Hamas nor change its ideology nor lead to its disarmament.
In other words, Israel’s decade-plus siege against Gaza has produced nothing for Israel. Clearly, the only fully successful negotiation with Hamas will offer the latter far more than it offers Israel. Which indicates the utter failure of the policy from its inception.
Iran, on the other hand, if Israel accepted the JCPOA, would offer it far more than the current punitive sanctions regime does. Israel would stave off for years, if not longer, an Iranian nuclear weapon. It could conceivably in the future also negotiate for restraint in Iran’s pursuit of its interests outside its own borders (Yemen, Syria, the Gulf, etc). Continuing the current economic strangulation of Iran will likely lead to rapid nuclearization. The choice seems clear.
The Iranian Bomb that Never Was
Israel has been warning since 1984 that Iran was on the cusp of nuclear capability–and proven wrong every time. The result of all this faulty analysis is mutual hostility and misunderstanding. Israeli leaders believe Iran is lying when it claims it will not build a bomb. Further it believes Iran is hellbent for the Bomb and needs to be stopped by force. Iran believes its enemies will never negotiate in good faith or fully implement any agreement they sign, so it does go hellbent to achieve nuclear threshold status.
Further, Bibi Netanyahu’s successful lobbying campaign leading to Trump abandoning the JCPOA agreement, goaded Iran into speeding up its nuclear enrichment program, and away from compromise and restraint.
The constant lies, the constant distortions, the constant overblown headlines are a self-fulfilling prophecy. Enmity between nations is as much what we project onto the enemy as what that enemy really is or does. In this case, 40 years of wishful thinking has transformed Iran into the enemy Israel made it out to be. But not necessarily what it really is. Therein lies the tragedy.
Though the renewed nuclear talks commenced this week, there is so much bad blood that they appear doomed to failure. The US and Israel are running out of policy options. It becomes more likely Israel or the US might resort precipitously to Plan B, the military option, which would mean regional disruption and catastrophe.
17 thoughts on “Senior IDF Intelligence Officer: Israel’s Iran Policy a “Colossal Failure” – Tikun Olam תיקון עולם إصلاح العالم”
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“Success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan”
Plenty of blame to go around here.
Obama, for making a weak ‘Deal’, that allowed Iran to cut a bloody swath through the region, and also for telegraphing America’s intent to vacate the region.
Netanyahu, for sparring with Obama and for whispering into Trump’s ear to rip up ‘The Deal’, once it had already been signed.
And Trump, for ‘changing horses midstream’, and ripping up ‘The Deal’.
Most blame, however, falls on Iran for her aggressive hegemony which seeks to break apart the Sunni Arab States, and for Iran’s aggressive and duplicitious pursuit of nuclear weapons, which BTW, is why we are having this conversation in the first place.
@ Kareem: Obama did not make a “weak” deal. He made a deal you and the Israelis don’t like. Not the same thing. He made a strong deal that accomplished precisely what it set out to do, nothing more-nothing less. It prevented Iran from getting a bomb for the entire length of the deal.
Iran has no blame whatsoever. It signed the deal and stayed in it, despite Trump’s abandoning it, for a year after he did. The notion that Iran is “aggressive” or “hegemonic” is anti-Iran propaganda. It is certainly less hegemonic and aggressive than Israel, which has killed tens of thousands of Palestinians and Arabs over the past 70 years, committed acts of terror in multiple foreign states, and has 200 nuclear warheads which its leaders have seriously considered using at various points. You’re an utter hypocrite. You accuse Iran or aggressively pursuing nuclear weapons when it ended such pursuit in 2003 according to the CIA. If it was aggressively doing this it would surely have such a weapon by now, and could easily have done so. But it hasn’t.
Your propaganda is bordering on lies. I do not permit lies in the comment threads. Be very careful in future. Your opinion must be supported by credible sources. Never, ever use the JPost shmatteh as evidence for anything here. It is media non grata.
A thousand pardons, but I didn’t know that the Jerusalem Post is under a ban, so I include:
The sum and substance is that elements of Iran’s own military industrial complex hate the mullahs with such a passion that they are willing to sabotage their own country’s nuclear ambitions.
Also, the Iranian nuclear scientist Israel assassinated was, in fact, their ‘bomb guy’, and Iran’s current nuclear development program, currently has a ‘military element’.
As for whether Iran is seeking an aggressive, anti-Israel hegemony, I’ll defer to those more learned than I, such as th Brookings Institute, the Atlantic Counsel, etc.
@ Kareem: Let’s talk about sources. I assume you’re intelligent enough, despite your propaganda tendencies to know the difference between media propaganda and credible reporting. In case you’re not, Jewish Chronicle is an entirely bogus source knwon for publishing lies, near lies, and libel, having lost many such legal cases and paid out handsome penalties to victims it smeared. So no JC in future. Chatham House is a “freedom” NGO with a decidedly right wing slant. Some credibility, but only in limited areas. The Times is a Murdoch publication and also has limited crediblity. Arab News is a Saudi publication with an anti-Iran bias. Itamar Rabinovitch (your FP link) is a long-time Israeli hawk and quite a dinosaur.
