'Iran believes chance of attack on it is low'

Military intel head Kochavi tells Herzliya Conference Iran and Hezbollah are setting up militia in Syria made up of 50,000 fighters.

Aviv Kochavi 311 (photo credit: IDF)
Aviv Kochavi 311
(photo credit: IDF)
Iran is facing growing economic and domestic pressure due to international sanctions, but Tehran believes that the chances of a military strike on its nuclear program is low, IDF Military Intelligence chief Maj.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi told the Herzliya Conference on Thursday.
Kochavi said Iran was facing growing economic strains due to the sanctions, including oil exports that have nearly halved, a 60-percent inflation rate, and rising unemployment.
“The vehicle [manufacturing] sector, which is the largest sector in the Iranian economy, dropped by 60%,” Kochavi said. The regime is facing growing domestic criticism due to the economic pressure, he added.
“I believe the weight from the sanctions is becoming an increasingly decisive element in the Iranian decision-making process, but it has not yet caused them to change their [nuclear] policy,” he said.
“We believe Iran will continue to develop its nuclear program, and intelligently deal with pressure from the street and the international community,” he continued.
“The regime believes there is not a high probability for an attack on it.”
In 2013, Iran will continue to advance its nuclear program and will offer no major concessions during talks with the international community in the coming year, Kochavi stated, adding that the Iranian leadership would like to find itself in the position of being able to break out to an atomic weapon stage in a short period of time, according to the IDF’s intelligence assessments. However, he said that Iran has not yet decided to build the bomb.
Addressing the situation in Syria, Kochavi noted that the Syrian air force is carrying out 40-50 sorties a week, and that the Assad regime has fired 70 Scud and M-600 missiles so far since the conflict erupted. An additional 600 rockets with warheads carrying 250 kilograms of explosives have been fired.
Assad’s allies, Iran and Hezbollah, know that the Syrian dictator’s fate is sealed, Kochavi said, and have flooded Syria with a militia consisting of 50,000 fighters.
As the Middle East continues to convulse from destabilizing developments, Israel, for the first time, finds itself facing four active terrorism borders: Lebanon, Syria, Sinai, and the Gaza Strip.
“This is a different reality,” Kochavi told the audience.
The threat of terrorist attacks abroad, generated by Hezbollah and Iran, is also high, and several such attacks have been thwarted. Meanwhile, Sunni global jihadi terrorist organizations are proliferating in Syria and the Sinai Peninsula.
“The threat of a security deterioration, caused either by us attacking, or a terrorist attack on us... is growing,” Kochavi said.
Turning his attention to the Palestinian arena, the intelligence chief said Hamas used Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012 to base itself as a regional and dominant player, and to strengthen its claim that it is “leading the resistance” against Israel.
Hamas sustained serious damage during the conflict, but it received support from the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Turkey afterward.
It is currently holding up its end of the truce in order to pursue what Kochavi described as a “strategic-diplomatic track” aimed at taking over the West Bank through a reconciliation with the Palestinian Authority.
“The quiet we are experiencing is only in place because Hamas wants this. It is deterred [by Israel], and needs time to recover. It has a deep obligation to Egypt, which enabled the [truce] agreement,” Kochavi said.
Hamas is rearming itself with rockets in Gaza, but at a slower pace than before, because of limitations it is facing.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is in a “complicated trap,” Kochavi said. The round of violence in November has shown that “he’s not relevant,” and that “Hamas is growing in strength.” The PA is in a difficult economic situation.
There are no negotiations and no diplomatic horizon, he added.
As a result, Abbas is “waiting to see what will be the stance of the United States and Israel.”
Israel faces a total of 200,000 rockets and missiles directed at it by its enemies, Kochavi said during his closing remarks.
“Some are short-range, though I wouldn’t underestimate those. Some have a range of 45 kilometers. There are thousands of rockets with ranges of 200-300 kilometers. And dozens of long-range missiles,” he said.
Hostile entities such as Hezbollah are seeking to improve the accuracy and range of their firepower, and searching for ways to overcome Israel’s air defenses.
Hamas and Hezbollah also plan to direct rockets at IDF ground forces in any future conflict.
On the other hand, the Hezbollah- Syria-Iran axis is at an all-time low, and Sunni states prone to radicalization are restrained by economic factors, according to Kochavi’s assessment.
Israeli deterrence remains high in the region. Yet, the radical jihadi elements that are infiltrating the area are less prone to that deterrence, he warned, adding that the region is currently being defined by instability and uncertainty.
Military Intelligence’s advice to the Israeli government is not to make decisions based on temporary and unstable trends, he concluded.
In light of the fundamental changes sweeping the area, Kochavi said, Military Intelligence is reformatting itself as well, with the goal of the changes being to generate “more intelligence in more arenas.”