By Ilan Fuchs, Ph.D.
Faculty Member, Legal Studies
The past few weeks have seen a series of talks between Israeli officials and high-ranking U.S. officials, culminating with a meeting between President Biden and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. These discussions are more than mere pleasantries; they have to do with the creation of a baseline after the change in administration in both Washington and Jerusalem.
These talks were also accompanied by a series of timed “leaks” from senior Israeli officials to both Israeli and U.S. newspapers. The intent is to send a very clear message to Tehran’s leaders that a military option is on the table.
NYT Story Noted a Mysterious Plant Explosion in Iran and a Mossad-CIA Meeting
This past week, The New York Times published a story with three names on its byline. One of those names was Israeli investigative reporter Ronen Bergman, who works for the Israeli newspaper Yediot Achronot.
The story included some interesting details on events in recent months in Iran. It mentioned a mysterious explosion in the uranium enrichment plant in April. The story also discussed a meeting between the outgoing head of Mossad and the head of the CIA, which was meant to open a new page in the long-lasting relationship between Israel and the U.S.
U.S. Has Had to Rely on Israel for Intelligence Information about Iran
The truly shocking detail in the NYT story, even though it is known to people who follow the intelligence field, is that sources confirmed that America’s intelligence network within Iran has been largely lost. The CIA has been relying on Israeli information when it comes to Tehran.
The NYT article confirmed that in April, former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided to give the U.S only a two-hour notice when Israel set off explosives at Iran’s Natanz nuclear plant. The article stated: “Israeli officials said they took the precautions because Americans had leaked information about some Israeli operations, a charge U.S. officials deny. Other Israeli officials say the Biden administration had been inattentive to their security concerns, too focused on reviving the Iran nuclear agreement that President Donald J. Trump had pulled out of.”
The US-Israel Intelligence Community Relationship Remains Close
But there remains an intimate and long-standing relationship between the U.S. and Israeli intelligence communities. Will Hurd, a former C.I.A. officer and a former member of the House Intelligence Committee, said in the New York Times article, “You have people within both intelligence organizations that have had relationships for a very long time. There is a closeness and an ability to potentially smooth out some of the problems that may manifest from the leaders.”
Israeli Leaders Have Been Involved in Several Talks over the Past Month
Clearly, the new administration in Israel has been involved in talks for the past month to improve working relations. This latest article is simply a way to signal Tehran that the stalled talks in Vienna will meet a unified U.S.-Israeli response.
In a meeting this week between Bennett, U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, the focus was on Iran. Austin affirmed the United States’ “commitment to Israel’s security and qualitative military edge.”
Biden and Bennett Clarified Their Feelings toward Iran in Last Friday’s Meeting
Bennett’s visit culminated in a 50-minute discussion with President Biden in the White House last Friday. The meeting had been postponed from Thursday, after a lethal attack in Kabul that claimed the lives of several servicemembers required President Biden to commit his full attention to Afghanistan.
The remarks from President Biden made the American-Israeli reaction very clear if anyone in Tehran has violent intentions. Biden said he and Bennett discussed “the threat from Iran and our commitment to ensure Iran never develops a nuclear weapon. We’re putting diplomacy first and we’ll see where that takes us. But if diplomacy fails, we’re ready to turn to other options.”
Bennett said to Biden, “I was happy to hear your clear words that Iran will never be able to acquire a nuclear weapon. You emphasized that you’ll try the diplomatic route but there’s other options if that doesn’t work out.”
What Will Happen Next with Iran?
The situation with Iran is much clearer now. A strong message from both the U.S. and Israel has been clearly sent to the Iranian government, and now the ball is in Iran’s court.
The U.S. has made clear that it will attempt to use diplomacy to rein in Iran’s activities, but if that fails, then the next step is military action. There is also a very clear timetable. The reports in world media in recent months talk about an acceleration in the development of an Iranian atomic bomb, which could lead to Iran having a working bomb in a matter of a few months.
The near future is crucial and might involve our nation in another Middle Eastern conflict requiring U.S. intervention. An atomic bomb in the hands of Shia clerics in Iran will not only endanger Israel, but also the Sunni-led Gulf states who control most of the oil production in the world.
With such high stakes and after the Afghanistan failure, it is a safe bet the U.S. will use military force to quash the Iranian nuclear deal.
The only question is: Do Tehran’s leaders truly understand what is at stake here? Are the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Ebrahim Raisi so invested in a religious narrative of the second coming of a Shiite messiah that they are willing to put everything on the line, including the existence of Iran? Their decision might be what makes – or breaks – the Biden presidency.