IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot said Monday that Iran will likely honor the nuclear deal reached with world powers in the coming years, but intensify its proxy war with Israel through the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah and other armed groups. He also anticipated that Iran would start allocating increased funds to terror groups, and called the deal a “strategic turning point” as regards the challenges to Israel.
Still, Eisenkot said the landmark agreement could present Israel with opportunities in the future.
He also warned that terror in the West Bank was unlikely to abate anytime soon.
“The [nuclear] deal presents a number of challenges, But also opportunities” in the coming five years as Iran acts more behind the scene, Eisenkot said.
He did not elaborate on what the opportunities could be, but Israeli officials in the past have pointed to an opening for increased cooperation with Sunni Gulf states also opposed to Iranian hegemony in the wake of the agreement.
The IDF chief spoke at the annual Institute for National Security Studies conference in Tel Aviv just two days after the implementation of the nuclear accord struck last summer between Tehran and world powers, and the lifting of American and European nuclear sanctions against the Islamic Republic.
He said that despite short term adherence to the protocols of the nuclear deal, Iran will nonetheless work toward obtaining nuclear arms in the next 15 years — the amount of time Iran agreed not to enrich uranium beyond low levels.
“We still place Iran high up in our priorities,” Eisenkot said.
Eisenkot said Iran is giving Lebanese terror group Hezbollah approximately $1 billion a year, and that the Shiite organization remains “our central threat.”
“Hezbollah is funded, trained and even led by Iran,” he said.
He acknowledged that “there is no doubt that the accord between Iran and the West is a strategic turning point.”
“The IDF needs to be prepared for the breakout of war in a very short period. It would be a mistake to put all our resources into the fight against terror,” he said.
Israeli estimates put Hezbollah’s rocket arsenal at 100,000 short-range rockets capable of striking northern Israel, plus several thousand missiles that can reach Tel Aviv and central Israel, and hundreds more that can reach across the entire country.
However the Iranian-backed group has been bogged down battling Sunni rebel groups in Syria in an effort to prop up Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime, suffering heavy casualties along the way.
Despite occasional cross-border flare-ups with Israel, officials believe the group is not interested in another large scale conflict with the Jewish State akin to the 2006 Second Lebanon War.
Eisenkot warned that a more immediate threat was daily violence in the West Bank and Jerusalem, which he warned would continue “for years.”
Calling the spate of stabbing attacks the “most worrying,” he noted that Monday morning’s stabbing of a pregnant woman in a settlement was the 101st attack on a civilian or soldier since hostilities escalated in late September.
Palestinian children, he said, were being educated by the sword and the Koran.
He also warned about possible threats from the Islamic State terror group, which he claimed has greater support in the West Bank and Gaza Strip than in any Arab state, with 16% approval, and said its adherents could turn their sights against Israel and Jordan.
In Gaza, Eisenkot warned that with Iranian backing, Hamas could restart hostilities with Israel. He said the sporadic rocket fire at southern Israel in the past year was carried out by radical Salafist groups in the Gaza Strip who are opposed to Hamas, and that the area was quieter in 2015 than at any point since the 1970, but the quiet might not last.
“Hamas is busy rehabilitating its abilities with Iranian aid instead of focusing on rebuilding the [Gaza] Strip,” Eisenkot said.
Sketching out Israel’s strategic priorities, the chief of staff, who took command of the Israeli armed forces last year, said the two ascendant issues were the growing threat of terrorist groups and cyber warfare, while weapons of mass destruction and conventional wars between states were of diminishing concern — “though the IDF is still prepared for it.”
It used to be that armies were either preparing for war or waging it, Eisenkot said. Now you must to do both at the same time, constantly employing force.