CIA Chief Makes Secret Visit to Israel Ahead of Iran Deal

John Brennan was the guest of Mossad chief Tamir Pardo and met with various members of the Israeli intelligence community, as well as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid
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CIA Director John Brennan speaks at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts April 7, 2015.
CIA Director John Brennan speaks at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts April 7, 2015.Credit: Reuters
ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

United States Central Intelligence Agency Director John Brennan came to Israel last week for a secret visit dealing mainly with the agreement developing between Iran and the world powers on Tehran’s nuclear program, and Iran’s involvement in terror and subversive activities throughout the Middle East, two senior Israeli officials have told Haaretz.

The senior Israeli officials, who asked to remain anonymous due to the secrecy of the visit, said that Brennan was the guest of Mossad head Tamir Pardo, and also met with other members of the Israeli intelligence community, including the head of Military Intelligence, Maj. Gen. Herzl Halevi. Brennan also met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and National Security Adviser Yossi Cohen.

A spokesman for the CIA declined to comment for this report.

Brennan’s visit to Israel last Thursday had been planned long ahead of time. However, it came at a sensitive diplomatic juncture, about a month before the date set for a comprehensive agreement between Iran and the six world powers on Iran’s nuclear program. It is unclear whether Brennan conveyed a message about the agreement to Netanyahu from President Barack Obama.

Israel and the U.S. are deeply divided over the emerging agreement; Netanyahu has said publicly that he opposes it and that he will try to stop it. Obama routinely rejects Netanyahu’s criticism, including in an interview two weeks ago with Channel 2, in which he said that the agreement was the best option to stop Iran from attaining nuclear weapons.

In addition to the agreement with Iran, talks with Brennan dealt with Iranian activities in the region in general. Netanyahu has been warning in recent weeks of deepening Iranian involvement in Iraq, Syria and Yemen, as well as the increasing amount of weapons Tehran is providing to Hezbollah. Netanyahu has also warned of attempted Iranian terror attacks against Israeli targets abroad.

A few days before his secret visit to Israel, Brennan told the CBS program Face the Nation that the diplomatic and political tensions between Obama and Netanyahu are not harming cooperation between the intelligence organizations of the two countries.

“There is very, very strong relationship between the United States and Israel on the intelligence, security and military fronts,” he said. “It’s one of the great things, I think, about our system; there can be policy differences between our governments but the intelligence and security professionals know that we have an obligation to keep our countries safe and secure.

“And so although there’s been great debate about the Iranian nuclear negotiations that are ongoing, the CIA, NSA and other intelligence community entities are working very close with their Israeli ... counterparts.”

In his interview with CBS, Brennan also said the emerging nuclear deal with Iran will include very rigorous inspection mechanisms for monitoring Iran’s nuclear facilities.

“But I believe that the U.S. intelligence and other intelligence agencies will need to be able to continue to watch, monitor and see whether or not Iran is adhering and abiding by the various requirements of the deal,” he added. “We're working very closely with our partners to do that. We've learned a lot about the Iranian program over the last decade. So I'm confident that we're going to be able to bring to bear some of those capabilities that we -- and expertise -- that we have developed.”

On Monday, a few days after Brennan’s visit, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, landed in Israel. Dempsey, who is the guest of Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, will also meet with Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon. Like Brennan’s visit, Dempsey’s is expected to deal mainly with the Iranian issue.

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