Israel is no longer facing any existential threats, Tamir Pardo, the outgoing head of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency, said in an interview published Saturday. But he warned that the nature of the challenges that the Jewish state must meet has shifted dramatically in recent years.
“Everyone knows that Israel is a very strong nation. This is no longer a time when Israel, as a young state, is forced to deal with existential fears,” Pardo told the Hebrew-language Maariv newspaper.
“The greatest challenge faced by every head of the organization is to adapt to reality,” he said. “This is a profoundly different reality to the one that existed when I was drafted into the IDF in 1971. Then we dealt with entirely different issues, as the threats were different. Hezbollah was an entirely different entity, Iran has completely changed, and even Turkey and Saudi Arabia are not what they once were.”
Pardo was a Mossad officer who came up through the ranks. A political insider, he served as the radio operator for the late Yoni Netanyahu (the prime minister’s brother) during the rescue mission in Entebbe in 1976.
He stepped down earlier this month after five years at the helm, handing over the reins to Yossi Cohen, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s national security adviser.
According to Pardo, one of the greatest differences today is the shrinking world, and the changes that has brought in terms of security considerations.
“We must take into account the impact of events far from our region. We living in one time zone and distance means nothing,” he said. “The flutter of a butterfly in one part of the world can immediately cause a tsunami here.
“It’s not enough to control our immediate environment, and we have to understand that it will be difficult to provide warnings for every single event, but we have to know when things are happening in real time, and need to know the implications for the broader playing field. The intelligence is different.”
Pardo recalled meeting an Arab official who bemoaned what he saw as Israel’s refusal to integrate into the Middle East, or fully understand its culture.
“When I first started as Mossad chief, I met with a senior official from the Arab periphery [Maariv speculated that this could be Saudi Arabia or another Gulf state], who asked me if we had actually chosen to live in the Middle East, as he believed we had not,” he said.
“When I questioned him on why he thought this way, he asked me: ‘How many Jews born in Israel know Arabic? How many are familiar with Arab culture? How many even want to know about it? How can you want to understand me when you live in the Middle East and don’t know the language spoken by hundreds of millions around you? How many of your people have ever opened the Quran? Not to pray, but to try to understand what is written there — to understand the culture, understand that we are not all the same, and there is a difference between the Egyptian and the Jordanian, Palestinian, Saudi or Lebanese. You are not familiar with anything. You don’t know anything. It’s easier for you to move to Canada. You will feel culturally more at home there than you do here; what the hell are you doing here? You still haven’t chosen to be part of the Middle East.'”
Mitch Ginsburg contributed to this report