Tehran still wants 'a significant nuclear capability'

Mossad chief: Iran ‘closer than ever before’ to Israel’s borders

At event honoring espionage service, top spy Yossi Cohen says agents conduct ‘thousands of operations,’ some deep in enemy countries

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

Mossad chief Yossi Cohen speaks at an event honoring agents from the security service on October 2, 2017. (Screen capture: Government Press Office/YouTube)
Mossad chief Yossi Cohen speaks at an event honoring agents from the security service on October 2, 2017. (Screen capture: Government Press Office/YouTube)

The head of the Mossad intelligence service warned on Monday that Iran, through its proxies, is operating closer “than ever before” to Israel’s borders with Lebanon and Syria, though he also said Israel was operating deep in enemy territory.

Spy chief Yossi Cohen said that in addition to arming the terrorist groups Hezbollah and Hamas, the Islamic Republic was working to develop its own nuclear capabilities with the goal of weaponizing them.

Cohen made his remarks at a ceremony in which six teams from the espionage service received a special commendation from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Due to the sensitivity of the operations, the details of the teams’ activities were kept secret.

However, the spymaster said that the ones chosen were representative of the type of missions the service is capable of carrying out.

According to Cohen, the intelligence service “carries out hundreds, thousands of activities every year — some of them complicated and deep within the heart of enemy countries.”

The comments were something of a rarity, as Cohen does not often speak in public forums.

He said his intelligence service is “focused only on the top national, security and political priorities.”

First on that list is Iran, according to Cohen.

This October 27, 2004, photo shows the interior of the Arak heavy water production facility in Arak, 360 kilometers southwest of Tehran, Iran. (AP Photo/Fars News Agency, File)

Tehran “continues with its vision of [obtaining] a significant nuclear capability, which is meant to lead it to a military nuclear capability,” he said.

Under the 2015 Iran deal, the Islamic Republic is permitted to continue with civilian nuclear research, which uses radioactive material that has been enriched to a much lower degree than that used for military purposes.

In his speech, Cohen did not allege that Iran was violating the 2015 deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

However, the spy chief said Tehran was fostering unrest in the region.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at an event honoring agents from the Mossad security service on October 2, 2017. (Haim Zach/GPO/Flash90)

“Iran continues to work with increasing military aggression in the Middle East, closer to our borders than ever before,” Cohen said, as Netanyahu looked on with apparent approval.

“Iran continues to support terrorist groups, Hezbollah and recently Hamas. Iran continues to work to transfer advanced — and accurate — weaponry to terror groups within our region,” he said.

Cohen’s comments appeared to confirm recent military assessments that Tehran was outfitting Hezbollah with precise missiles that are meant to be used in a future war with Israel.

Jerusalem has also long been concerned that Iran-backed Shiite militias were entrenching themselves along the Syrian border with the Golan Heights. Israel’s attempts to convince Russia and the United States to make their removal a requirement in a ceasefire in Syria have reportedly not yet succeeded.

In addition to Iran, the Mossad chief also pointed to the Islamic State terrorist group as an ongoing threat to not only Israel, but the entire world.

“Islamic State is continuing to challenge us,” Cohen said.

He noted that the terrorist group, which is also known by its Arabic nickname, Daesh, was trying to “harm us and, no less importantly, our friends in the world.”

To handle those threats, Cohen said, the intelligence service was improving itself.

“The Mossad is getting stronger, with new capabilities in order to advance the future appearance of the world, with new technologies, with intelligence systems, with new forces, with human resources — all of this in order to be prepared for the challenges before us,” he said.

“The winners of the prime minister’s prize display the best within us and show to what lengths the Mossad, its people and its fighters can reach,” Cohen said.

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