Even if Iran leaves the 2015 nuclear deal out of anger at the US pressure campaign against it, the country may fail to obtain a nuclear bomb, Military Intelligence chief Maj.-Gen. Tamir Heiman said on Wednesday.
Speaking at the Israel Intelligence Heritage and Commemoration Center in Tel Aviv, Heiman declined to specify whether the failure would stem from Iran deciding to move slowly toward a bomb to reduce the risk of global intervention; a scientific failure; or a preemptive strike.
“Iran is under unprecedented pressure from every direction by US sanctions,” Heiman said, noting that the Islamic Republic has been lashing out in a risky way with low-grade attacks in the region, as well as making threats about moving its nuclear enrichment forward.
Regarding Russia’s role in the region, Heiman said that it had forced its way back into the Middle East by “creating friction,” and then “presenting itself as the solution to the friction” and the only party with whom all other parties were ready to speak.
Heiman said Russia’s role would continue to be particularly prominent in Syria.
Moving to the Lebanese arena, the Military Intelligence chief said the recent visit of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Beirut, where he delivered threats related to Hezbollah, could be a game changer for the group’s status in Lebanon, after years of the Lebanese government ignoring the group’s negative impact.
Furthermore, Heiman dismissed comments by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, who recently threatened Israel with new, more powerful and more exact missiles.
Heiman said that Israeli intelligence knows about all of Hezbollah’s capabilities, “maybe even better than Nasrallah,” adding that some of the weapons with which Nasrallah threatened Israel are not even operational.
In the area of intelligence collection, Heiman said, “The vast majority of our intelligence today comes from cyber,” and that “only our imagination limits” how far Israel can go with its cyber intelligence collection abilities.
Regarding Hamas, Heiman noted that it was “fascinating” watching the terror group go through the process of trying to become a party that is responsible for building infrastructure and the Gaza area under its control.
Heiman warned that Islamic Jihad is a much more unstable force that fundamentally still views itself as a resistance force which must act aggressively.
At a later panel at the conference, attention returned to Iran.
Former senior Mossad and Military Intelligence official Amnon Sofrin tried to get panelists to make predictions about what Iran would choose to do on July 7, when its self-imposed 60-day deadline ends for the world to help it recover economically.
Sofrin noted that Tehran had put out an economic forecast earlier in the year to make plans, but that its oil imports are down to one-third of what was expected before US pressure ramped up to another level last month.
Sofrin said that even as some Iranian military officials have made aggressive military threats, Iran Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s statements have all made it clear he wants to avoid a war with the US.
Accordingly, Sofrin said that while it is unclear whether the Islamic Republic will change its tune and negotiate a deal along with what the US wants, or attack US assets in the region, the most likely scenario is that nothing dramatic will happen immediately.
Sofrin said that Iran is more likely to start violating parts of the 2015 nuclear deal a bit more – say, with enriching uranium to some higher volume or quality – but without a blatant violation that would signal a race to break out to a weapon.
Yossi Kuperwasser, former Military Intelligence analysis chief and IIHCC conference chairman, said that it appeared that one reason no experts wanted to take a clear stance on what Tehran would do could be that Iran itself has not even decided what it will do on July 7.
At a later panel, former Military Intelligence analysis chief Itai Brun, who held the post around 15 years after Kuperwasser, warned that “something significant happened when [US President Donald] Trump sent the [US] Intelligence Community ‘back to school.’”
Brun was referring to Trump’s tendency to disagree with his own Intelligence Community’s assessments, including having once said they need to go back to school.
He said the problem is the post-truth and fake news era, and is far bigger than Trump. He noted that three top US intelligence officials authored books in the last year or so warning, in the book titles, about lies and a distortion of facts.
According to Brun, the biggest danger is not just that many politicians and citizens are accepting arguments that are blatantly false, but that some officials are trying to redefine and lower the kinds of standards that can be used to judge what is true.
He said that the phenomenon was even evident in some of the war-related, decision-making debates within the Israeli security cabinet at which he was present during the 2014 Gaza war.
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