Israel Army Intel Chief: Iran Undergoing 'Significant, Strategic' Changes

Yet despite reformist shift, Tehran still seeks 'nuclear threshold' capacity, IDF position paper states.

ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid
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ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

Since Hassan Rohani was elected Iran’s president in June, the country has been undergoing a process of deep internal political change. Nevertheless, there has as yet been no change in the regime’s “nuclear vision” or its ongoing nuclear policy, according to a position paper written by the head of Military Intelligence late last month.

“Iran still seeks to reach the status of a nuclear threshold state,” in which it could manufacture a nuclear bomb fairly quickly if and when it decided to do so, wrote MI's head, Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, in his role as the "national intelligence assessor."

However, Kochavi wrote that while there has been no change in Iran’s nuclear program, there have been some real changes in Iran’s internal political situation since the election, of a kind not seen in many years. Rohani’s victory sparked a process of deep change that can’t be ignored, Kochavi maintained, describing the changes as “significant” and even “strategic.”

In particular, Kochavi cited the increased strength of the moderate faction and the fact that 51 percent of the public voted for Rohani, who was not the preferred candidate of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Kochavi also based his analysis on the stated intention of Rohani and his cabinet to promote internal reform, increase the country’s openness to the West and end the economic sanctions on Iran.

Two senior government officials familiar with the contents of Kochavi’s paper said it surveyed the situation in Iran since Rohani’s election from several standpoints – the internal political situation, the mood among the Iranian public, the regime’s nuclear policy, Iran’s involvement in terrorism and the Syrian civil war.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu received Kochavi’s paper a few days before he left for the United States in late September. During that trip, he met with U.S. President Barack Obama and addressed the UN General Assembly. But both in his UN address and in a series of other speeches, interviews and statements that he gave in the following days, he made almost no reference to the internal changes happening in Iran, and when he did mention them, he downplayed their importance.

PM's skepticism

In his UN address, Netanyahu said there was no substantive difference between Rohani and either Khamenei or former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, terming the new president a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.”

“Presidents of Iran have come and gone,” Netanyahu said. “Some presidents were considered moderates, other hardliners. But they've all served that same unforgiving creed, that same unforgiving regime, that creed that is espoused and enforced by the real power in Iran, the dictator known as the supreme leader, first Ayatollah Khomeini and now Ayatollah Khamenei. President Rohani, like the presidents who came before him, is a loyal servant of the regime.”

In an interview with BBC’s Persian Service the following day, Netanyahu said the Iranian people deserved better leadership. While Rohani “represents a desire for change,” he said, “I don't think he has the mandate to change the real decisions that are made by Khamenei.”

Two weeks later, in his speech at the opening of the Knesset’s winter session, Netanyahu did admit that “internal change” had taken place in Iran, but he ascribed it to international pressure on the country. Therefore, he said, “easing the pressure won’t strengthen the trend toward moderation in Iran, it will actually strengthen the uncompromising worldview of Iran’s true ruler, Ayatollah Khamenei, and will be viewed as a significant victory for him.”

The Israel Defense Forces spokesman said the IDF “has no intention of commenting on internal professional discussions between the military and the government.”

The Prime Minister’s Office declined to comment.

Rohani sorrounded by MPs during a parliament session in Tehran. October 27, 2013.Credit: AFP

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