There are hundreds of credible publications to choose from. If you don’t know what is credible, review the ones to which I link & you’ll get an idea of what I consider credible. I assume you aren’t publishing these links to persuade yourself. If you’re trying to persuade my readers you’ll have to do better. No one is persuaded by propaganda, even if it’s dressed up in think tank finery.
No lets not talk sources, let’s talk about facts.
Cite to where my sources are factually incorrect.
You won’t, and we both know why.
Iran has proxy armies in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq and she supplies her allies in Yemen, the Houtis, with advanced weaponry. All these proxy armies use terror and assassination to further Iran’s agenda of destabilizing the Sunni Arab States.
Don’t piss in my mouth and tell me it’s Lime Rickey.
@ Kareem: Your sources are biased and factually incorrect. I run a blog. I don’t run a propaganda rebuttal service and owe you nothing.
Israel has had proxy armies in as many countries as Iran and supplied them all with advance weaponry. Not to mention that Israel has engaged in massive assassination campaigns in even more countries, which Iran has never done.
BTW, if Iran is such a dangerous hegemon, then why are Saudi Arabia and UAE, formerly sworn enemies, in advanced talks to warm relations? They don’t appear to fear the Iranians as much you need to. And why are Assad’s former Arab enemies warming to him as well?
You are done in this thread.
As per the United States Office of National Intelligence:
Iran will present a continuing threat to US and allied interests in the region as it tries to erode US influence and support Shia populations abroad, entrench its influence and project power in neighboring states, deflect international pressure, and minimize threats to regime stability. Although Iran’s deteriorating economy and poor regional reputation present obstacles to its goals, Tehran will try a range of tools—diplomacy, expanding its nuclear program, military sales and acquisitions, and proxy and partner attacks—to advance its goals. We expect that Iran will take risks that could escalate tensions and threaten US and allied interests in the coming year.
Iran sees itself as locked in a struggle with the United States and its regional allies, whom they perceive to be focused on curtailing Iran’s geopolitical influence and pursuing regime change.
Tehran’s actions will reflect its perceptions of US, Israeli, and Gulf state hostility; its ability to project force through conventional arms and proxy forces; and its desire to extract diplomatic and economic concessions from the international community. With regards to US interests in particular, Iran’s willingness to conduct attacks probably will hinge on its perception of the United States’ willingness to respond, its ability to conduct attacks without triggering direct conflict, and the prospect of jeopardizing potential US sanctions relief. Regime leaders probably will be reluctant to engage diplomatically in talks with the United States in the near term without sanctions or humanitarian relief or the United States rejoining the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
Iran remains committed to countering US pressure, although Tehran is also wary of becoming involved in a full-blown conflict. Regional Involvement and Destabilizing Activities
Iran will remain a problematic actor in Iraq, which will be the key battleground for Iran’s influence this year and during the next several years, and Iranian-supported Iraqi Shia militias will continue to pose the primary threat to US personnel in Iraq. The rise in indirect-fire and other attacks against US installations or US-associated convoys in Iraq in 2020 is largely attributed to Iran-backed Iraqi Shia militias.
Iran will rely on its Shia militia allies and their associated political parties to work toward Iran’s goals of challenging the US presence and maintaining influence in Iraqi political and security issues. Tehran continues to leverage ties to Iraqi Shia groups and leaders to circumvent US sanctions and try to force the United States to withdraw through political pressure and kinetic strikes. Although Tehran remains an influential external actor in Iraq, Iraqi politicians, such as Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, will attempt to balance Baghdad’s relations with Iran and the United States in an effort to avoid Iraq becoming an arena for conflict between the two countries.
Iran is determined to maintain influence in Syria.
Iran is pursuing a permanent military presence and economic deals in Syria as the conflict winds down there. Tehran almost certainly wants these things to build its regional influence, support Hizballah, and threaten Israel. Iran will remain a destabilizing force in Yemen, as Tehran’s support to the Huthis—including supplying ballistic and cruise missiles as well as unmanned systems—poses a threat to US partners and interests, notably through strikes on Saudi Arabia. Tehran remains a threat to Israel, both directly through its missile forces and indirectly through its support of Hizballah and other terrorist groups.
“BTW, if you(sic) is such a dangerous hegemon, then why are Saudi Arabia and UAE, formerly sworn enemies, in advanced talks to warm relations? ”
[T]he notion of a collapse of a pro-Western alliance in the region in the wake of a U.S. withdrawal is an exaggeration. But it derives to a degree from an earlier exaggeration in the opposite direction. The pro-Western alliance in the region was always a complex and somewhat fragile arrangement. Israel and the UAE, for example, while seeing a list of threats in common, have always prioritized different items on this list. For Israel, the Iranian threat is deemed paramount, the challenge of the Iranian nuclear program front and center, and all other issues secondary.
