For IDF, the deal offers window to focus on more immediate battles
IT TOOK a rare public lecture by the IDF Chief of Staff, General Gadi Eisenkot for the Israeli security establishment’s view of the Iranian nuclear deal to finally be aired.
The agreement “has many risks, but also opportunities” said General Eisenkot, speaking in Tel Aviv on Monday, and added that Tehran’s move was a “significant change in the vector in which Iran has been walking”. He said that over the next few years, Iran would make serious efforts to keep its part of the deal.
Not that Iran has given up its ambition to acquire nuclear weapons one day in the future, he said, and argued that it would continue to “confront Israel through proxies”. However, as far as Israel’s immediate security priorities are concerned, he said, the Iranian nuclear issue can now take a back seat while attention is focused on more immediate threats — Hizbollah, Palestinian terror, Gaza and Daesh.
The lecture was surprising to those who have become accustomed to speeches by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and some of his ministers highlighting the existential threat of the Iranian bomb.
It came as no surprise to those who, for over two years now, have been listening to the privately expressed views of Israel’s defence chiefs. Since the first interim agreement with Iran was signed in Geneva in November 2013, it became clear to many in Israel’s intelligence community that the Iranians were eager to find a way out of the sanctions crippling their economy.
Only the IDF Chief of Staff, with the respect he commands in Israeli society, can allow himself to deviate from Mr Netanyahu’s line in public. And even then, only in a nuanced way.
What General Eizenkot was saying in his lecture, and what he and other senior officers and intelligence chiefs have been saying in private, is that while Iran remains an implacable
Gadi Eisenkot enemy, it has taken a step back. The sanctions have played their role and forced it to roll back its nuclear programme, at least temporarily.
In the interval, until Iran decides whether or not it can afford to resume its nuclear projects, Israel must redirect some of the massive resources that it was dedicating to the Iranian threat towards enemies closer to home. Iran is the principal sponsor of the most significant enemy facing Israel, Hizbollah, and one of the funders of Hamas’s military wing, but there are other threats that have little connection to Iran.
Israel’s military and intelligence community need to keep a weather eye on Iran, to make sure it is sticking to the limitations on its nuclear plans and to detect if and when it begins to reactivate them. Meanwhile, Israeli security forces are eager to use this period to prepare itself for a more conventional conflict — another showdown with Hizbollah, a second major operation by Hamas, or an attack by Daesh, which could come any time and in any place. Iran will wait.