Mossad Chief: Palestinian Conflict Top Threat to Israel's Security, Not Iran

Suggesting that Iran's nuclear program is not an existential threat, Tamir Pardo says he wouldn't 'recommend rushing to obtain a foreign passport.'

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Barak Ravid
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Tamir Pardo, head of Israel's spy agency Mossad, sits next to Yoram Cohen, chief of Israel's Shin Bet internal security service.
Tamir Pardo, head of Israel's spy agency Mossad, sits next to Yoram Cohen, chief of Israel's Shin Bet internal security service.Credit: Reuters
ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

The biggest threat to Israel’s security is the conflict with the Palestinians and not Iran’s nuclear program, Mossad chief Tamir Pardo said Thursday at a meeting at a private home attended by 30 businesspeople.

According to a person present during the 90-minute talk, Pardo dealt largely with the organizational changes he had made at the Mossad, as well as management policies at the spy agency. But during the question-and-answer period, participants asked him to assess the greatest threats facing Israel.

Pardo said, according to the source, that the major threat to Israel is the conflict with the Palestinians. When some of the participants asked him to repeat what he said, he answered: "Yes, the biggest threat is the Palestinian issue."

Someone asked whether the Iranian nuclear threat was the second largest threat. Pardo surprised his audience by saying Iran might produce or purchase a nuclear weapon in the future, but he wouldn’t “recommend rushing to obtain a foreign passport.”

One person noted that Pardo’s words suggested he did not share the urgency in speeches by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tehran’s nuclear program. It was clear that Pardo did not consider this issue a significant threat, let alone an existential one.

Pardo listed the threats facing Israel, including a takeover of parts of Iraq by the Islamic State organization and its threats to neighboring Jordan under King Abdullah.

“This is a worrisome problem for Israel,” Pardo said. “This organization is here to stay. They embrace the public like [Israeli ultra-Orthodox party] Shas does, with a welfare and education system. They espouse murder for its own sake. Hamas is a lightweight organization by comparison.”

According to a person at the meeting, Pardo believes that the Jordanian army could easily handle an attack from the direction of Iraq, but the problem goes much deeper than that. The combination of an attack by the Islamic State organization from the east and the presence of more than one million refugees from Iraq and Syria could seriously undermine the stability of the Hashemite Kingdom.

Pardo’s comments on Iran conform with statements by his predecessor Meir Dagan and the former head of the Shin Bet security service, Yuval Diskin. In lectures over the last few years, both men have stressed the urgency of reaching a settlement with the Palestinians. They have opposed an Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

In December 2011, Pardo told a gathering of 100 Israeli ambassadors that he did not believe Iran’s nuclear program was an existential threat to Israel.

“What does an existential threat mean?” he asked. “Is Iran a threat to Israel? Obviously it is. But if one says that an Iranian nuclear bomb threatens the very existence of Israel, we can close shop and go elsewhere. This is not the situation — the term existential threat is bandied about too loosely.”

The Prime Minister's Office, under whose aegis the Mossad operates, said in response: "The head of the Mossad covered three security threats that Israel faces – Iran's race toward a nuclear [arms], the Palestinian conflict and global jihad. On the issue of a nuclear Iran, the Mossad chief said that Israel must do everything to prevent Iran from acquiring an ability to obtain nuclear weapons."

A Palestinian throws a stone during clashes with Israeli police after prayers on the first Friday of the holy month of Ramadan in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Wadi al-Joz July 4, 2014. Credit: Reuters

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