What Is Israel Really Doing About Iran?

Most of Israel's intelligence activity remains a deep secret, including its efforts to stop Tehran's nuclear program and the smuggling of arms to Gaza and Lebanon.

In his final briefing to the Knesset as head of Military Intelligence, Amos Yadlin summed up the security situation on Tuesday, at the end of his five-year term, by saying the security front is unusually quiet and that Israel's intelligence coverage of its enemies has improved - but that the next war, if and when it erupts, will be worse than its predecessors, especially for the home front.

Yadlin, who is retiring after 40 years in the Israel Defense Forces, warned Knesset members "not to be misled" by the current calm.

Ahmadinejad in Lebanon - AP - Oct 13, 2010

He gave them new details about the anti-aircraft missiles Syria is acquiring and Iran's plans to build two new uranium enrichment facilities. And he warned that if another war breaks out, it is likely to be a much wider conflict than the last two, and said the casualties will almost certainly be much higher.

During Yadlin's tenure, Military Intelligence obtained a bigger budget, and broadened and deepened its intelligence activities. It also set up a new unit to improve the operational aspects of MI's work, one of the lessons it learned from the Second Lebanon War. And despite occasional crises, Yadlin maintained close cooperation with the other intelligence agencies.

But most of Israel's intelligence activity remains a deep secret. What is Israel really doing to delay Iran's nuclear program or thwart arms smuggling to Lebanon and Gaza? We don't know.

What operations is it conducting in other countries? We don't know that either - though we do know an MI officer was decorated by the chief of staff this week for an unspecified secret operation. Did Lebanon really succeed in breaking up an Israeli spy ring? That, too, is unknown.

And here's something else we don't know: Was this really Yadlin's final briefing to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee? That is far from certain.

Yadlin has been well-regarded by his political and military superiors - both the last Israel Defense Forces chief of staff and the current one, both the last government and the current one - and is considered a leading candidate to replace Meir Dagan as head of the Mossad either this year or next (depending on whether Dagan's term, which is scheduled to end in December, is extended for another few months ). Yadlin may not be eager for the job, but one can assume he would accept it if the prime minister and defense minister offer it to him.

The key factor in determining whether such an offer is made is likely to be his view of an Israeli military strike on Iran's nuclear facilities. Yadlin, the last of the pilots who carried out the 1981 attack on Iraq's nuclear reactor who is still in active service, has never expressed an opinion on this matter in public; indeed, he has given few interviews and made few public appearances in general.

Dagan and IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi have repeatedly been described over the last year as leading advocates of a moderate approach to Iran. But both of them will soon leave office. Their successors' views on this issue will presumably to have a major impact on all senior defense appointments in the coming months.