About “Israel’s Security Establishment” and the Iran Deal

Updates appended below.
An opinion piece published in the Forward carries a headline that might lead readers to believe that a consensus of senior Israeli security experts views the recently signed Iran nuclear deal as a good deal.

The piece, by Forward editor J.J. Goldberg, is titled “Israel Security Establishment Breaks With Bibi on Iran Deal,” and cites a long and impressive list of members of Israel’s security establishment.

But the title and thesis of the piece is worded in a way that might confuse readers looking to gauge Israeli support for the deal. The security establishment “breaks with Bibi,” says the title. Support for Netanyahu’s “war against the Iran nuclear agreement” has been cracked, says the first paragraph. Generals and spymasters are “questioning” Netanyahu.

None of this, though, means these security officials believe the agreement is “good.”

“Good” is what J Street calls the Iran deal. The lobbying organization, which focuses on holding Israel responsible for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, is engaged in an all-out campaign to convince American Jews that the deal is good for everyone involved: America, Israel, and the world. It has gone so far as attacking AIPAC, the mainstream pro-Israel lobbying organization, for claiming (in J Street’s words) that “the deal does not ensure ‘anytime, anywhere’ short-notice inspections,” even though Secretary of State John Kerry openly admits that it does not.

So when J Street posted to Twitter a link to Goldberg’s piece, it surely hoped to convince its followers that “the establishment,” too, believes the agreement is good.

Goldberg’s piece, headline notwithstanding, admits otherwise, and it’s worth drawing attention to the views of some of the officials named in the piece before it unhelpfully gets passed around as a list of experts who supposedly support the deal. Some of the Israeli security experts cited, Goldberg notes, believe only the deal is not “as bad” as Netanyahu describes it. And some straightforwardly say the deal is “bad,” he admits. Here’s one example of the latter, in Goldberg’s words:

The roster [of those breaking with Netanyahu] should also include a onetime chief of military intelligence, Israel Defense Forces chief of staff and prime minister named Ehud Barak. He was Netanyahu’s defense minister from 2009 to 2013 and helped develop his Iran strategy. In a television interview the day the agreement was signed, Barak said he wouldn’t criticize his old boss or tell him what to do. But he did just that.

Barak called the nuclear deal a “bad deal” that legitimizes Iran as a nuclear threshold state. He predicted that Iran would have a nuclear weapon within a decade.

Yes, Barak has criticisms of the Israeli prime minister, who was not only his a former political partner but also a past and possibly future political opponent. But those who saw only the Forward article’s headline, or only J Street’s Twitter post, should take note: “bad” means bad.

Goldberg’s piece also lists “former chief of military intelligence, Amos Yadlin, who now heads Israel’s main defense think tank,” and links to an interview that is conducted in Hebrew.
Since that language will be unhelpful to many of Goldberg’s readers, it should be said that Yadlin is no proponent of this deal. Yes, he says, it has certain positive points. No, Israel doesn’t need to panic, as some in the country may be doing. But his bottom line is that this deal is about “Obama’s hope for a transformation, a change in Iran.” In other words, it relies on the idea that, over the course of the 10-25 years (per Yadlin) the Iranian program is constrained, something in the thinking of the regime, or the regime itself, will change.
“I give this a 5 percent chance, not more” Yadlin says.

Probed further, he pointedly states his opinion that “this is a very problematic agreement.” Later, he repeats: “This is not a good deal. This a problematic deal. You also could call it a bad deal.”

Efraim Halevy and Israel Ziv, other security officials named in the piece, express less pessimism, but their positions hinge not on the agreement being “good” — they do not say that in the articles Goldberg links to — but rather on the fact that we are now stuck with the deal, and so there are now no alternatives.

“There will be no other agreement and no other negotiations,” Halevy concludes. So it is important for Israel to have a debate about “what is better, a signed agreement,” which he says has some strong points, “or no agreement?”

Ziv says, without any indication he sees himself as the exception, that “there is no one in Israel who thinks the nuclear agreement is a good agreement,” but also argues that, as an established fact that Israel must deal with, “it’s not particularly bad.”

Even Ami Ayalon, whom J Street and John Kerry point to as a supporter of the deal (perhaps based on his interview with J.J. Goldberg in which the former internal security head says the deal is “the best possible alternative from Israel’s point of view, given the other available alternatives”) is described by Goldberg as having “unhappiness with the agreement,” and is quoted saying that, in certain respects, “it’s hard to defend the agreement.” 

So anyone citing Goldberg’s piece, or J Street’s advocacy, to suggest Israel’s security establishment supports the agreement as a “good deal” should be corrected.

(A good place start? The Washington Post should correct its highly misleading headline, “How the Iran deal is good for Israel, according to Israelis who know what they’re talking about,” under which Amos Yadlin is listed as one of those “Israelis who know what they’re talking about.” Yes, the same Yadlin who referred to the deal as “not good,” “problematic,” and even “bad.”)
Update, July 24, 2015: The author of the Washington Post blog item mentioned above, Ishaan Tharoor, at some point corrected his post to acknowledge that that Yadlin is “not a not a fan of the deal.” There is no indication on the web page that the post was updated, contrary to the newspaper’s correction policy. The uncorrected headline continues to suggest, inaccurately, that the Israeli officials mentioned in the piece consider the Iran agreement to be a “good” deal. See here for our detailed article about Tharoor’s piece.
Update, July 30, 2015: CAMERA’s correspondence with the Washington Post has prompted the newspaper to publish a correction to Tharoor’s piece. Further details here.

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