MESOP NEWS MIDDLE EAST : THE ESSENTIAL QUESTION !? Mossad chief: Iran is main threat to Israel with or without nuclear deal

What threatens Israel the most – Hezbollah rockets or Iranian nukes? – By Yonah Jeremy Bob

March 21, 2017 13:05 Jerusalem Post – Mossad Director Yossi Cohen and IDF Chief-of-Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot took different takes on Tuesday in defining Israel’s number one threat, with Cohen focusing on Iran and Eisenkot opting for Hezbollah.Cohen told a conference at Netanya University in honor of former Mossad chief Meir Dagan that, “as long as the current regime is in control, whether with a nuclear deal or without one, Iran will continue to be the central threat to Israel.”

He added that Iran has not give up on its drive for a nuclear bomb and that after Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas and terrorism generally were the next biggest threat.The Mossad chief continued, “Iran wants to have influence and be a key mover in the Middle East. Its tactics have changed due to pressures, but the intent and the trend remain. He added that Israel needs “to be ready and embrace opportunities” for cooperation with allies regarding such threats.

Cohen’s comments were striking as they come with most of the region currently focused on recent days’ military exchanges between the IDF, the Syrian Assad regime and Hezbollah. They were also notable given Eisenkot’s focus on the threat from Hezbollah and issues with Syria. While Eisenkot did eventually mention Iran at the end of a long list of threats – consistent with some past statements from top IDF officials that Hezbollah currently poses a greater threat than Iran – most of his discussion was about the Hezbollah-Assad threat. Eisenkot said at the conference Tuesday that the army would continue to work to prevent advanced weaponry from getting into the hands of the wrong people.The IDF chief made the comments days after Syrian government forces fired an anti-aircraft missile at Israel Air Force jets during an airstrike last Friday to halt the flow of advanced weapons to Hezbollah near Palmyra. He stated that one of the army’s missions was to “prevent the strengthening of those who should not be strengthened by [the acquisition of] advanced weaponry.” He said that the IDF’s policy regarding the Syrian civil war was one of “non-intervention alongside preserving our interests.”

Eisenkot asserted that it was in Israel’s interest to keep the northern border quiet, as it had managed to do over the past six years despite the civil war raging in Syria.

The IDF chief’s comments came after a rare acknowledgment of the rising tensions on the Israel-Syrian border from Syrian President Bashar Assad on Monday. “Defending our borders is our right, and it’s our duty, not only our right,” he told Russian reporters in Damascus according Russian news site Sputnik. Assad also told Russian parliament members, who paid an official visit to the capital on Monday, that he was counting on Moscow to prevent Israel from attacking his country in the future.“We are counting on Russia to prevent a conflict with Israel,” Assad was quoted as saying by several Russian media outlets.

On Friday, Israel’s Ambassador to Russia Gary Koren was summoned to the Foreign Ministry in Moscow to defend the airstrike. According to media reports, the strike occurred very close to Russian troops.In other remarks at Tuesday’s conference, Cohen said that, these days, “the new buzz word is ‘hybrid strategy.’ The idea is to act simultaneously with a diversity of means in addressing an ever-changing mix” of threats.The Mossad chief meanwhile stated that, “our security establishment must focus on our enemies in the region, to learn about them, to understand them in-depth and to use force against them when required.”

“The Middle East is our home field and therefore we need to be involved in all matters in the region. We need to form alliances, to identify mutual interests with allies, and also with enemies on certain issues,” said Cohen. Referring to Dagan, the namesake of the conference, he said, “Meir Dagan bequeathed us a tradition and a determination to fight for Israel and to take any actions necessary to accomplish this.”

Jerusalem Post Staff and Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.