ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 138

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IDF intel chief: Nasrallah close to ‘mistake that could plunge region into big war’

Aharon Haliva warns chances of major escalation ‘not low’; Defense Minister Gallant: Iran converting merchant ships into ‘floating terror bases’ armed with drones, missiles

  • IDF Military Intelligence Directorate chief Aharon Haliva, right, speaks at the Herzliya Conference, May 22, 2023. (Gilad Kavalerchik)
    IDF Military Intelligence Directorate chief Aharon Haliva, right, speaks at the Herzliya Conference, May 22, 2023. (Gilad Kavalerchik)
  • Hezbollah terror group leader Hassan Nasrallah in a live television address, October 1, 2022. (X video screenshot)
    Hezbollah terror group leader Hassan Nasrallah in a live television address, October 1, 2022. (X video screenshot)
  • Defense Minister Yoav Gallant speaks at the Herzliya Conference on May 22, 2023, showing a slide with pictures of what he said were Iran's floating terror bases (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)
    Defense Minister Yoav Gallant speaks at the Herzliya Conference on May 22, 2023, showing a slide with pictures of what he said were Iran's floating terror bases (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

The IDF’s Military Intelligence Directorate chief assessed on Monday that the head of Lebanon’s Hezbollah terror group was “close to making a mistake” that could spark a regional war, while warning that the conflict between Israel and Iran was becoming increasingly direct.

Speaking at a conference hosted by the Institute for Policy and Strategy of Reichman University in Herzliya, Aharon Haliva said “the chances of an escalation that could deteriorate into war is not low,” and that, as far as Hassan Nasrallah is concerned, a recent flareup on the Israel-Lebanon border may not be over.

Haliva alluded to Nasrallah’s past comments that Hezbollah’s abduction of two Israeli soldiers on the border in 2006, which set off the Second Lebanon War, was a mistake, but said he is now starting to believe the balance of power can be tested.

“The story of the terrorist at the Meggido Junction isn’t a one-off,” Haliva said, referring to a bombing attack in March that seriously injured a man, and is suspected to have been orchestrated by the Iran-backed terror group. “Nasrallah is close to making a mistake that could plunge the region into a big war. He is close to making this mistake from Lebanon or Syria.”

He also said Syrian President Bashar Assad, another Iranian ally, was growing increasingly confident, noting his inclusion at the Arab League summit in Saudi Arabia last week after a 12-year absence and a recent drone attack launched from Syria.

“All this creates a high potential for an escalation in the region and we need to be prepared that our enemies won’t understand the message we’re sending. Let them not be mistaken, we’re ready to use force and we will do whatever is possible and necessary to bring calm,” Haliva said.

The remarks came a day after Hezbollah invited media outlets to cover a major drill simulating war with Israel, claiming it was ready for a potential conflict with the Jewish state.

Fighters from the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah carry out a training exercise in Aaramta village in the Jezzine District, southern Lebanon, May 21, 2023. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

Turning to Iran itself, Haliva called the Islamic Republic “a real threat to Israel,” and said “the confrontation has become direct” between the countries in recent years.

Haliva said Iran’s atomic program has continued to progress — “both in the fields of [uranium] enrichment and a weapon” — but stressed his unit does not believe Iranian leaders have yet made a decision to “break out” for a nuclear bomb.

“But there is preparation for the day in which the supreme leader or his successor makes such a decision. We have our eyes open to signal at any moment Iran’s readiness on this point,” he added.

‘Floating terror bases’

Earlier, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant revealed to the conference that Iran is converting merchant ships into military vessels armed with drones, missile systems, and advanced tools for intelligence gathering.

Gallant argued that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps was trying to build “floating terror bases” as part of a “worrying, pirate-like policy.”

“Iran is conducting itself like a collection of criminal organizations and not like a modern state,” he added. “The floating terror bases are an extension of Iran’s ongoing maritime terrorism, as seen in its actions in the Persian Gulf and Arabian Sea. Iran aims to expand its reach to the Indian Ocean, the Red Sea and even the shores of the Mediterranean.”

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant speaks at the Herzliya Conference on May 22, 2023. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

“This is a structured plan designed to threaten trade and flight routes – both military and civilian – and to create a permanent threat in the maritime arena,” Gallant charged.

“The way to confront Iranian terrorism in the air, at sea, and on land is through international cooperation and the creation of coalitions.”

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant speaks at the Herzliya Conference on May 22, 2023, showing a slide with pictures of what he said were Iran’s floating terror bases (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

Speaking earlier in the day at the same conference, Defense Ministry Director-General Eyal Zamir said that the military would be investing significant resources in the coming years in artificial intelligence, which he said has the potential to drastically improve Israel’s intelligence and targeting against Iran.

His comments came as the Associated Press revealed that Iran is building a nuclear facility so deep in the earth that it is likely beyond the range of a last-ditch US weapon designed to destroy such sites.

With Iran now producing uranium close to weapons-grade levels after the collapse of its nuclear deal with world powers, the installation complicates the West’s efforts to halt Tehran from potentially developing an atomic bomb as diplomacy over its nuclear program remains stalled.

US President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have said they won’t allow Iran to build a nuclear weapon.

Michael Bachner, Lazar Berman and the Associated Press contributed to this report

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