With Iran and the great powers approaching the signing of a nuclear agreement in Vienna, the Israeli political, security and military circles are anxious to discuss the next step. Their options include continuing efforts to thwart the agreement by communicating with the US and European parties, persisting with economic pressure, or putting the military option on the table, despite its high cost, especially with the outbreak of the Ukrainian war.
In recent days, Israelis have put forward what they say is a middle alternative, between accepting the nuclear agreement, despite its harm to the occupying power, and the offensive option that may encounter international opposition. This alternative is intensifying special security and intelligence operations by Mossad, including the assassination of nuclear scientists, cyber penetrations, or the targeting of nuclear facilities with surgical operations.
Israeli military circles are saying that if a new nuclear agreement is signed with Iran, Mossad will be at the forefront of Israel's secret war against the ballistic missile project and the production of a nuclear warhead for Iranian missiles. This, however, is a serious challenge to Mossad's boss, David Barnea, at a time when his agency is undergoing organisational changes and a wave of resignations of its senior leaders.
For Israelis, the importance of Mossad's role comes in light of the failure of its political leadership to change the provisions of the nuclear agreement to be signed. The political leadership has made a strategic decision not to clash with the Joe Biden administration, as Benjamin Netanyahu did when he clashed with Barack Obama in 2015. Meanwhile, secret channels witnessed Israel's attempts to influence the contents of the agreement and persuade Washington to insist on certain points in the negotiations in Vienna. Similar efforts were exerted by the diplomatic channels of the Foreign Ministry with Britain, France and Germany, but all to no avail.
The security community is watching a number of risks resulting from the signing of the nuclear agreement, especially given the weak US position in the negotiations with Iran following the outbreak of the war in Ukraine. It seems that Biden is running out of patience and rushing to conclude an agreement with Iran, while emphasising that Israel is not a party to the new agreement. Israel, however, opposes him and has made its position clear to the great powers, stressing that it maintains the independence of its decision on how to deal with Iran after the signing of the agreement, especially since its security will be affected in several important areas.
The nuclear agreement is raising numerous Israeli concerns. These concerns include Iran's abilities to: progress in uranium enrichment and become a nuclear "threshold state"; continue on the secret military path to building a nuclear bomb; proceed with the ballistic missile project; maintain its support for its allies in Yemen, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Gaza following the lifting of some important economic sanctions; and finally the flow of funds it will gain from the sale of oil, and the resolving of frozen funds that will enhance its economic strength.
At the same time, with some exceptions, most Israeli forums have begun to realise that the signing of a new nuclear agreement with Iran effectively neutralises the Israeli military option and prevents it from launching a pre-emptive strike on Iranian nuclear sites. Therefore, senior Israeli politicians are demanding economic and security compensation measures from the US after signing the nuclear agreement and the provision of additional guarantees that enhance Israeli security.
The apparent absence of an Israeli military option against Iran does not mean that Mossad is also out of the picture. Rather, it is expected that a huge budget allocated by the government for the military option will be directed to the implementation of the new plan that Mossad will lead. This is in conjunction with the army's focus on preventing the Iranian military presence in Syria and the transfer of Hezbollah's advanced weapons in Lebanon via Syria as part of the "battle between wars". Mossad will be tasked with weakening Iran's economic and operational capabilities.
Israeli forums consider this a very big challenge to the head of Mossad, who is leading Israel's secret campaign against Iran, especially since the agency is going through a series of internal shocks as part of the new organisational changes and a wave of resignations of its seniors. Mossad will be tasked with collecting intelligence information for future operations, especially those related to the sites where the missile's warhead intended to carry the nuclear bomb is manufactured, the mechanism of its activation and targeting many nuclear and rocket scientists.
Besides this, Mossad is expected to continue cyber-attacks against sensitive facilities in Iran related to the nuclear programme and ballistic missile project, and to encourage opposition elements in Iran such as the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (People's Mujahidin), to take measures against the Iranian regime in order to shock it with various actions.
The nuclear agreement with Iran, which is likely to be signed in the coming days in Vienna, is bad for Israel in all respects, but simultaneously, it gives it a relatively important period to prepare a reliable and effective military option for the day of confrontation. The agreement does not include an international request for Iran to dismantle the advanced centrifuges they have installed or cease the research and development of newer centrifuges. Instead, Iran will have partial removal of sanctions imposed on it.
This means that Israel may pursue a serious policy of convincing the US that Iran, under the agreement, will be more aggressive and violent, with much more money to do so. With quite a few unresolved issues at stake that Iran has with Israel and other countries, there will be "pillars of blood, fire and smoke". This calls for continuous operational and intelligence coordination in the face of Iranian threats to overcome them, increasing, in the first place, the number of options to deal with them once the agreement is signed.
Concurrently, the Israeli military and security forums say that they should be better prepared to confront this threat in the future, as only partial compensation for the intended agreement. Until then, we will be facing an escalation of mutual operations between Israel and Iran throughout all possible fields of confrontations, including military, security, cyber and economic, in a campaign that is only expected to escalate.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.