Contradicts PM, who told UN Iran was at a 'watershed moment'

Former Mossad chief says Iran ‘no closer than before’ to obtaining nukes

Yossi Cohen says Tehran has less support than in the past, but Israel needs to develop capabilities to take independent military action

Former head of the Mossad Yossi Cohen attends the Jerusalem Post Conference, held in Jerusalem, on October 12, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Former head of the Mossad Yossi Cohen attends the Jerusalem Post Conference, held in Jerusalem, on October 12, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Former Mossad intelligence chief Yossi Cohen said Tuesday that Iran is not close to obtaining nuclear weapons, undercutting claims by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and others that Tehran is on the cusp of building a nuclear bomb.

“I think that at the end of the day, Iran is not close to reaching any nuclear weapons. It is no closer than before, and that’s thanks to the great effort we made,” Cohen said at the Jerusalem Post Conference at the Museum of Tolerance in downtown Jerusalem.

“I think they have less support for what they do than in the past,” Cohen said.

In August, Defense Minister Benny Gantz said Iran was only two months away from acquiring the materials necessary for a nuclear weapon. And in July, former IDF chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot said Iran was the closest it had ever been to a nuclear bomb.

According to Israeli assessments, even after acquiring the necessary materials, it would take at least several more months after that for Iran to perform the additional steps necessary to produce a deliverable nuclear bomb.

At the UN General Assembly late last month, Bennett warned that Iran’s nuclear weapons program was “at a critical point,” what he called a “watershed moment,” and that “all red lines have been crossed.” He said then: “Over the past few years, Iran has made a major leap forward, in its nuclear R&D, in its production capacity, and in its enrichment.”

Bennett on Tuesday charged Iran with “blatantly violating” commitments made to the International Atomic Energy Agency and voiced threats to take action against Tehran.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speaks at the Jerusalem Post Conference, held in Jerusalem, October 12, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“We’re not going to wait. I expect the global powers to hold them accountable,” Bennett emphasized, speaking at the same conference. “That would be the peaceful route. There are other routes,” he warned.

In 2018, then-US president Donald Trump withdrew from the 2015 JCPOA nuclear accord and began reimposing sanctions. Tehran has gradually rolled back its nuclear commitments since 2019.

Talks in Vienna on a return to the deal are expected to restart in the coming weeks, for the first round since hardline President Ebrahim Raisi took office in August.

Cohen, a close confidant of opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, was closely involved with Jerusalem’s opposition to the 2015 deal.

“I think the [Iran] nuclear deal must be completely reworded, and not just on one topic,” Cohen said.

Cohen stepped down as head of the Mossad on June 1 after more than five years on the job. He was replaced by David Barnea. His term was marked by a shadow war waged with Iran that saw Israeli spies allegedly involved in sabotaging aspects of the country’s nuclear program.

But Cohen said Israel needed to be prepared to take overt military action, referencing bombing raids against nuclear facilities in Iraq and Syria in 1981 and 2007.

“We will need to develop capabilities that will enable us to be independent, in order to do what Israel has done in the past in Iraq and Syria,” he said.

In this image, made from April 17, 2021 video released by the state-run TV station Islamic Republic Iran Broadcasting, various centrifuge machines line a hall at the Natanz Uranium Enrichment Facility. (IRIB via AP)

President Isaac Herzog at the conference said Iran’s “regional aggression” came as a result of the stall in international dialogue on the nuclear deal.

President Isaac Herzog speaks at the Jerusalem Post conference in Jerusalem, October 12, 2021 (Kobi Gideon, GPO)

“Here, we see the world’s failure to act in concert, to settle on a strategy to sever Iran’s tentacles in the Middle East, to restrain its ballistic missile program, and to shut down its nuclear program. Iran is exploiting this inaction, this lack of coordination: a clear threat to international peace and security,” Herzog said.

Lazar Berman contributed to this report.

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