Iran presents the most dangerous existential threat today to Israel as a Jewish state and it is also a threat to the Israel-Arab peace process.
There is a very serious Iranian effort to develop a nuclear bomb, and the Russians have played a very significant role here. Without the transfer of nuclear technologies from Russia, Iran could not maintain its current pace of progress in the development of nuclear weapons.
Tehran often emerges as the source of funding behind terrorist attacks in Israel. In June 2003, the Iranians ordered a terror squad to quickly carry out suicide bombings in a Petah Tikva shopping mall in order to derail negotiations between Israel and the PA. Fortunately, Israel intercepted the terrorists and their explosive belts before they reached their target.
Iranian Revolutionary Guards, together with Hizballah, have deployed some 10,000 Katyusha rockets and several hundred long-range rockets in southern Lebanon that put all of northern Israel within their range.
Iran presents the most dangerous existential threat today to Israel as a Jewish state and is a threat to the Israel-Arab peace process. The threat is three-tiered, involving the development of weapons of mass destruction, direct support for terror, and an immediate missile threat along Israel’s northern border.
The Nuclear Threat
Iran’s development of weapons of mass destruction will pose a threat to Israel’s very existence. Recently, leaders of the Iranian opposition, based in Washington, displayed satellite pictures of a site in Iran where hundreds of centrifuges have been assembled in an effort to produce weapons-grade uranium. It is clear now that the Iranians have embarked on what the professionals call the “plutogenic” course. One way to acquire weapons-grade fissile material is through the processing of plutonium, and it is reasonable that they are using the technique of laser enrichment of uranium as well. There is a very serious Iranian effort to develop a nuclear bomb, and the assessment is that it is going to happen in two or three years, no doubt in the second half of this decade.
The Russians have played a very significant role here. It is very clear that without the transfer of nuclear technologies from Russia, Iran could not maintain the current pace of progress in development of a nuclear weapon. While there have been a few Russian gestures, all efforts to convince Russian governments to effectively stop the transfer of technology have failed.
The moment the theocratic regime in Iran acquires a nuclear bomb deliverable by long-range missile – and Iran may already have a missile with a range of between 1,300 and 5,000 km – they will be able to blackmail the countries of the Persian Gulf, the Middle East, parts of Europe, Russia, and Africa. Admiral Ali Shamkhani, the Iranian minister of defense, declared on Iran’s Revolution Day in August 1998 that the aspiration of the Iranian regime is to give direct support to every Islamic organization or community everywhere on the globe. This is Iran’s ideology, soon to be matched by the means to achieve it.
On the same Revolution Day, long-range Shihab-3 missiles were displayed at the military parade in Tehran with slogans printed on the missiles: “Israel must be wiped out” and “The U.S. can do nothing.” Iran’s desire to wipe out Israel remains one of the ideological fundamentals of this regime.
The Threat of Terrorism
Tehran also directly supports terror as a means to destroy the Jewish state. The Iranian regime believes that under the persistent pressure of casualties, Israeli society will gradually erode and will implode. Unfortunately, the Iranians consider the circumstances that brought about Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon in May 2000 as an example. They believe that Israeli society cannot stand a long war of attrition, especially where the civilian population is the target.
Tehran often emerges as the source of funding behind terrorist attacks in Israel. Iran supports, directs, and finances Islamic Jihad; supports and trains Hamas operatives; and encourages both groups to continue with suicide bombings. Ramadan Shalah, the commander of Islamic Jihad, visited Tehran last year and was told very clearly – it was published – that the more terrorist operations carried out, the more money his group would receive.
For almost a year, the Iranians have been trying to penetrate Fatah-Tanzim and the Al Aksa Brigades terror squads, and to activate them against the Palestinian government as well, especially since the appointment of Mahmud Abbas as the new Palestinian prime minister. Iran wants to use them for provocations to undermine the authority of the Palestinian government and to delay the peace process.
The most recent example occurred in June 2003 when the various Palestinian factions were about to sign a hudna (cease-fire) among themselves. The Iranians sent suicide bombers, who said they belonged to the Al Aksa Brigades in the northern West Bank, to attack a shopping mall in Petah Tikva near Tel Aviv. Fortunately, Israeli security forces intercepted the terrorists and their explosive belts in Kfar Kassem, an Israeli Arab town inside the “green line.” We know that Iran gave the order to this terror squad to act quickly in a way that would be very painful to Israel in order to derail negotiations with the Palestinian Authority.
Northern Israel in Rocket Range
After the IDF withdrawal from southern Lebanon, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and Hizballah, with the permission and approval of Syria, deployed roughly 10,000 Katyusha rockets and several hundred long-range rockets with a range of up to 45 miles, that can hit all of northern Israel. Some of these rockets are directly controlled by the Iranians. The Syrians also provided Hizballah with long-range rockets. The result is that one out of five Israelis lives under the shadow of this threat. The rockets are operational and Hizballah is waiting for an opportunity to use them.
In my opinion, these rockets are the largest danger that awaits the peace process down the road, and they could even become the detonator of a full-fledged regional military confrontation. This threat could be diffused if Syria decided on the removal of these rockets from southern Lebanon. The key to events in Lebanon is in Syrian hands, but someone has to convince the Syrians to make this decision.
As we see, even after the removal of Saddam Hussein, Israel still faces very real threats to its security and must continue to make all the preparations and to take all the necessary precautions to forestall these dangers. In addition, we have asked the international community, and especially the European Union, not to appease the regime in Tehran.
Israel seeks no conflict with any Muslim state. We have excellent relations with Turkey, Egypt, and other Muslim countries, and one day we will have formal relations with Indonesia and Pakistan. Furthermore, there is no conflict between Israel and the Iranian people. In the past we had wonderful cooperation, and Israel and Iran are natural friends, if not allies. Israel’s problem is with the current Iranian regime, which spreads an ideology of hatred and which does not accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state in the Middle East.
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Brig. Gen. (res.) Dr. Ephraim Sneh, M.D., is Chair of the Knesset Subcommittee on Defense Planning and Policy. Dr. Sneh commanded the medical team at the Entebbe, Uganda, rescue operation in 1976, and has served as Israel’s Minister of Health, Deputy Minister of Defense, and Minister of Transportation. This Jerusalem Issue Brief is based on his presentation at the Institute for Contemporary Affairs in Jerusalem on 2 July 2003.