Believes unlikely Yossi Cohen working without PM's say-so

Ex-Mossad deputy head: ‘Unrealistic’ to say Iran didn’t know of Hamas’s Oct. 7 plans

Udi Lavi says top priority of war should be return of hostages; says Hamas leaders can be hunted down in coming months, like Black September terrorists

Ehud Lavi speaks with Channel 12 news on November 12, 2023 (Screen grab used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Ehud Lavi speaks with Channel 12 news on November 12, 2023 (Screen grab used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

The former deputy head of the Mossad Ehud Lavi said Sunday that he believed it was unlikely that Iran did not know in advance of the devastating assault on October 7 perpetrated by the Tehran-backed terror group Hamas.

“That such a significant, reality-changing event, like the attack on October 7, would happen without the Iranians knowing? That sounds unrealistic to me,” said Lavi, who led the Mossad’s daring operation to obtain Iran’s secret nuclear archive, which was revealed in 2018.

The former spy official told Channel 12 in his first public interview that “the top goal [of the war] should be the return of the hostages,” and that he trusted the professionals involved in the operation.

“I am not aware of what is happening behind the scenes, but I know that the intelligence, experience and hearts of the professionals involved are in the right place,” Lavi said. “However, at the end of the day, a decision like that is a political one, and always has been. The political echelon has to make this very tough decision.”

“They have to decide what to give up on, what price can be paid, and when to stop,” Lavi said. “I trust the prime minister, the defense minister and Minister Benny Gantz [who make up the war cabinet] to make the decisions, but they have a lot of considerations… We will be required to make concessions.”

Lavi, who was second in command at the spy agency until two years ago, said he believed Mossad head David Barnea, who is managing negotiations with Qatar for the potential release of hostages, is working “between the instructions he received, and the best deal he can get.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) speaks with Mossad chief David Barnea at the IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv on October 15, 2023. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

“Barnea is an excellent professional who is also attentive to the political leadership. The central and top consideration should be the return of the abductees, even at the expense of other things,” Lavi said.

When asked about the apparent tension between ex-Mossad chief Yossi Cohen and Barnea, with the former’s involvement in hostage negotiations, Lavi said he believed that Cohen would not have become involved without a nod from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“Even when Yossi was the head of the National Security Council and was the head of the Mossad, [Netanyahu] sent people on unknown missions above his head and around the side,” Lavi said. “This is nothing new for Netanyahu. I am convinced that the prime minister knows about the channel that is being run in parallel to Barnea’s work. There is no way that Yossi would make such a move without Netanyahu’s knowledge.”

Mossad chief Yossi Cohen at the Jerusalem Post Conference on October 12, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Lavi also said that Israel did not need to kill Hamas leaders immediately, and that it was an operation that could take time.

The former spy official cited the Mossad’s Operation Wrath of God, in which the agency methodically hunted down the senior terrorists it blamed for the killing of 11 Israelis at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

“In my opinion, the decision to eliminate Hamas is not limited in place and time, whether we kill [Hamas’s Gaza leader, Yahya] Sinwar today or in two months in whichever place he runs to, if he does, or whether we kill [leader Ismail] Haniyeh in two months or during the fighting,” Lavi said. “What matters is that all Hamas leaders should realize that they are vulnerable everywhere, whenever the State of Israel decides.”

Hamas leaders Ismail Haniyeh (2nd left) and Yahya Sinwar (2nd right) in Gaza City, June 26, 2019. (Hassan Jedi/Flash90)

Since Hamas’s onslaught on October 7 and the subsequent war inside Gaza, where Israel seeks to topple the ruling terror group, the Iran-backed Hezbollah has conducted and overseen daily assaults on Israel’s northern border from Lebanon, but has stopped short of launching a full-scale campaign.

Israel, too, has attempted to walk a fine line, responding with significant firepower to attacks and attempted attacks, while trying to avoid actions that would escalate the conflict as it seeks to keep its focus on Gaza.

“[Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah] is a very experienced man, who pretends and boasts that he knows us very well — that he has intelligence officers that know what I am thinking, what the public and politicians are thinking. A boast that for years has been shown to be correct,” Lavi said.

“At the same time, I now think he should check with his intelligence officers whether he is not crossing the line… It would be a mistake on Nasrallah’s part to think that we are in the same place as on October 7,” he said.

“The State of Israel has the ability to wage a two-front war,” Lavi said. “At the same time, it is clear that it is better for Israel to conduct one campaign after the other. We will have to calculate the time, the damage and the risk — how long we will be prepared to absorb the escalating harassment [from Lebanon].

“In my personal estimation, Iran has very big assets that it could lose if it engages Hezbollah in a campaign against us when the Americans are here. I assess that the Iranians are telling themselves that the Americans will wipe out everything they have built for years. But the situation is dynamic,” he said.

Supporters of the Hezbollah terror group watch chief Hassan Nasrallah deliver a televised address on a large screen at a venue in Beirut on November 11, 2023 (ANWAR AMRO / AFP)

The persistent skirmishes along the Lebanese border with Iran-backed Hezbollah have resulted in two civilian deaths on the Israeli side, as well as the deaths of six IDF soldiers.

On the Lebanese side, more than 80 have been killed. The toll includes at least 71 Hezbollah members, eight Palestinian terrorists, and a number of civilians, including a Reuters journalist.

The United States has warned any other regional actors against widening the conflict, sending two carrier strike groups to the region.

On the question of who bore responsibility for the failures that led to the October 7 massacre, Lavi stated that in his opinion it was not a mistake for Mossad to have stopped monitoring the Gaza Strip in recent years.

“Every organization needs to have a goal it focuses on and for which it is accountable. If you are in charge of Iran and we find out one day that they have obtained fissile material, the responsibility for that would be first and foremost of the Mossad,” Lavi said. “If we were surprised on October 7, the responsibility is on the organizations that were given that task.”

“There was an intelligence failure, there was an operational failure. This whole day was one big, colossal disaster,” he said. “At the same time, is this a failure of the Mossad, the Shin Bet, or Military Intelligence? I suppose it will be determined by the investigative commission on the morning after [the war].”

Emanuel Fabian contributed to this report.

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