IDF Chief: Iran Deal Contains Risks, but Also Opportunities for Israel

Lt. Gen Gadi Eisenkot says current wave of Palestinian terror is ‘serious challenge’; labels Hezbollah IDF’s main enemy.

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot addressing the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, January 18, 2015.
Moti Milrod

Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot called the recent lifting of sanctions against Iran a “strategic turning point regarding a key threat,” one the IDF has been dealing with for a decade, and added that although the nuclear agreement between Iran and the six world powers contained “many risks,” it also featured "opportunities" for Israel.

According to Eisenkot, who spoke Monday at the Institute for National Security Studies’s annual conference in Tel Aviv, Iran will still aspire to obtain nuclear weapons, but that the Islamic republic “is waging a battle against Israel by proxy.” Today, he said, the IDF’s main enemy is Hezbollah.

According to Eisenkot, 130 to 140 Iranians had been killed in the fighting in Syria, after they were sent there as advisers and combat troops. Another 300 to 400 Iranians, according to Israeli assessments, have been wounded in the fighting in Syria. Hezbollah has suffered much heavier losses – some 1,300 fighters killed and another 5,000 wounded, added Eisenkot.

The IDF chief also admitted that the current wave of Palestinian terror presented a “serious challenge,” with none of the 101 stabbing attacks since October being preceded by an intelligence warning.

Eisenkot said the security establishment deemed it vital to distinguish between Palestinian terrorists and the rest of the population. The fact that 120,000 Palestinians go to work every day in Israel or in industrial zones in the Jewish settlements is a moderating factor, he said, adding, “It would be a bitter mistake to impose curfews and closures – that would work against Israeli interests.” He stressed it was important to maintain hope among the Palestinians that they will be able to make a living.

ISIS - 'very impressive'

The military chief labeled the achievements of the Islamic State group in Syria as “very impressive,” especially considering it was not a militarily powerful group and was fighting regular forces like the Syrian army. However, Eisenkot said the past few months have seen ISIS’s successes halted and even reversed.

Eisenkot believes the fighting in Syria will continue for many years, despite the involvement of Russia and the United States. He said there was also a possibility that ISIS would turn its weapons against Israel and Jordan, but that in Sinai, Islamic State activities could actually be blocked by the efforts of the Egyptian army.

As for Gaza, Eisenkot said that since Operation Protective Edge in the summer of 2014, there has not been a single case of Islamic Jihad or Hamas firing from the Gaza Strip. “All the incidents were of groups challenging them and seeking to heat things up,” he said.

However, the chief of staff warned that Hamas has been “working to rebuild its attack tunnels into Israel, as well as to replenish its supply of rockets.” Eisenkot said Iranian assistance to Hamas in its “major engineering-intelligence efforts” amounted to the tens of millions of dollars.