IDF chief says Israel accelerating Iran strike plans, acting throughout Mideast

Aviv Kohavi also defends top brass amid anger over border cop’s death: ‘If we don’t back them up we’ll end up without commanders’

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi during a graduation ceremony at the National Security College in Glilot, central Israel, on July 14, 2021. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi during a graduation ceremony at the National Security College in Glilot, central Israel, on July 14, 2021. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Israel has “greatly accelerated” preparations for action against Iran’s nuclear program, military chief Aviv Kohavi said in an interview published Monday.

Kohavi told Walla news that “a significant chunk of the boost to the defense budget, as was recently agreed, was intended for this purpose. It’s a very complicated job, with much more intelligence, much more operational capabilities, much more armaments. We’re working on all these things.”

The head of the Israel Defense Forces said the military’s current main objective is “minimizing Iranian presence in the Middle East, with an emphasis on Syria…but these operations take place throughout the Middle East. They’re also against Hamas, against Hezbollah.”

Kohavi said Israeli strikes and other operations had “greatly diminished Iran’s presence and weaponry in the northern arena, certainly in comparison to what they sought.” He said the army was “very active in disrupting the smuggling routes of Hezbollah, of Hamas, of Iran, in all regions.”

The IDF “is operating at much greater depths, at 360 degrees throughout all the Middle East. It doesn’t wait for the threat to come. It prepares, it meets [the threat] head-on, neutralizes it, roots it out.”

Defense Minister Benny Gantz also issued threats against Iran last month, telling foreign diplomats that Israel may have to take military action against Iran.

An F-35 fighter jet takes off during a surprise exercise, ‘Galilee Rose,’ in February 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)

“The State of Israel has the means to act and will not hesitate to do so. I do not rule out the possibility that Israel will have to take action in the future in order to prevent a nuclear Iran,” Gantz said.

“Iran is only two months away from acquiring the materials necessary for a nuclear weapon. We do not know if the Iranian regime will be willing to sign an agreement and come back to the negotiation table and the international community must build a viable ‘Plan B’ in order to stop Iran in its tracks towards a nuclear weapon,” he added.

Though Iran is believed to be two months away from obtaining the fissile material needed for a bomb, the IDF has assessed that it would take at least several more months from then before Tehran would be capable of producing a deliverable weapon, needing that time to construct a core, perform tests and install the device inside a missile.

On Sunday Kohavi visited the home of a Border Police sniper fatally wounded during a riot along the Gaza border last month to express his condolences to the fuming family.

Barel Hadaria Shmueli was shot in the head at point-blank range by a Palestinian gunman on August 21 and succumbed to his wounds just over a week later. On Friday, the IDF released the initial findings of its investigation into Shmueli’s death, blaming it principally on the way in which troops were deployed along the Gaza border barrier during the riot.

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi pays a condolence call on September 5, 2021, to the home of Barel Hadaria Shmueli, a Border Police officer who was shot dead by a Gaza gunman at the border last month (Via Facebook: צועדים בדרך בראל)

His family, along with right-wing activists and opposition lawmakers, accused the military of issuing overly restrictive rules of engagement that they claim prevented troops from keeping the rioters away from the border fence. Shmueli’s father has suggested Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and top military commanders should resign over the incident, his mother has said she does not trust the government or the army, and the family has rejected the IDF’s investigation, demanding an independent inquiry.

Barel Hadaria Shmueli, a Border Police officer who was shot dead by a Gaza gunman at the border in August 2021 (Courtesy)

The IDF has denied that the open-fire regulations were to blame — noting that Shmueli himself fired at the rioters when they rushed the border — and said that at issue was the way in which troops were deployed.

In Monday’s interview, Kohavi said that while mistakes “will happen” in combat, the military must back its officers or it will remain without any.

“There was a mistake in the way we prepared from the moment the rioting began,” Kohavi told Walla of the Gaza riot. “The initial preparation was very good. There was a mistake there, a mistake that occurred as a result of decision-making in real-time, under pressure, in conditions of uncertainty. This has happened, does happen and will happen in any war.”

But, he said, “We remember that [commanders] also make a great many good decisions that protect Israeli citizens… Mistakes can happen but we need to remember to back them up. If we don’t back them up we’ll end up without commanders. Without anyone to guard the borders.”

His comments were similar to ones he made in a letter to commanders Sunday.

“A society that does not back its soldiers and commanders, including when they make mistakes, will discover that it has nobody to fight for it,” Kohavi wrote in his missive.

It was the IDF’s obligation to thoroughly investigate, “to get to the truth and learn the lessons, but mistakes of judgment on the battlefield are not matters for blame and punishment,” he declared.

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