Former IDF intelligence chief Tamir Hayman on Wednesday contradicted CIA Director William Burns regarding the handling and seriousness of the potential Iranian nuclear threat.
Speaking at the INSS conference, Hayman, the think tank’s managing director, was asked about Burns’ statement that since Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has not given a formal order to go for a nuclear weapon, the nuclear threat was still far off.
In contrast, the former IDF intelligence chief said he disagreed with the idea that “if you don’t identify an order from the top, that is a sign that there is no [nuclear weapons] plan. Even if there is no formal paperwork, things continue.”
Rather, Hayman said that Burns’ statement showed a common Western misunderstanding of the Iranian mentality which does not always move in a linear fashion to achieve its goals, but might take a much more zigzagging and roundabout-looking path.
“This is a much more Eastern strategy. We can’t just go based on once we see an order from Iran’s supreme leader that only then will we see a nuclear” weapon.
He said the Islamic Republic has “continued the nuclear program to get to unprecedented highs. This is not just about uranium enrichment. On this issue, they are almost ready - but also regarding weaponization issues. This will go from the bottom to the top, to the supreme leader.”
Further, he said he could even envision an IDF intelligence investigation in the future after missing that Iran broke out to a nuclear weapon because they had been focused on looking for a formal order from Khamenei.
He said that IDF intelligence officials would try to defend their failure by saying, “but we didn’t see a formal plan or order. But these things can happen from the bottom up. We need to be very careful not to disregard” the nuclear weapons threat just because there is no order.
"Israel could be temporarily calm now" - Hayman
At the same time, Hayman said Israel could be temporarily calm for now since “uranium enrichment is not the same as a bomb…but we do need to watch the level of motivation from the bottom” of Iranian nuclear scientists and military officials.
In addition, Hayman dismissed the focus on the recent announcement that Iran had enriched uranium up to 84%, the closest ever to the 90% weaponization levels.
Though important, he said the focus should be more broadly on whether Iran is going for a nuclear weapon since once it had even crossed the 20%, let alone 60% enrichment levels, it was already very close to uranium enrichment weaponization.