The conference at Netanya Academic College last week in memory of Meir Dagan, the legendary Mossad head who died in 2016, was an occasion for current and former defense chiefs to discuss the threats facing Israel. The Israel Defense Forces chief of staff, Gadi Eisenkot, Mossad chief Yossi Cohen and his predecessor Tamir Pardo voiced their opinions and they weren’t identical.
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Dagan, like many Israelis, was haunted by the Holocaust. In his office he kept the famous photograph of his grandfather kneeling before German soldiers before being shot. His life was dedicated to averting dangers to Israel and making sure the Jewish people would never be defenseless again. His major objective as Mossad chief was setting back the Iranian nuclear project. It’s natural that Cohen, the current Mossad chief, has pointed to Iran as the greatest threat facing Israel.
In possession of medium-range ballistic missiles and on the verge of the ability to produce nuclear warheads for these missiles, the Iranian theocracy that has pledged Israel’s destruction constitutes a real threat to Israel.
Is this threat existential, can it conceivably wipe Israel off the map, or can it be neutralized by being deterred by Israel’s capability to respond under all circumstances? Is a balance of terror being established between Iran and Israel similar to the one between the Soviet Union and United States during the Cold War, a balance that prevented an escalation into mutual destruction?
Ronald Reagan felt uncomfortable with this balance of terror, and Israeli leaders shouldn’t begin to feel comfortable with such a balance with Iran. Constant alertness is required, and that’s Yossi Cohen’s job.
Eisenkot’s job is dealing with imminent threats to Israel, and Hezbollah’s vast rocket and missile arsenal poses such a threat. The probability of a rocket and missile attack by Hezbollah on Israel is certainly not zero, and the damage such an attack would cause is likely to be very great. No wonder Hassan Nasrallah feels confident that he has gained immunity from any Israeli strike against his arsenal.
Israel should never have allowed Hezbollah’s capability to grow to this point, but now that it’s here it’s the greatest challenge facing the IDF and its commander. We must remember that the orders to Hezbollah come from Tehran, and thus the Iranian threat and the Hezbollah threat are in the final analysis intimately connected.
Pardo, the former Mossad chief, argued that the failure to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was the only real threat to Israel’s existence. According to Pardo, not solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and not separating from the Palestinians will end Israel as we know it, or Israel as a “Jewish democratic state.” This is being said by those on the Israeli left advocating a two-state solution, and it's frequently repeated by critics of the Israeli government abroad.
The facts on the ground do not confirm this theory. It’s almost 50 years since Israel was attacked by Jordan in 1967 and 12 years since the uprooting of Israeli settlers and the Gaza disengagement, and although just before the Six-Day War there was a feeling in Israel that its very existence was in danger, that doesn’t seem to be the case now.
Pardo’s pessimistic prognostication is based on a long-range forecast whose accuracy, as is the case with most long-range forecasts, is questionable. It should, however, draw our attention to the need to actively promote the integration of the Israeli Arab community into Israel’s society and economy. While they certainly do not constitute a danger to Israel, their continued integration is essential for the country.
Israel faced an existential danger when it was attacked by the armies of the surrounding Arab states in 1948, and there was a feeling in the days before the Six-Day-War and during the first two days of the Yom Kippur War that Israel’s existence was in danger. Since then Israel’s existence seems assured.