Aug 28, 2022 - World

Mossad chief to visit D.C. as Israel ramps up pressure on U.S. over Iran deal

Director of Mossad, David Barnea
Director of Mossad, David Barnea. Photo: Handout/GPO/Amos Ben Gershom/Anadolu Agency via Getty Image

Mossad director David Barnea will visit Washington next week for talks on the emerging deal to restore the Iran nuclear agreement, a senior Israeli official told reporters Sunday.

Why it matters: Barnea is the most hawkish official on Iran within the Israeli security establishment and intelligence community. The organization he leads is highly respected in Washington and cooperates closely with the CIA.

State of play: The U.S. and Iran have moved much closer to a deal to restore the 2015 nuclear accord in recent weeks, but a few key Iranian demands remain unresolved.

  • Last Wednesday, the U.S. sent its response to Iran's comments on the EU draft agreement of the deal. It's not clear whether there will be another round of negotiations.

Driving the news: The Israeli government has consistently objected to the Biden administration's efforts to salvage the Iran deal.

  • In a briefing with reporters last Thursday, Barnea criticized the Biden administration’s policy on the agreement and said he was certain a nuclear deal was done and would be signed within days.

Behind the scenes: Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid knew Barnea was going to speak with reporters but was surprised the Mossad director’s rhetoric on the Biden administration was not in sync with his message, according to Israeli officials.

  • Israeli officials said the prime minister also asked Barnea to tell reporters that the Biden administration toughened its position in the negotiations with Iran after Israeli pressure, but the Mossad director refused.
  • Lapid and his advisers in recent days asked Barnea to clarify his remarks and demanded he sticks to the government’s message and not attack the Biden administration, senior Israeli officials said.
  • A senior Israeli official told reporters on Sunday that there was no tension or gaps between Lapid and Barnea on Iran policy. “There were differences in style and they were fixed," the Israeli official said.

The big picture: The Mossad director’s trip, which was scheduled several weeks ago, will be part of the Israeli pressure campaign aimed at influencing the Biden administration’s policy on the Iran deal, the Israeli official said.

  • In closed-door classified meetings of the House and Senate intelligence committees, Barnea will brief lawmakers about the Israeli position on the nuclear deal. He will also meet CIA director Bill Burns and other Biden administration officials.
  • Barnea's scheduled briefing with U.S. lawmakers is not an attempt to work behind the Biden administration’s back, a senior Israeli official stressed.

Flashback: In March 2015, during the negotiations with Iran about the nuclear deal, then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu organized a speech in front of a joint session of Congress with then-House Speaker of Congress John Boehner.

  • The speech was organized behind the back of the Obama White House and was seen by the president and his aides as an intervention by Netanyahu in U.S. domestic politics.

What they're saying: “We are making a concerted effort to ensure the Americans and Europeans understand the dangers involved in this agreement," Lapid said in a briefing with reporters later Sunday.

  • "Our diplomatic directive, from day one, was to fight this agreement with full force, but without damaging our strategic ties with the United States and without losing their attentiveness to our arguments," he added.
  • Lapid said Israel is still paying for the damage caused by Netanyahu's speech in Congress in 2015, which Lapid claimed led the Obama administration to cease its dialogue with Israel and prevent it from making corrections to the deal. “We have acted differently, and in the past few months, we have delivered quite a few successes," Lapid said.
  • Lapid stressed Israel made it clear to the U.S. that it will not be bound by a nuclear deal between Iran and the world powers. “We are not a party to it and it will not limit our actions. The IDF and the Mossad have received instructions from us to prepare for any scenario. We will be ready to act to safeguard Israel's security. The Americans understand that," he added.

Senior Biden officials were surprised by Barnea’s comments last Thursday in which he criticized the administration. One senior U.S. official told Axios the comments were “over the top."

  • The Israeli Prime Minister’s Office made it clear to the White House that the Mossad director’s visit and his meetings in Congress were not “a Netanyahu style trick” and aren’t aimed at interfering with domestic U.S. politics, Israeli officials said.
  • A White House National Security Council spokesperson said Sunday that Barnea "has long had a pre-scheduled trip for early September. We look forward to our close consultations, as always, with him and other senior Israeli officials.”

What’s next: The senior Israeli official said Lapid is expected to speak to Biden this week.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional details throughout.

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