It should be noted that while there is undoubtedly a sense of flux in the strategic picture of the region at present, deriving from the U.S. change of focus, in the medium to long term this is likely to provide an additional advantage for Israel. Israel is the only country within this group of states that is able to provide a credible military threat against Iran, and specifically against the Iranian nuclear program.
In this regard, it should be noted that while it is often stated that Iran has, through its use of proxies, succeeded in partially “surrounding” Israel—through its control or partial control of proxies in Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq—it is also the case that Israel appears to be following a diplomatic strategy which seeks similarly to surround Iran. This is attempted not, as in the Iranian case, by organizing proxies, but rather by seeking alliances and closer relations with countries in close proximity to Iran. Such countries include Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and, notably, Azerbaijan, to Iran’s north.
No one is arguing that the “alliance” (it is NOT “pro-western” as you claim–no western nations participate in this alliance and it pursues a regional strategy having nothing to do with the “west”) is collapsing. You used the term. Neither I nor any other media outlet has. But the alliance is exceedingly weak, transactional, and has no staying power that would ensure its continuity. And the “notion” that the alliance is weakening is entirely well-founded. There are articles in credible outlets based on sources in the region which confirm this. Even the pro-Israel lapdog, JPost, seems to be worried. It’s inconvenient to your pro Israel agenda. But that doesn’t make it false.
Again, nope. Every pragmatic, realist Israeli intelligence source (and there are quite a few, most of whom I’ve profiled here) notes Israel has no credible military threat. It can boast and threaten and buy all the hardware it wants. But that doesn’t amount to a hill of beans when it comes to a credible threat.
No credible analyst or source has ever made such a claim (by which I exclude every anti-Iran, regime change, pro-war, pro-Israel hawk you can come up with). The fact that you make such a claim and add the words “often stated” doesn’t make it true. There is “magic realism” and now you’ve invented “magic hasbara.”
Far-right pro Israel sites like Mosaic Magazine are NOT credible sources. Do not link to them. Or if you do, I tell you in advance I will ridicule you and them as propaganda outlets. There are hundreds of credible media outlets which do not have such biases. Find them and use them. Then your arguments will have credibility.
If you are using an IP proxy server to publish comments at this site, don’t. I find the prospect that a pro-Israel apologist would be commenting from Belarus to be highly suspicious.
You are done in this thread.
@Kareem “Brookings Institute” “Atlantic Council” “Chatham House” … lol. may as well just reference DEBKAfile instead!
In this case, 40 years of wishful thinking has transformed Iran into the enemy Israel made it out to be.
I believe Netanyahu pivoted to Iran years ago to deflect from the internal situation vis a vis the Palestinians. The comparison of results is apt. The knee-jerk “mad-dog” approach using military might is so counter productive.The Israelis don’t get it.They still go for it. Biden will have a real problem if Israel attempts to involve us in war and supplying war materiel. Public opinion has changed. We want no more war and more and more it seems do not sympathize with an Israel that pushes our foreign policy, an Israel that has kept this brutal occupation going so long entrenching itself on what was to be a Palestinian state, calling them terrorists. Netanyahu has been calling the Iranians terrorists similarly. He took Ahmedinejad’s bluster and ran with it, fear mongering Israelis to accumulate terms in office.That worked for a long time. Netanyahu with chutzpah pushed in the US. Kushner, a big macher (the Abraham Accords seems to have sold out the Palestinians) peddles still ( this year in an op-ed) a heavy hand. Israel shoots itself in the foot, and we, having been in thrall politically,so weakened,follow. Or did for years.
Thank you for the clips above, behind Haaretz paywall. We will donate, avoiding Facebook.
Without disagreeing with your analysis, Major is not a ‘senior’ officer rank in the IDF. Only Colonel and upwards is considered senior here.
@ Shai: You know IDF ranks better than I. But Major is definitely a senior officer in every other army I know, including the US army:
This guy was a deputy director of AMAN in charge of the Iran brief. The IDF would not permit a junior officer to hold such a brief. Unless the IDF places low importance on the Iran brief, which I find hard to believe.
A Major can have duties above his pay grade that would ordinarily be reserved for Colonels.
@ Sasha: Citrinowicz says in the article that before he left to be deputy military attache in DC, his superiors told him that he would be “retired” after his posting ended. So I assume there was some tension or conflict, perhaps related to his dissenting views on Iran. So I’m guessing that he may not have been promoted to Lt. Col. for that reason, and this may have led to his leaving the army.
But I do think that even though he was a Major, that his responsibilities reflect much more those of a higher ranking, as you suggest.
AMAN … that is a big deal, military intelligence I believe? roughly equivalent to the us ONI?
[comment deleted: Do not quote from or link to the JPost here. I won’t warn you again. And do not post slogans in a comments. The comment threads are not a soccer match.]