Iranian funding of Hezbollah, Hamas, and its military industry will increase notably in the next year to two, following sanctions relief and the implementation of the nuclear deal, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot said on Monday.
Speaking at the Ninth Annual International Conference held by the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) in Tel Aviv, Eisenkot also talked about the intelligence challenges of dealing with lone Palestinian knife attackers, saying that the IDF would focus on securing Israeli communities in the West Bank, but that it would be a “mistake” to barricade Palestinians off from working in Israel, which would lead to even more violence.
Addressing the Iranian nuclear deal, the chief of staff said that “for the next five years, Iran is likely to make a big effort to realize its part of the agreement and reap the advantages from it.”
“Within 15 years, which is the time frame we are looking at, we will have to place Iran in high-priority monitoring of its nuclear program, and ask questions about possible secret [nuclear program] channels.
The vision of acquiring nuclear weapons will persist in Iran.
It comes out of Iran’s self-perception as a regional power.”
Iran’s proxy regional activities will pose an increased risk around Israel in the immediate future, he added. “Iran is fighting a proxy war against Israel.
Hezbollah is the most severe threat to Israel. Since 2006, it has been armed, funded, and even led by the Iranians.”
In Syria, command and control roles are carried out by Iranian commanders who are overseeing battles involving Iranian soldiers and Shi’ite militias. Iran has lost between 300 to 400 of its personnel in Syria so far.
Iran is attempting to intervene in Gaza, and also spread its influence among Arab Israelis, Eisenkot said.
Within a year to two years, large funds made available by sanctions relief will be directed by Iran towards trying to harm Israel, he added.
Iran’s “advanced military industry” will develop further, and its transfer of funds to Hezbollah, which has so far stood at around a billion dollar a year, will increase.
“The assessment is that as the economic situation improves in Iran, more assets will be diverted [to building up capabilities against Israel],” he added.
Similarly, Hamas, which currently receives tens of millions of dollars from Iran, is set to receive more, while Tehran continues to try and smuggle weapons to Gaza.
The Palestinian arena remains “the most disturbing” in the short-term future, Eisenkot said. The wave of Palestinian terrorism, which began on October 1, poses new challenges to the IDF and to Israel’s intelligence agencies, which “require modesty in understanding deep currents in another society. It is very hard to understand the deep currents, and these currents are very disturbing,” Eisenkot said.
Lone knife attackers skip over Israel’s intelligence networks, since attacks occur “when terrorists pull out knives and run at targets, either soldiers or civilians. We don’t receive prior alerts,” he said.
With 161 Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria housing some 400,000 Israelis living among two million Palestinians, “Our challenge remains to provide security,” Eisenkot said.
The 120,000 Palestinians who work in Israel and the settlements, providing for over half a million Palestinians, should continue to be allowed to work, as this restrains further violence, he cautioned.
Security coordination with the PA acts as a restraining factor too, he said.
“Terrorism against us has concurred for a long time and will continue for a long time. You don’t need to be a strategist to know that,” Eisenkot said. “Our challenge is to decrease successful attacks by terrorists, and combat knife terrorism through the use of ruses.”
Fighting terrorism, while safeguarding restraining factors that provide some hope to Palestinians, is the balance Eisenkot seeks, he said. “It would be a mistake to blockade them – that would harm Israel’s interest.”
When Palestinian teenagers take a knife and head out for a stabbing attacks, they are nourished by ISIS propaganda, and have constructed their own Palestinian version it consisting of symbols like the Koran, fanaticism, and fueled by new media, Eisenkot said.
Eisenkot also discussed the explosive, unpredictable nature of the region, and the speed with which small incident can escalate.
“Three conflicts and one war broke out in the past decade from [localized] tactical incidents,” he said.
“When I look at incidents in Syria, and at Hezbollah’s recent bombing attack against us on Mount Dov, to the attempt to set off explosives on the Gaza-Israel border, our understanding is based on the awareness of where tactical incidents can lead. A small distance separates tactical and strategical incidents,” Eisenkot cautioned.
In Syria, instead of the set threat posed by the hierarchal state military, Eisenkot said that when he travels from the southern Golan northwards, he now sees ISIS-affiliated Shuhada al-Yarmouk posts, al-Qaida- affiliated al-Nusra posts, and in Quneitra, Shi’ite militias, before encountering the Syrian military and Hezbollah.
“Reality has become complex,” he said. ISIS is “more of a phenomenon than an organization. It generates fighting spirit under an idea.
Volunteers come from abroad, undergo indoctrination for two weeks, then undergo four to five weeks of military training, and then reach very impressive [military] achievements,” he said.
“The Shi’ite-Sunni conflict in Syria will continue for many more years.... I can’t see a sustainable arrangement. I assess that conflict against Salafi groups will continue for many more years. I can’t see any element effectively controlling Syria.”
Salafi organizations are penetrating Gaza, too, and have been behind all rocket and border bomb incidents in the past year and a half, Eisenkot said. “All of these groups challenge Hamas and seek to active fire against us.” He noted that ISIS receives the highest levels of support in the whole of the Arab world among Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, describing the finding as “disturbing.”
Hezbollah remains the “IDF’s No. 1 enemy,” he said, challenging Israel’s aerial and intelligence superiority though its conversion of 240 Shi’ite towns and villages in southern Lebanon into rocket assault bases.
Each such town and village have their own defensive Hezbollah units, rocket launchers, and command and control center. “They are the capability Hezbollah has built for the day they receive the order to attack. They are seeking to make their projectiles more accurate, and have grown in the past decade from 10,000 to 100,000 rockets and missiles,” Eisenkot said.
Nevertheless, the chief of staff said, “Hezbollah understands the implications of an escalation in Lebanon,” and has kept the peace in Lebanon for over a decade. “Our intelligence and operational abilities have improved dramatically compared to 2006, when we were focused on the Palestinian arena,” he said.
“There is a deep understanding [among Hezbollah chiefs] of Israel’s intelligence penetration into the organization.
They perceive the IDF as a very strong, unpredictable military.
In the coming three to five years, the threat posed by substate actors like Hezbollah, Hamas, al-Qaida, and ISIS will grow, as will the threat posed by rockets, offensive tunnels, and terror and guerrilla cells.
The cyber threat will also grow.
However, threats by conventional militaries will shrink, and there are no enemy air forces, navies, or divisions that currently threaten Israel, he added.
Additionally, in the next three to five years, unconventional threats will decrease, including the Iranian nuclear program, rolled back by the deal with the West which includes “in-depth supervision,” and the dismantling of Syria’s chemical program.
The IDF will focus on its core missions of protecting Israel, safeguarding its existence, preparing to defeat an enemy in war, and ensure its aerial, intelligence, naval, and cyber superiority while adapting the ground forces to terror organizations operating form the heart of civilian, built-up areas.
“Our challenge is to adapt our intelligence and operational abilities, and provide security without excuses,” he said.