An Israeli security official said on Thursday he was surprised by the dramatic effect international sanctions were having on Iran, causing the regime to sense — for the second time in the past decade — that it is facing an existential threat.

Speaking at a conference titled “Iran at a Crossroads” at Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies, Amos Gilad, director of policy and political-military affairs at Israel’s Ministry of Defense, nevertheless sounded deeply skeptical about the possibility of Iran forgoing its bid for military nuclear capabilities.

“I am quite surprised by the influence of sanctions. Their impact seems to be stronger than some of us anticipated,” Gilad said. “[The regime] is experiencing a sense of strangulation which has reached [the level of] an existential threat. This is the result of sanctions and the fear of additional sanctions.”

Iranian negotiators are set to meet with members of the P5+1 in early November to continue talks on Iran’s nuclear program amid Israeli fears that international sanctions may be gradually pulled back. US Secretary of State John Kerry assured Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week that American-led sanctions would not be removed before Iran could prove that its nuclear program is peaceful.

Amos Gilad (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

Amos Gilad (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

According to Gilad, the last time Iran suspended its nuclear advance was in 2003, when Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei feared the US could attack Iran after it invaded Iraq. Even if Iran halted its program once again in 2013, it would only do so as long as international pressure was on, he said.

“Will the Iranians disarm? I think not. They will say they have the right to enrich,” Gilad said.

The only difference between firebrand former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his soft-spoken successor Hassan Rouhani, Gilad opined, is that the former was “simple, brutal, coarse and nauseating” in stating his true ambitions, whereas the latter is a sophisticated “marketing man.”

Referring to a religious opinion issued by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei where he stated that developing nuclear weapons runs counter to Islamic law, Gilad said the fatwa was merely a spin to divert international attention from Iran’s bid to gain nuclear military know-how.

“The fatwa is a lie. True, [Khamenei] may be opposed to nuclear weapons, but he supports being able to develop them within a short time-frame. That’s not the question; they [the Iranians] are developing infrastructure which will allow them to leap forward quickly,” Gilad said.

“All Iran is doing at the moment is trying to get out of the noose. We must not allow them to fool us as they have done so far,” he added. “The difference between Israel and the others is that we cannot afford to be mistaken about the Iranian threat. Even one mistake is impossible.”