Iran doesn’t think world will use force to stop its nukes, army intel head says

Sanctions leading some in Tehran hierarchy to reconsider nuclear drive, Aviv Kochavi tells Herzliya conference

Mitch Ginsburg is the former Times of Israel military correspondent.

The IDF’s top intelligence officer on Thursday described “cracks in the coherence” of Iran’s resolve to push toward a nuclear weapon in the face of international sanctions and internal turmoil. Still, he added, Iran doesn’t see a military strike against it as likely.

In the upper echelons of the Iranian government, just below the level of supreme leader, “we continue to hear voices saying that perhaps in the face of the sanctions and the toll on Iranian society the thinking should be altered,” Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi said at the Herzliya security conference,

Kochavi, the head of the IDF’s military intelligence directorate, said that Iranian production of oil was slashed by nearly 50 percent during the past year, to 1.2 billion barrels a day, and that inflation was up over 60 percent.

“The pressure continues to escalate,” he said, and that translates into internal pressure, which “is in direct correspondence” with the regime’s primary objective — “to continue to exist.”

The three main issues on Tehran’s agenda, he said, were furthering Iranian interests in Syria; proceeding with the development of nuclear weapons; and continuing to spread the gospel of the Islamic revolution, and its devotion to terror, worldwide.

Iran currently has sufficient partially enriched uranium to build five to six bombs, he said, and estimated that the regime would continue to proceed with caution, edging ever closer to the red line and advancing to a point where the program would be positioned “a sprint” away from weapons deployment capacity.

“In their own eyes, within the foreseeable future,” he said several times during a rather grim survey of Israel’s position within the wider Middle East, “there is no highly credible threat of an international strike.”

Kochavi spoke for the better part of an hour, detailing the effects on Israel of the transformation of the Middle East in recent years.

Kochavi said that across the region, a lack of water, a rising demand for energy and an increasing difficulty in providing food for civilians, coupled with rising religious extremism and the overthrow of the long-enduring dictatorships, have thrown the region into profound tumult, creating “a completely different Middle East.”

The four primary Muslim powers in the region — Turkey, Egypt, Iran and Saudi Arabia — are all governed by religious rule, and Israel, “for the first time in decades,” faces strife on four of its borders – Syria, Lebanon, Sinai and Gaza.

Increasingly, he said, the Islamist groups on Israel’s borders were veering away from global jihad and toward “local jihad.”

In Syria, the air force is flying 40-50 sorties per day against civilians. The price of bread has gone up sevenfold over the past year. Oil production is down 40 percent. The army is able to draft only 20 percent of each recruited class. Some 45,000 troops have defected. Morale is low, the structure of command is weak, the troops are scattered. Finally, 11 of 17 border crossings are currently in rebel hands.

“Syria as a whole state no longer exists,” he said.

Kochavi said Hezbollah is providing assistance to the Assad regime in the form of operational plans, boots on the ground, intelligence and money, among other things.

In return, Hezbollah, which he described as “in the midst of one its most complex periods,” has gained access to advanced Syrian weapons systems and is in the process of forming along with Iran a 100,000-person replacement army in the event that Assad should fall.

“Anyone who thinks Iran and Hezbollah are going to get lost after Assad is mistaken,” Kochavi said.

He put the number of Sunni Islamist fighters in Syria at 10,000 and said that their influence could be felt not only in Sinai, where there are currently 10 terror organizations, but throughout the region. He suggested that the organizations’ influence would be felt “in places farther afield than the Middle East, too.”

In order to address these threats, he said, the IDF Military Intelligence Directorate has launched a serious of organizational and tactical changes.

Without alluding to Stuxnet or other cyber offensives directed against Iran, he said that cyber warfare was “a tremendous platform for nearly inexhaustible operations.”

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