Priority List for Israeli Intelligence: Spies and Analysts Anxious to Figure Out Iran’s Nuclear Intentions, Syria and Egypt’s Fate, Jordan’s Fragility — and Obama’s Next Move

Will he shake hands with Rouhani?

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will watch the start of delicate diplomacy at the U.N. this week from afar — including speeches to the General Assembly by Presidents Obama (U.S.) and Rouhani (Iran), and the possibility that they will shatter barriers by saying “hello” to each other.

But Israel’s political seismometer will acutely feel any political earthquakes that might occur at United Nations headquarters in New York.

Rouhani: Greet the Great Satan?

Ahead of Netanyahu’s own trip to the United States a week later — to see Obama at the White House and to address the U.N. — Israel’s leader will naturally want updated assessments from his intelligence agencies. The Mossad director Tamir Pardo and the head of the Military Intelligence agency (Aman), Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, are doubtless following these regional issues intensely:

1–Iran: Will the enigmatic Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, agree to stop nuclear enrichment in a verifiable way? He seems to be letting Rouhani try a charm offensive to pave the way for talks with the United States and the West. 

The chief aim for the Iranians is for harsh economic sanctions to be cancelled. The Aman agency chief, Gen. Kochavi, told analysts in Israel recently that above all, Iran’s rulers want to keep ruling. Staying in power could be more important than constructing nuclear bombs (which the Iranians publicly insist they have no desire to do — but no Western intelligence agency believes them).

2–Syria: Now that the civil war, raging since early 2011, has wider international involvement, Israeli espionage is surely hurrying to find out everything it can about the chemical weapons: Will Syria’s Bashar al-Assad really surrender them all? That would be a clear “win” for Israel (having hardly lifted a finger, unless one counts four unacknowledged air raids by Israel on weapons targets in Syria in the past year).

Also, Israel needs to update its assessment of who may emerge as the winner in Syria. If it’s the Western-backed Syrian Free Army under Gen. Salim Idris (totally supported by Senator John McCain and probably by the CIA now), Israel will want to influence Idris’s faction in some way. If it’s the anti-Western affiliates of al-Qaeda, Israel will want to establish ways of monitoring how well armed and organized they may be.

If President Assad survives, the Mossad and Aman agencies will seek to penetrate and monitor his reshuffled regime — in the hope that it is extremely damaged and less able to pose a threat to Israel.

3–Egypt: While the U.S. news media seem unable to pay attention to more than one Arab country at a time, Israeli intelligence has not forgotten Egypt. Will the military — which is cooperative and almost friendly with Israel — hang on to power in Cairo? Will the Muslim Brotherhood (inimical to Israel and seen as allies of the notorious Hamas rulers of Gaza) somehow stage a comeback?

4–Jordan:Israel has repeatedly warned the United States that the pro-Western King Abdullah, son of the much missed Hussein, is teetering on the brink of collapse. Political and economic support for his monarchy is fragile, at best. Now the presence of tens of thousands of refugees from Syria’s civil war makes things much more precarious for the West’s friend Abdullah.

Netanyahu and his cartoon “red line” at the U.N. last year

5–The United States: Israeli intelligence is, without doubt, trying to figure out — and if possible have advance warning — if Barack Obama will embrace Iran’s charm offensive and open talks with President Rouhani’s nuclear negotiators. Israel’s current leaders are concerned that the West, anxious to avoid a possible Middle East war, may accept compromises that would not necessarily prevent Iran from pushing ahead toward nuclear power in all its forms (including military).

Netanyahu — after watching Obama, Rouhani, and other leaders at the U.N. from afar — will try to use his own rhetorical firepower to frame an argument at the U.N. that no one can ignore.

September 22, 2013

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