New Mossad Director David Barnea warned on Tuesday that Israel will persevere in its fight to prevent Iran from acquiring an atomic bomb, even as it holds talks with world powers to restore a 2015 deal limiting its nuclear program.
"The agreement with world powers that is taking shape only reinforces the sense of isolation in which we find ourselves on this issue," Barnea said at a ceremony marking his entry into office as head of the intelligence agency, succeeding outgoing spymaster Yossi Cohen. "I say it clearly — no, we do not intend to act according to the majority opinion since this majority will not bear the consequences for the erroneous assessment of this threat."
"The Iranian program will continue feeling Mossad's might. We are well acquainted with the nuclear program and its various components, we know personally the factors that operate in it and also the forces that drive them."
Iran is working, even at this very moment, to realize its nuclear vision, under international protection. Under the protection of the agreement and without it, through lies and concealment of the truth, Iran constantly advancing toward a weapons of mass destruction production program."
Barnea, 56, joined Mossad in 1996 for an intelligence collection officers' course and was assigned to the agency's operations division. Later, Barnea was assigned as the commander of several of Mossad’s operations units, both domestic and abroad.
Between the years 2013–2019, Barnea led Mossad’s Tzomet Division, which operates the organization’s global officer and agent network. During that time, the division under his wing won much acclaim.
Barnea served as Mossad deputy chief from 2019 until he assumes the spy agency's top office.
He stepped into the shoes of Yossi Cohen as head of Mossad, as the latter retires after 38 years with the intelligence agency. Cohen was seen as a close ally of Netanyahu, who played a key role in last year's normalization agreements with the UAE, Bahrain and Sudan.
Speaking at the handoff event on Tuesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel will do everything in its power to counter the Iranian nuclear program, even at the expense of the country's vital relationship with the United States.
"If we have to choose between friction with the U.S. and eliminating the existential threat — the existential threat is greater," Netanyahu said.
"The biggest threat we face is the existential threat posed by Iran's attempts to arm itself with nuclear weapons," Netanyahu said at the ceremony.
"It is a threat that endangers the continuation of the Zionist enterprise, and we must fight that threat endlessly," he said.
"I said these things to my friend of 40 years [U.S. President] Joe Biden, and I told him: 'With or without an agreement, we will continue to do everything in our power to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.' For Iran is not like the other countries that today have nuclear capabilities," Netanyahu said.
The prime minister has long warned that Iran's nuclear aspirations pose the greatest threat to Israel and has vehemently opposed the Biden administration's current efforts to revive the 2015 agreement to curb Tehran's atomic activity.
His comments earned a swift rebuke from Defense Minister Benny Gantz.
The former IDF chief, who is tapped to continue in his role as defense minister in the coalition currently being put together to replace the Netanyahu government, stressed the importance of the relationship with the U.S.
"The United States," Gantz said, "has been and will continue to be Israel's most important ally in maintaining its security and military superiority in the region. The Biden administration is a true friend of Israel.
"Israel has not and will not have a better partner than the U.S. Even if there are disagreements, they must be resolved through direct dialogue behind closed doors and not in confrontational comments that could damage Israel's security," he said.
The defense minister conceded that Iran poses a global threat, but said that Israel maintained its military dominance in the Middle East.
"Iran is a threat to regional stability and world peace. It is a country that generates terrorism and promotes a nuclear program that is dangerous to the State of Israel, even so, Israel is the most powerful country in the region within a 1,500-km (900-mile) radius of Jerusalem."