Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi provided a comprehensive review of the strategic security issues shaping the Middle East at the Herzliya Conference yesterday
Head of the Military Intelligence Directorate Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi spoke at the 13th annual Herzliya Conference (Thursday March 14) where he delivered a comprehensive review of the strategic changes currently shaping the Middle East and the threats that such changes pose to Israel’s national security.
The Iranian threat
The Head of the Military Intelligence Directorate related to the Iranian nuclear program, and was explicit in describing the great threat that Iran poses to the security of the State of Israel, describing it as Israel’s “primary threat”.
“We estimate that they will continue to advance their nuclear program,” he said, explaining that “Iran does not see a high chance of a military attack by the international community on [their] nuclear facilities.”
Maj. Gen. Kochavi said that the Iranian government is in possession of the necessary infrastructure to procure nuclear weapons. “Right now [Iran] has ten thousand spinning centrifuges and another five thousand have been installed,” he said, adding that “should the [President of Iran Mahmoud Ahmadinejad] decide to move forward towards a bomb, they already have enough material for five or six bombs.”
Maj. Gen. Kochavi said that despite the progress of Iran’s nuclear program, the international community still has the power to stop them. “The [international] pressure on Iran is intensifying and the economic sanctions are influencing Iran in the most significant way,” he said, adding that such sanctions will become an ever-more influential factor in the decision making in Iran.
Changing Middle East
The intelligence chief stated the IDF’s Intelligence Directorate has identified three central pillars around which the most significant changes influencing the region revolve: the economic situation, social upheaval and Islamization.
“The social upheaval is here to stay,” Maj. Gen. Kochavi said, referring to the massive political and social changes that have occurred throughout the Middle East in recent years. “It will continue to seethe and bubble and remain the central determining factor in the Middle East,” he said.
Maj. Gen. Kochavi explained that the social upheaval has removed many of the Middle East’s traditional power structures from authority leaving room for radical Islam to take over. “[The upheaval] is becoming more violent every day, and it is creating a vacuum which is being filled with Islamist and Jihadist political factions,” he warned.
The Head of Military Intelligence said that while political turmoil abounds, governance has vanished and borders are being breached, leaving Israel surrounded by increasingly lawless areas. The lack of control, he says, is leading to the unfettered passage of weapons and munitions. “For the first time in decades Israel has four active borders which could open up from terror attacks,” Maj. Gen. Kochavi said.
The rise of terror in Syria
Maj. Gen. Kochavi related to the sustained political turmoil in Syria, saying that there too radical Islamism has risen up to fill the void left by political instability. “For some of the [new terror] organizations, Israel is not the focus, but the moment they accomplish their Plan A – the fall of Assad, for instance – they will turn their energy towards Israel,” he said.
Elaborating on the situation in Syria, Maj. Gen. Kochavi said that “it is necessary to think of Syria not as a complete state, but as Assad’s state and the rebels’ state – which includes two thirds of Syria’s populated area.” The intelligence chief added that there are rebel enclaves camped all along the border in the Golan Heights from where they lead the day to day fighting.
“11 of 17 crossings [from Syria into the demilitarized UNDOF zone] are in the hands of the rebels, which enables the passage of refugees, weapons and even Jihadist elements,” Maj. Gen. Kochavi said.
The Head of Military Intelligence went on to say that Hezbollah, a traditional ally of Assad, is concerned that should he lose power, Iran may lose free passage through Syria to arm the Lebanese terror organization – a concern which has caused them to become involved in the conflict.
“Assad is intensifying cooperation with Hezbollah and Iran, which maintain presences in Syria, and are the primary supports of his regime,” Maj. Gen. Kochavi said. “The damage of Syria’s demise would be very grave for them. Iran would lose its only Arab ally which borders Israel and thus lose the capability to open fire on Israel from Syria,” Maj. Gen. Kochavi said.
The IDF’s intelligence chief revealed that to prevent Assad’s demise, Hezbollah are currently training a 50,000-strong militia to fight the rebels in Syria – with hopes to recruit 50,000 more. “Hezbollah is losing a cooperative partner in operations against Israel,” he said.
Islamism on the rise
Maj. Gen. Kochavi explained how the phenomenon emerging from the social upheaval of the rapid spread of Islamist groups throughout the Middle East is changing the political map. “The most central movement to emerge from the social upheaval is the Muslim Brotherhood which has grown from an esoteric movement into an influential body which has spread throughout the Middle East,” the intelligence chief said. “It is in Egypt, a variation of it is in Turkey, it is in the Gaza Strip, it has close partners in Tunisia, Morocco and Libya, and it is becoming stronger in Jordan and Syria,” he said.
The Head of Military Intelligence went on to explain that the spread of the Muslim Brotherhood reflects a larger shift in the geopolitical makeup of the region.”In the past we divided the Middle East into radical and moderate axes – these axes no longer exist,” he said.
“Today, the Middle East is being redefined into Shiite and Sunni camps,” Maj. Gen. Kochavi said, “which explains things like why Hamas has distanced itself from Iran in recent months and is moving closer to Egypt and Turkey, or why Iran is arming the Shiite minority in Yemen.” He went on to explain that the shift from a nationalist to a religious approach has realigned alliances between the countries in the region and that the new approach increases the perspective of Israel as a foreign, unacceptable element in the Middle East.