Iran recently weighed initiating a terrorist attack at the current World Cup soccer tournament and was only dissuaded out of concern for how Qatar, the host country, might respond, OC IDF Intelligence Maj.-Gen. Aharon Haliva said Monday at the INSS conference on Iran.
Echoing the World Cup threat, Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Monday said: “Iran is seeking to make instability a permanent feature. The second that the world around it is stable and flourishing, that is the antithesis of what is happening in Iran. The World Cup could be one of the spots where they might try to create instability.”
Haliva said London and the US were both prepared for attacks by Iranian terrorist proxies, but he thought the West still does not comprehend the sustained challenge that Iran presents to it directly.
Haliva discussed the more than two-month ongoing protests and their implications for the Iranian regime.
The regime is substantially worried about being toppled by the current mix of extended protests and the sanctions that the US and the West have imposed, he said.
Despite the regime’s concerns, which he said would lead it to act more violently and unpredictably, “I do not see the regime as being in danger.”
Iran would likely soon carry out at least a symbolic enrichment of uranium to the 90% weaponized level, Haliva said, adding that the world will be tested as never before. To date, the Islamic Republic has never dared to cross the uranium-enrichment weaponized threshold.
Even if Iran crosses this threshold, top Israeli officials still believe it would take Tehran another two years to solve questions related to detonating and delivering a nuclear weapon, The Jerusalem Post reported last week.
Haliva said he did not think Iran would completely go for a nuclear weapon due to concerns about Israeli and Western reactions if it tried to do so.
He seemed to express doubt about the West’s determination on the Iran nuclear issue, noting that for four and a half years since the US left the nuclear deal, the Islamic Republic has rushed forward with its military nuclear advancement.
“The vision of [IRGC Quds Force Chief Qasem] Soleimani has fallen. There are very few Iranians in southern Syria. The number of Iranian personnel also in Syria [generally] is getting smaller. Iran sees the determination of Israel to deal with them. Most of the time if Iran pushes, most of the world retreats.”Aharon Haliva
The status of the Iran-Israel conflict throughout the Middle East
Regarding the conflict between Iran and Israel in different parts of the region, Haliva said: “The vision of [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force commander Qasem] Soleimani has fallen. There are very few Iranians in southern Syria. The number of Iranian personnel also in Syria [generally] is getting smaller. Iran sees the determination of Israel to deal with them. Most of the time, if Iran pushes, most of the world retreats.”
He opined that the Islamic Republic is continually surprised and impressed by Israeli determination and is reconsidering how best to expand its power beyond the region.
“When Syria returns to being a sovereign state without Iranians, it may not be necessary” for regular Israeli operations in its territory, he added.
Hezbollah is the main partner of Tehran and has reached the level where it is a true partner in an even bigger-picture strategy, Haliva said.
In contrast, he said, the many other Iran-sponsored proxies have a lower level of input in Iran’s grand strategy.
“Iran is disappointed with its proxies” in terms of their inability to grow Iran’s influence within the region to much greater levels, he added.
Despite this temporary Iranian disappointment in its proxies, “they won’t stop,” Haliva said. “They won’t stop in Iraq, Yemen or Syria,” and Israel must be ready for the ayatollahs to expand into other countries as well.
Later, at the same conference, Haliva’s predecessor as IDF Intelligence chief, Maj.-Gen. (res.) and current INSS managing director Tamir Heyman said the West should invoke the 2015 JCPOA Iran nuclear deal global sanctions “snapback.”
It was important to invoke the snapback to get the Islamic Republic to return to the JCPOA’s nuclear limits before the regime plays out the clock until close to 2025, when many significant JCPOA limits get removed, he said.
Former National Security Council adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat said Israel must not be afraid to bang heads with the US to get the message across that it views Tehran as an “existential threat.”
He warned that if the US continues merely to condemn Iran for using drones on behalf of Russia and against Ukraine (which is against the West’s position) without taking clear action, it will be perceived as weak in every area that the two countries interact.
Former IDF Intelligence chief Amos Yadlin disagreed with Ben-Shabbat, complimenting the government of Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid for presenting Israeli concerns about the Iran nuclear standoff quietly behind the scenes and without a public conflict, which he said occurred under Benjamin Netanyahu’s government in 2015.
Instead, he suggested encouraging the Biden administration to stick to its guns on its own stated strategy of making the JCPOA “longer and stronger.”
Any other strategy would fail because the issue of Iran is a very low priority for the US in the first place, Yadlin said.
Earlier at the conference, IDF Lt.-Col. (res.) Daniel Rakov warned that now that Russia and Iran are working together more closely regarding the Ukraine war, Moscow may leak new nuclear technologies to Tehran.
He said he did not anticipate Russia providing direct nuclear-weapons technology to the Islamic Republic, but he thought it might be more likely to turn a blind eye in providing dual-use technologies that have both a military and civilian purpose.
French Ambassador to Israel Eric Danon cautioned that Iran no longer fears any actors, even Israel and the US, and that this was making it difficult to convince it to return to the JCPOA’s nuclear limitations.
There was also significant debate at the conference about how tight the new Iran, China, Russia alliance is and how big an impact it will have on the nuclear standoff.
All the experts agreed that closer relations between those three countries presented a greater threat and made it easier for Iran to resist Western pressure.
Some experts said the trio would never have a true alliance because of deep distrust among them, however, and that this distrust could eventually be played to the West’s advantage.