'Time has come to exact price from Iran in a different way'

Mossad chief vows to target Iran’s ‘highest echelon’ if Israelis, Jews hurt in terror

Barnea: Iran has stepped up terror worldwide; 27 attacks foiled in year; Israel will hit back ‘in heart of Tehran’; Russia could send Iran arms ‘that will endanger our existence’

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

Mossad director David Barnea speaks at a conference at Reichman University, on September 10, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/ Flash90)
Mossad director David Barnea speaks at a conference at Reichman University, on September 10, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/ Flash90)

Mossad Director David Barnea  on Sunday warned Iran’s leaders that they would pay a direct price if Israelis or Jews are harmed in what he said was an ongoing, significantly stepped-up, state-organized Iranian terror effort worldwide.

He said the terror campaign was being carried out in accordance with a “political directive by the leader” — an apparent reference to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei — and threatened the Iranian leadership in response.

“Fortunately for Iran, their terror efforts have been thwarted,” he said. “Why fortunately for them? Because thus far we have only got to the operatives and those who dispatched them.” If Israelis or Jews are harmed, however, he warned, Israel’s response would go all the way to “the highest echelon.”

In an extensive speech highlighting the dangers posed by the Iranian regime, and Israel’s determination to thwart those dangers, Barnea also said that Israel was concerned about Russia selling advanced weaponry to Iran that could pose an existential threat to Israel.

Speaking at an annual conference of the Institute for Counter-Terrorism Policy (ICT) at Reichman University in Herzliya, Barnea revealed that the Mossad and its allies in the international intelligence community have foiled 27 Iranian attacks against Jews and Israelis abroad over the past year. And he declared that Israel would exact “a different” price from Iran if Israelis or Jews were harmed, including by targeting the “decision-makers” behind the attacks and by hitting back “in the heart of Tehran.”

“The squads that were captured, the weapons that were seized together with them, all had clear targets,” he said, noting that the attempts occurred “all over the world, in Europe, Africa, the Far East and South America.”

“All this under the direction and guidance of Iran. We are witnessing a significant increase in attempts to harm Jews and Israelis around the world, and we are working even now at this very moment to follow Iranian and proxy squads to prevent them from killing Jews and Israelis around the world,” Barnea went on.

He said that “the time has come to exact a price from Iran in a different way,” and elaborated: “Harming Israelis and Jews in any way — by proxy, by Iranians, or by Iranian weapons smuggled into Israel — will lead to activity against the Iranians who sent the terrorists and also against the decision-makers, from the ground operators to the commanders who approved the operation, to the highest echelon, and I mean that,” he said.

In this photo released by the office of the Iranian supreme leader, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, right, listens to Ziad Nakhaleh, the leader of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, second right, during their meeting in Tehran, Iran, June 14, 2023. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

“These prices will be exacted with great precision in the depths of Iran, in the heart of Tehran,” Barnea warned.

“The Iranian regime no longer has no room for denial and, above all, it has no immunity,” he vowed.

“Our message is loud, clear and determined: To those who have decided to dispatch the [terror] cells, be sure that we will get to you, and that justice will be done and seen to be done,” said Barnea. “This has been proven in the past, and it will be stepped up a level in the future. This is state terror: To be clear, we are talking about a political directive by the leader. The funding is by the state. And the planning and operations are carried by the state’s security and intelligence hierarchies.”

Thwarted plots

Several Iranian plots have been uncovered over the past year. In July, Azeri security forces arrested a 23-year-old Afghan national on suspicion of planning an attack on Israel’s embassy in Baku. Israel pointed to Iran in the plot.

The month before, Cypriot intelligence services revealed they had foiled an Iranian plot against Jews and Israelis. In March, Greek police arrested two Pakistani nationals who were allegedly planning mass-casualty terrorist attacks against a Jewish restaurant and Chabad House in Athens.

In November of last year, Georgian security officials revealed they had foiled a recent attempt by the extraterritorial arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, the Quds Force, to kill a prominent Israeli-Georgian living in the capital Tbilisi.

The attempt followed other Iranian plots to harm Israelis in the region. In June of 2022, Turkey and Israel foiled a plan to attack Israelis in Istanbul

Turkish authorities arrest an alleged Iranian cell that sought to target Israelis in Istanbul on June 23, 2022. (Screen capture/CNN Turkey)

Iranian-Russian threat

Turning to Iranian-Russian cooperation, Barnea said Iran had intentions to provide Russia with short- and long-range missiles in addition to the UAVs that it sold to the Russian military for its invasion of Ukraine.

Amid the ongoing invasion, which began in February 2022, Russia has been using the Iranian-made Shahed-136 drone, after it received delivery of hundreds of units from Tehran, despite Western nations warning Iran against exporting the weapon.

Attempts by Iran to also provide Russia with missiles amid the war were foiled, Barnea said, without elaborating further. “I have a feeling that more deals will be foiled soon.”

“Our fear is that the Russians will transfer to the Iranians in return what they lack, advanced weapons that will certainly endanger our peace and maybe even our existence here,” Barnea said.

A Shahed-136 drone is seen in the sky seconds before it hit buildings in Kyiv, Ukraine, October 17, 2022. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

Nuclear alert

On Iran’s nuclear program and a potential agreement with world powers that would see sanctions on Iran eased, Barnea urged the international community to “be on high alert.”

“Iran’s known nuclear weapon ambitions, and its past attempts to implement them, require that the international community be on high alert, and demonstrate unflagging determination to foil these ambitions,” he said.

This photo released November 5, 2019, by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran shows centrifuge machines in Natanz uranium enrichment facility near Natanz, Iran (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP, File)

“The current dialogue between Iran and the West does not reflect genuine willingness on the part of Iran to curb its nuclear program. Rather, it demonstrates Iran’s cynical attempt to release money frozen as part of the international sanctions imposed on it, while continuing to develop and expand its nuclear capabilities,” Barnea said.

In an apparent reference to internal tensions in Israel over the government’s judicial overhaul, and fears of a constitutional crisis, he said: “We are a covert intelligence organization in the service of a Jewish democratic state that has operated since its inception according to a clear set of values, and will continue to do so.”

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