By Barney Breen-Portnoy/Algemeiner.comAugust 17, 2017
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The regional threat posed by Iran is growing, Mossad chief Yossi Cohen told Israeli cabinet ministers on Sunday, according to media reports.
The Middle East is "changing for the worse," the Hebrew news site Walla quoted Cohen as saying. "Israel is identifying a presence not only of Iran and Hezbollah, but also of Shiite forces, that are not Iranian, from all over the world that are making their way to the region, and our number one mission is to stop this."
The remarks, Walla reported, were made during a periodic briefing provided by the head of the Mossad to the cabinet. One senior official who attended the meeting told Walla that Iran topped the agenda.
Referring to the ceasefire deal brokered by the US and Russia last month regarding southern Syria, Cohen reportedly said that Israel's demand that Iranian and other Shiite forces leave the area had not been accepted.
Diplomatic efforts on the matter were continuing, he added, but "Israel's aspirations have not yet been internalized by the American side."
In a statement about Cohen's briefing, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said the Mossad chief "emphasized that the main process taking place in the Middle East today is Iran's expansion" -- via its own forces and local proxies -- in countries such as Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen.
"In places where the presence of ISIS is decreasing, Iran is working to fill the void," Netanyahu's office quoted Cohen as saying.
Cohen also informed ministers that Iran had not abandoned its goal of becoming a nuclear-threshold state and that the Iranian economy had been growing since the July 2015 nuclear deal agreed to by the Tehran regime and six world powers.
This, Netanyahu's office said, was "clear proof that the basic assumptions of the deal with Iran were wrong from the start."
Israel, Netanyahu's office continued, was not obligated by international agreements signed by Iran and would continue to act "in a variety of ways" to protect itself from the threats it faces.
Several top Israeli and American experts on nuclear proliferation and Iran say the failure to successfully deal with North Korea sets a precedent for a similar result with the Islamic Republic.
"The aspect of the North Korean case that needs to be taken into account with regard to Iran is the fact that despite all the differences between the two states, they share a determination to acquire nuclear weapons in violation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) commitment they took upon themselves to remain non-nuclear," said Emily Landau, director of the Arms Control and Regional Security Program at Tel Aviv University's Institute for National Security Studies.
Although North Korea exited the NPT in 2003, the international community did not view that move as giving the rogue state carte blanche to become nuclear, she noted.
"The international community faces a similar challenge in getting [Iran and North Korea] to back down and return to the fold of the NPT," Landau told JNS.org, "and in both cases the strategy chosen for this was negotiations and diplomacy."
The North Korean case entails 25 years of failed negotiations. The country has been a nuclear state for at least a decade and now has demonstrated the ability to reach the US with an intercontinental ballistic missile.
"This raises a question regarding the outcome of negotiations with Iran as well," said Landau. "In 1994, there were celebrations of the deal with North Korea that were viewed as ending the nuclear crisis, but it continued to move forward."
The Obama administration had celebrated the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers with even greater fanfare, but Landau believes "there is no indication of an Iranian strategic U-turn in the nuclear realm, and the deal itself is severely flawed."
"If a short-term delay causes the international community to be lulled into a false sense that the deal 'is working,' as we are hearing lately from deal supporters, it is likely to wake up with a nuclear Iran that will be as firmly entrenched as North Korea," she said, noting Iran "has been emboldened" in the Middle East since the nuclear deal was reached.
Landau also expressed concern about military collaboration between North Korea and Iran in both the missile and nuclear spheres. This activity needs to be closely monitored by intelligence agencies, she said, explaining that North Korea "will sell anything to anyone for hard cash, and Iran can pay."
Michael Rubin -- a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a former Pentagon official, whose major research areas include the Middle East, Iran and diplomacy -- said the current dilemmas with Iran and North Korea relate to how both nuclear deals were negotiated.
"American diplomats in both cases were so afraid talks would fail that they would agree to a bad deal, and ignore backsliding and cheating just to keep hope alive," Rubin told JNS.org.
"There was also hope in both cases that the regime was at the turning point," he added. "Those negotiating with North Korea were convinced that the regime wouldn't live out the deal anyway, and those negotiating with Iran fooled themselves into thinking reformists mattered."
While the Iranian and North Korean ideologies may be different, their hatred of the West brings them together, according to Rubin.
"Add into the mix that Iran wants technology and North Korea wants cash, and it's a match made in hell -- one could even say it's an axis of evil," he said.
The Middle East is watching North Korea
Col. (res.) Dr. Shaul Shay, director of research for the Institute for Policy and Strategy at Israel's IDC Herzliya research college, said Middle Eastern states such as Iran are watching how America deals with the North Korean crisis.
"North Korea had supported Syria to build the nuclear reactor in Deir ez-Zor and Tehran used North Korean knowledge to build its nuclear program," Shay told JNS.org.
Shay said failure to thwart North Korea "may be a prelude to a more challenging threat from Tehran." The Americans should use a combination of military and political threats while recruiting China and Russia to defuse the tensions and prevent North Korea from going nuclear, he advised.
"So far, Iran is responding to the US sanctions with further provocations," he said. "Iran's parliament voted Sunday to allocate $520 million to develop its missile program to fight Washington's 'adventurism' and sanctions, and to boost the foreign operations of the country's Revolutionary Guard."
Ali Alfoneh, an Iran analyst and non-resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, told JNS.org that "as long as Tehran complies with the JCPOA (the nuclear agreement's formal name), as it apparently is doing, as the US government recognized on July 18, I see no similarities" between the Iranian and North Korean issues.
If Tehran fails to comply with the nuclear deal, Alfoneh said, then resemblances with North Korea may emerge.
"The campaign against North Korea," said Shay, "may define the American position against Iran."