"Iran has enough nuclear material for four bombs," Director of Military Intelligence Major General Aviv Kochavi warned Thursday. Kochavi made a rare appearance at the 2012 Herzliya Conference, where he reviewed regional changes, the effects of the Arab Spring and the Iranian threat.
"Iran is vigorously pursing military nuclear capabilities and today the intelligence community agrees with Israel on that. Iran has over four tons of enriched materials and nearly 100kg of 20% enriched uranium – that's enough for four bombs," he said.
According to Kochavi, Iran's motivation stems from three reasons: Regional hegemony, deterrence and its desire to be a key regional player and while Iran still maintains that its nuclear program is for civilian, peaceful purposes, "We have conclusive evidence that they are after nuclear weapons."
Still, according to the MI chief, the final decision whether or pursue nuclear weapons has little to do with technical capabilities and much to do with one man's decision: "When Khamenei gives the order to produce the first nuclear weapon – it will be done, we believe, within one year."
Major General Kochavi (Photo: Ido Erez)
Iran, he added, has to deal with various pressures: The international spotlight on its every action, the crippling international sanctions, the deteriorating relations with Syria and its own internal problems. "These pressures have yet to result in a change in Iranian strategy, but if they intensify they might lead to change, because the most important thing to them is the regime's sustainability."
'Middle East rediscovering its voice'
But Iran is not the only threat to Israel: "Israel's enemies possess more rockets than ever before," Kochavi said. "Our enemies have 200,000 rockets and missiles capable of hitting every pary of Israel.
"The missiles' warheads are more accurate and more lethal, the array is sporadic – hidden in urban areas. The quantity has become a strategic dimension the IDF has to deal with.
"We're also witnessing the disappearance of the enemy off the classic battlefield. The battlefield is now in urban terrain, which harbors large quantities of modern weapons. That forces intelligence gathering to change as well," he said.
"The Middle East is rediscovering its voice and translating it into political power," Kochavi added. "There is a new component in the Middle East, one the leaders and the political parties have realized that they have to pay attention to – the public. This public has discovered that it can overthrow regimes and shape the public agenda.
"This public demands its basic right… The young Arab person today is educated, exposed to what's going on in the world and in the West through TV and the Internet. The contrast between that and what they experience is very sharp, creating growing frustration. The public is growing stronger and it's encouraged by the power of social media," he said.
"The main asset possessed by the Arab regimes – fear – is dissipating. The public dares to dare, while the regimes' power is dwindling. The public in the Middle East has become a pivotal factor in the regimes' decision making process.
"This change has led to various things, first and foremost the rise of Islam in Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt. But that was not the driving force behind the uprising. The Islamists recognized the wave (of unrest) and translated their vast infrastructure into political power. The upset in balance was devoid of two things – leadership and clear ideology. The Islamic organizations entered that void with their clear ideology. That move was natural.
"Egypt will continue to have a significant role in the shaping of the new Middle East and whatever model it chooses is likely to have significant impact on the rest of the Middle East."
'ME undergoing Islamization'
The Middle East, he continued, "is clearly undergoing a process of Islamization and religious argumentation may find its way into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the expense of a national one. We're also seeing an old-new altercation in the Middle East, of the tribal ethos.
"These changes are not limited to the arena of the public versus the regime. We can also see them between nations: There's tension between three countries – Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. They each aspire for regional hegemony: Saudi Arabia aspire to have things remain as they are in the Gulf; Iran, for years, has been pursuing an agenda meant to increase its global influence and its influence over the Gulf; and Turkey, that refuses to give up any of its influence in the region, given Europe's cold shoulder."
Kochavi added that Iran is watchful of the political changes in the region, which it sees as an opportunity to infuse the Middle East with Iranian funds and arms – actions that have the Saudi's view Tehran as a political and military threat.
Turkey, meanwhile, offers democracy-infused Islam – nationalistic passion combined with a link to the West. But Turkey and Iran – though they have bilateral ties – are at odds: Turkey has taken several steps that are in contrast to Iranian interests, Kochavi said.
The regional changes, he continued, "Also spell a decrease in the power of the radical axis, Iran-Syria-Lebanon-Hezbollah on the on hand, and Iran-Hamas-Islamic Jihad in Gaza, on the other hand.
"(…) The difficulties are compounded by shrinking economy, which is that all of these countries have in common. That will be their test in the next few years."
Still, according to Kochavi, Israel's deterrence is intact: "We're preserving deterrence but we are now facing a more hostile Middle East. This Middle East will be permanently unstable, which means we have to be ready for all kinds of twists and turn.
"Military Intelligence is constantly reviewing how it can modify its practices to comply with the new reality. We're establishing ourselves as an operational branch, not just a supportive one… If the veil of secrecy could be lifted from over all the thousands of soldiers involved in intelligence work, I assure you, the Israeli people would be very proud," he concluded.
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