Unlike Netanyahu, Israeli generals go along with Iran deal

TEL AVIV, Israel, Nov. 26 (UPI) -- Despite Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's denunciations of the move toward a U.S.-Iranian rapprochement and efforts by the powerful pro-Israel lobby in Washington to undo the interim agreement reached in Switzerland Sunday, influential former military and intelligence chiefs think the deal is moving in the right direction.

Netanyahu snubbed the landmark deal between the U.S.-led Western powers and Iran, which is valid for six months before talks on a more permanent agreement begin even though it limits Iran's nuclear enrichment program, which the West fears is aimed at producing nuclear weapons.


Tehran denies having nuclear weapon ambitions. But Netanyahu, who sees Iran's nuclear and ballistic missile programs as an existential threat to Israel, branded Sunday's agreement, hailed as a major diplomatic triumph for U.S. President Barack Obama's administration, a "historic mistake" that leaves Iran's military nuclear capabilities largely intact.


But it's becoming clear that other influential Israelis, particularly senior figures in the military and intelligence establishment, view the agreement in a much more favorable light because it slows down Iran's nuclear project even if it doesn't totally dismantle it.

"This agreement is something I can live with -- for the next six months," said retired Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin, former head of Military Intelligence and considered by some to be a hawk.

"For the first time since 2003, the Iranian nuclear program is halted, even slightly rolled back."

Yadlin, who now heads the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University, told reporters if this were the final agreement, "it would really be a bad agreement, but that's not the situation."

He rejected Netanyahu's argument the agreement "made the world more dangerous," and said it's "possible that had there been no agreement, Iran would have decided to make the breakthrough to a bomb because the sanctions are hurting it so badly."

It's widely believed U.S.-led economic sanctions imposed on Iran in mid-2010, and stiffened since then, were a principal factor in getting Iran to the negotiating table, a process accelerated by the election of reformist President Hassan Rouhani in June and the apparent acquiescence of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.


Former Iranian President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, one of the Islamic republic's most influential leaders who has displayed moderate tendencies in the past, acknowledged that in an interview with the Financial Times Monday and predicted a comprehensive final agreement could come within a year.

Rafsanjani, seen as the leader of Iran's so-called conservative pragmatists, said Sunday's breakthrough agreement was the most difficult step because it had to overcome decades of hostility that began with the fall of the pro-Western Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in 1979 in Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's Islamic Revolution.

"It was breaking the ice, the second stage will be more routine," he said, noting Iran will not abandon its nuclear program but will bring it in line with the 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty.

In 2011, Yadlin and other senior figures in Israel's military-intelligence community successfully opposed plans by Netanyahu and his then-defense minister and ex-chief of the general staff, Ehud Barak, from launching pre-emptive strikes against Iran's nuclear infrastructure because they feared it would spark a regional conflagration.

The other figures included Meir Dagan, former head of Mossad, Israel's external intelligence service which has been sabotaging Iran's nuclear program for years, and former Defense Minister and Chief of Staff Shaul Mofaz, leader of the centrist Kadima Party.


Mofaz said Israel should not let its guard down, but stressed the country's military does not have the firepower to knock out Iran's nuclear program on its own.

"The Israeli strategy has failed and a different strategy could have been chosen," he observed.

"Netanyahu's fighting a losing battle and it would have been better to work quietly to bring the Americans on board with our strategy."

Israeli polls indicate three-quarters of Jewish Israelis share Netanyahu's skepticism. The far right favors an even tougher line on Iran.

Some credit Netanyahu's tough stand with influencing the Americans to push Iran harder in Geneva, Switzerland, which produced the interim deal.

But even if Netanyahu faces opposition from influential military figures at home, he still has hefty support in the U.S. Congress, where there appears to be a move to reject the agreement secured by Obama's administration.

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