The prospective nuclear deal with Iran would empower it to take over the Middle East and trigger a regional nuclear arms race, a senior Israeli official warned in an interview published Friday.
Ram Ben Barak, director general of the Strategic Affairs Ministry and a leading candidate to be the next head of Israel’s Mossad spy agency, told the Makor Rishon newspaper that “the deal which is about to be signed will allow Iran to decide by itself when it will be nuclear [armed], and that is the most problematic.”
He said the lifting of sanctions would give Tehran “an ocean of money,” allowing it to buy influence across the Middle East and “advance to a position where no one will be able to threaten it and it will acquire control wherever it pleases.”
Ben Barak noted that there is “almost no area in the Middle East today where Iran remains uninvolved: Iraq, where Iranian interests are in line with US interests, Lebanon, where Hezbollah is effectively an Iranian division, and Yemen, which was mostly conquered by Iran.”
“Think what happens if in coming years Iran will receive billions of dollars. They will have no limitations,” he said.
Ben Barak is one of three candidates vying for the coveted position of Mossad chief, contending with current National Security Council chair Yossi Cohen and an unnamed deputy to current Mossad chief Tamir Pardo. Pardo is slated to step down in January 2016.
Ben Barak has only been directing the Strategic Affairs Ministry since December 2014. He began working with the Mossad in 1991 and rose through the ranks before taking on his current post.
As director general of the ministry, Ben Barak defined his role as “being the eyes and ears of the prime minister.”
The Iran dossier, he said, “is one of the most important things we deal with. The Iranian issue has great influence, beyond the fact that a nuclear Iran is not something, in Israel’s view, which can be tolerated.”
Like Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Ben Barak believes that “if the Americans would insist and press more, a much better agreement could be achieved. There is no doubt a good deal is preferable to war. Everyone understands this, from the prime minister to the last citizen on the street. But a bad deal can have really serious implications.”
Ben Barak said he shared the view that countries such as Egypt or Saudi Arabia were almost certain to enter a nuclear arms race to counterbalance Iran’s nuclear aspirations.
“Almost certainly, this process will occur. The Saudis and Gulf states are concerned by an Iranian takeover of the region no less than we are. There are, at the end of the day, many natural resources there, and we have already seen in the past an Iraqi attempt to take over Kuwait because of its oil reserves,” he said, referring to the First Gulf War.
The Iranian nuclear race, he said, is compounded by the grander Sunni-Shiite war in the Middle East. “Money is not lacking in the Gulf States, they can buy anything. As soon as they see the Iranians enter a corridor which ends with nuclear capability, they will enter this corridor too, and the entire region will be in an arms race.”
All Gulf states apart from Iran have a majority of Sunni Arabs, whereas Iran is overwhelmingly Shiite and non-Arab Persian.
Ben Barak said he preferred “not to go into details” of the opportunities the geostrategic situation offers Israel in terms of alliances with moderate Sunni states. “You can see the common interest with Egypt, and I assume there are other” shared interests with other Sunni states.
Sunni states, he said, were “fighting a double fight. On the one hand there is the Shiite axis headed by Iran… and on the other side they have Sunni radicals, who see their nation-states as heretical.”
Ben Barak said Iran’s proxy, the Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah, may lose its war in Syria against the Islamic State, one instance where the Sunni-Shiite conflict rages closer to Israel.
“There are Shiite militias there brought by the Iranians, and many Hezbollah fighters, but they do not succeed in holding back the rebels.”
“The Shiites are no more concerned with radical [Sunni] Islam than with the Jews. In four or five years, there may be a new reality in southern Lebanon. In the Golan Heights it is already happening. The Syrian Army there is non-existent. Tomorrow we could have terror attacks on the [Golan Heights’] border fence,” he added.
Asked whether the West and the international community could affect the Syrian civil war, Ben Barak responded negatively: “This conflict is stronger than the influence of the [world] powers. It’s a Sunni-Shiite conflict, the Russians and the Americans do not function in it. They have some leverage with [Syrian President Bashar] Assad, but he is only one player among many. The Islamic State and [al-Qaeda affiliated] Nusra Front don’t care about the powers-that-be.”
Ben Barak also said an analysis which considers Israel to be at an advantage because its enemies are battling another is “an immature view.”
“Wars end and then there is a new reality. Hezbollah without Syria will be crippled, because then it will have trouble getting Iranian assistance and this is important for us, but it’s not clear that the alternative will be better. During the Iran-Iraq War they also said it’s the best outcome for the Jews, and look where we are today. The war in Syria will stabilize, and then the common enemy will again be us. We need to prepare for this.”