Home inSight How Policy Reversals and Leaks Undermine Peace

How Policy Reversals and Leaks Undermine Peace

Shoshana Bryen

The electricity went off at Iran’s nuclear plant at Natanz just as it began to spin up its uranium enrichment centrifuges as part of “National Nuclear Technology Day.” We don’t know yet the extent of any damage, but it certainly is not the first time Iran has experienced power outages, explosions or other failures at nuclear and precision missile facilities. Last July, an explosion at Natanz reportedly caused years’ worth of damage to a hall containing uranium enrichment centrifuges.

But, as usual in the region, the real action is on the sidelines, where the Biden administration has been undermining Israel and the Abraham Accords to the benefit of Iran.

On April 6, after an Iranian ship was attacked in the Red Sea, The New York Times reported that “the Israelis had notified the United States that its forces had struck the vessel at about 7:30 a.m. local time,” citing an American official “who spoke on condition of anonymity to share private intelligence communications.”

“Private intelligence communications.” That’s Israel’s intelligence.

The cornerstone of any security relationship is the ability to trust that “private” means private. This leak raises red flags for countries that have pinned their security future on the United States and undermines confidence in the move of Israel from the U.S. European Command to Central Command, which was largely meant to protect the region from Iranian aggression. Enacted by the Trump administration in the wake of the Abraham Accords, the move signaled that the U.S. could be a partner and an ally to both Arab states and Israel, and that they could partner with one another. But if the U.S. would reveal Israel’s intel secrets, what would it do to any other country?

The open revelation of Israeli intel by a U.S. official is a setback for the new and untested principle of Arab-Israeli security cooperation.

While the Biden administration claims fealty to the Abraham Accords, it has deliberately shattered several bulwarks of the new agreements by pulling the rug out from under Saudi Arabia, handing over tens of millions of dollars to the Palestinian Authority even after it announced it will continue paying terrorists, removing the Houthis from the terror sponsor list and planning to ease sanctions on Iran even before the Iranian government returns to the JCPOA.

But most damaging of all may be the recent lapse in secure conversations between the U.S. and Israel. With this latest leak, the Biden administration has picked up where the Obama administration left off.

According to The New York Times, more than 15 years ago the Stuxnet computer worm was “devised by the NSA under President George W. Bush and executed under President Barack Obama.” Israel and the U.S. worked together to develop and plant the worm inside Iranian nuclear facilities. It was a success, causing the computers to run so fast as to tear themselves apart and slowing Iranian advances in technology. But in 2010, the Obama administration decided to court Iran. General James Cartwright, an administration favorite, admitted that he had leaked the Stuxnet operation to the Times and later pled guilty to lying to federal investigators about it. He was pardoned by Obama.

As for the current administration, The Wall Street Journal cited “U.S. and regional officials” when it reported that Israel used mines and other weapons to target at least 12 Syria-bound ships. It also reported that “Iran has continued its oil trade with Syria, shipping millions of barrels and contravening U.S. sanctions against Iran and international sanctions against Syria.” Israel—as is its custom—did not comment on the report.

Israel’s approach to regional security is known as “cutting the grass”—reducing or eliminating military threats as they emerge in real time. The country has worked in tandem with the U.S.’s “maximum sanctions” regime and could work equally well amid open U.S.-Iranian diplomacy. The strategy is designed to constrain Iran, and it does.

Israel did not take credit for a 2019 strike in Beirut that targeted industrial machinery crucial for manufacturing missile and rocket propellant. In early 2020, a suspected chemical weapons facility in Aleppo was hit. A Hezbollah base in southern Syria and an ammunition depot near Homs were next. Al-Arabiya and The Jerusalem Post credited Israel, but official Israeli sources stayed quiet. Inside Iran, an ammunition dump, a power station at Isfahan, a petrochemical plant, a power plant, a gas storage tank complex and the Natanz nuclear facility all suffered explosions last July.

Israel has deliberately acknowledged a few strikes at targets in the Golan area, but even Russia—with which it shares information on its military activities in Syria—has chosen not to expose Israeli missions.

Israel has a responsibility to defend its people from Iranian aggression—whether emanating from Iran or its proxies, and whether nuclear, chemical or conventional. The country cannot permit Iran to make headway when its leader openly calls Israel a “cancerous tumor,” and while its military drains the limited resources of the Iranian people to attack Israelis. Any American administration—including the Biden administration—should support Israel in the face of such aggression.

If American officials can’t keep their mouths shut, they risk undermining the basis of U.S.-Israel security cooperation, the shaky entry of Israel into Central Command, the confidence of the Gulf states in American leadership and Israel’s security. For the U.S. to expose Israel’s military missions to prove itself a worthy partner of the Iranian mullahs undermines trust in the United States across the region.