Maj. Gen. (res.) Amos Gilad, the former research chief at Military Intelligence, told Haaretz that a U.S. withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear agreement with the big powers would mainly help Iran.
Gilad, also the former director of the political-security division at the Defense Ministry, said over the weekend that although he had reservations about the nuclear agreement when it was signed, he now believed that an American commitment to the deal remained the least bad option.
Referring to last Monday’s presentation by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Iran’s nuclear program, Gilad said the material obtained by the Mossad did not prove that the Iranians were violating the nuclear agreement.
“Israel needs to prioritize the threats against it,” said Gilad, who is also a former coordinator of government activities in the territories. “If Iran now continues to suspend its nuclear project for eight or 10 years, in accordance with the agreement, that will let us focus on more urgent threats relating to the Iranian army establishing a presence in Syria, and preparing the Israeli army for the possibility that, in the future, we’ll have to deal with the nuclear [issue] if a confrontation erupts.”
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As he put it, “Even after Netanyahu’s impressive news conference, I don’t see other countries, other than the United States, taking a stance in favor of abandoning the agreement. Russia is a strategic partner of Iran’s in Syria. China trades with Iran and the Europeans aren’t budging from their position” supporting the agreement.
“An American announcement that it’s withdrawing from the agreement would let Iran drive a wedge between the world powers and gradually loosen international oversight over its nuclear program. If the Americans abandon the agreement, they have to prepare for alternatives, and I don’t see this being done.”
Even though Gilad takes issue with Netanyahu on the Iranian nuclear agreement, he supports Israel’s tough line on the Iranian presence in Syria. “We’ve learned an important historical lesson. We’ve seen Hezbollah gain strength over more than 30 years in Lebanon and attain an ability that lets it threaten the Israeli civilian front, our Achilles’ heel in their view,” he said.
“If we now allow Iran to make a similar move in Syria, we’ll get a second front with missiles deep in Syria and Shi’ite militias in the [Syrian] Golan Heights. That’s part of an Iranian attempt to build a regional mini-empire of sorts. If we don’t stop these moves now, we’ll pay a much higher price later.”
Gilad said Israel could still stop Iran from entrenching itself in Syria without sparking an outright war. “A bitter domestic confrontation is developing in Iran that can also be seen in mass demonstrations in which chants are heard against investing money in Syria and in Hezbollah,” he said.
“There are broad circles in Tehran that think ‘it’s a waste of our money.’ If Israel’s military activity is carried out in a low-profile manner and effectively, it could cause them to rethink their strategy in the north. Personally, I wouldn’t assume Israeli responsibility for any offensive action that’s carried out. We need to maintain ambiguity because any public announcement, even when everyone knows who attacked, is humiliating to the other side and pushes it into reacting.”
Gilad also expressed major concerns about the state of affairs in Palestinian politics. “We see how the [Palestinian] Authority is losing altitude. Its diplomatic horizon is blocked and Abu Mazen is portrayed to the Palestinians as useless,” Gilad said, referring to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
“Hamas is back now on the Gaza border presenting an alternative path of violent demonstrations, and its moves are directed at [Palestinian] public opinion in Judea and Samaria [the West Bank] and East Jerusalem. In the near term, the transfer of the American embassy to Jerusalem, Nakba Day demonstrations and the beginning of the month of Ramadan come together to create a large explosive charge,” he added.
“Abu Mazen is fading and there is no leadership to replace him because he isn’t letting it grow. For years we’ve enjoyed relative quiet in the territories thanks to security cooperation with the Palestinian Authority, our intelligence superiority and Hamas’ weak position. Abu Mazen has helped us obtain calm security and personal security for our citizens. We need to begin planning for a new era in which bad developments get stronger.”
Gilad said he has been pessimistic for years about the chances of achieving a two-state solution with the Palestinians, but Abbas’ expected retirement decreases the chance of such a solution even further and also endangers the security situation in the territories.
“If the Palestinians are pushed into a diplomatic corner without him, the security situation vis-à-vis them could worsen. Israel is strong from a security standpoint and is capable of dealing with several military challenges at the same time, but it’s clear that we’d be better off maintaining the quiet on the Palestinian front.”
As chairman of the upcoming Herzliya Conference sponsored by the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center, Gilead is presiding over the institution’s 18th such event, which runs for three days beginning Tuesday. The conference will feature more than 100 experts on security and strategy, including more than 40 guests from abroad.