NEWS ANALYSIS: What do Israel's security institutions think of the Iran nuclear deal?

Ahmed Eleiba , Wednesday 9 Sep 2015

In general, Israeli security institutions are not as alarmed by the Iran nuclear deal as the Netanyahu government. On the other hand, they suspect it won't stick

A general view of the Bushehr main nuclear reactor, 1,200 km (746 miles) south of Tehran, August 21, 2010. (File Photo: Reuters)

Unlike the position held by the Israeli government, security institutions in Israel do not perceive the final nuclear deal between Iran and major world powers as a bad one.

Nevertheless, they believe the Iranian nuclear programme will continue to pose a threat to Israel's national security, and doubt that the Islamic Republic will abide by the terms and conditions of the nuclear deal.

As an international agreement on the nuclear issue is now finalised, fears are certainly less than they were in the past. But Israel's security bodies do not all carry the exact same views on the matter.  

Moshe Yaalon, Israel's defence minister, backs the government position that the deal is a "historic mistake" and believes in the necessity of resorting to military options — involving mainly air strikes — in the case Tehran violates the deal.

Yaalon also hinted that Israel might target Iranian scientists, saying he is not responsible for protecting their lives. He expects the deal to fail, which will push Israel to defend its interests.

Mossad, meanwhile, has not changed its stance from before the deal. Mossad has been a fierce critic of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s hard-line policies regarding Iran. The present Mossad chief was quoted recently as reiterating that the Palestinian cause is the real threat to Israel's national security, while Iran's nuclear programme does not pose any existential threat to Israel.

This is the position of both the current and former heads of Israel's security apparatus, as well as the head of Shin Bet, Israeli domestic intelligence, who has reiterated often the importance of forging a comprehensive settlement to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict while rejecting all attempts to launch a unilateral assault on Iran.

Israeli Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot had appointed a committee to study the option of a military strike against Iran, to be headed by his deputy, Yaeir Golan.

For a number of reasons, the military option will always be present in the minds of Israeli policymakers, which will lead the country to seek to strengthen its defensive capacities.

Meanwhile, Israel sees that a nuclear agreement will not stop Iran from developing its 2000-kilometre range missiles (the distance between the two states is only 1,200 kilometres), capability that the nuclear deal will restrict for eight years as a maximum.

Some types of Iranian missiles, such as the solid-fuel Sejil missile and the Safir space launch vehicle, which could be used in ballistic missile development, also represent a source of national security concern for Israel.

Iran asserts that such missiles only serve the country's space programme, but defence officials revealed in the past that they will be used for deterrence purposes.

Tehran is expected to overcome deficiencies in these missiles within the next three years, mainly by enhancing their accuracy.

Meanwhile, Israel's security institutions anticipate that Iran will increase its support to Shia militant groups in the Middle East, especially Hizbullah that is militarily backing the Syrian regime in the ongoing Syrian civil war.

The Israeli government can probably attempt to end the state of regional isolation it faces — because of its anti-Palestinian stances — through establishing security cooperation with Sunni players in the Middle East, such as Egypt and the Gulf states.

In related developments, Israel presented a list of military-related demands on the United States, which the latter perceives as difficult to meet. On the one hand, Washington is committed to guaranteeing the military superiority of Israel in the region. On the other hand, the United States wants to ensure that the Israeli army will not attack Iran if the Islamic Republic violates the nuclear deal.

The Netanyahu government asked the United States to increase its annual military aid to Israel from $1.3 billion to $4 billion.

Israel also requested a continuation of US backing for its nuclear programme amid Arab attempts — led by Egypt and the Gulf states — to put Israel's nuclear activities under the terms and conditions of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).  

Furthermore, Israel will work on receiving military support from outside the United States, such as the Dolphin-class submarines deal that Israel finalised with Germany, that will continue until 2017. Israel received the first shipment of submarines in 2013.

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