- ISRAEL HAYOM - Yoav Limor - SEP 9, 2022 -
IDF commander Col. T. breaks media silence to warn that over the years, Iran has accumulated money and weapons for its nuclear program, terror activities and proxies in the region. He says the IDF must prepare to strike a blow if and when necessary, otherwise "we may wake up to developments that we were not prepared for in time."
This is a wake-up call. There is no other way to describe it. It is not about the IDF wanting more budgets or changes. They will, of course, need that as well, but that's not the main part. When we do wake up, it might be too late. It will be just like with the 1973 Yom Kippur War: whatever we do not invest in deterrence now we will have to invest many times over later.
We should really listen. The speaker knows a thing or two about it. This is his task, which has become a life mission. As a fighter pilot, squad leader, and squadron commander, he knows the operational aspects well. In his current position, he learned the rest: strategy, intel, planning, politics, economics, and above all, passion. The same passion that keeps him up at night.
It's all about Iran. Yes, Iran again. But not the Iran we knew. Meaning, that it's not just about its nuclear program and the usual warnings, but much more. More than what's been made known until now, more than was presented, more than the public and decision-makers in Israel and the world understand. The IDF has finally got it. Late in the game, but finally it understands, as does the Mossad and the security echelon.
Now it's only time for the politicians, who are preoccupied with the upcoming election, to catch up. Unless they wake up soon, we might all wake up to a very different reality soon.
"A regional superpower is emerging next to us"
Col. T. is the head of the IDF General Staff's Strategy and Third-Circle Directorate, which was established two years ago with the understanding that Iran requires more focus and attention than any other arena.
The reason his name is not mentioned fully in this interview is because he is still an active fighter pilot, who often participates in operations. It was his squadron that intercepted the long-range drone Iran launched into Israel last year, a matter that was kept secret until recently.
The directorate he heads was established to shape a plan against the Iranian threat, which Col. T. predicts is a challenge that Israel will face "in the coming decades, and it will only intensify."
"The Iran [we knew] in 2000 or 2010 was completely different from the Iran of 2020. This requires us to act differently. First of all, to establish an entity that will organize the outlooks and build approaches, on the basis of which it will be possible to plan operational plans and make the necessary preparations and adjustments," he said in his first exclusive interview. "It's a process that will only intensify, because the challenge we see is so great going forward, that it requires us to prepare long-term, with budgets and infrastructure that will match the size of the challenge that awaits us."
Iran has been a concern for Israel for decades, but the nuclear agreement that was signed between the Islamist Republic and world powers in 2015 – officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – allowed to IDF to use its resources for other matters, mainly Ground Forces, with the understanding that the Iran issue was postponed for several years.
However, the US withdrawal from the accord in 2018 as well as Iran's nuclear progress, terror activities, and efforts to strengthen its proxies in the region required the military to return to the issue.
Q: How would you describe Iran the way it is today?
"A regional superpower is emerging next to us, which constitutes the main threat to the State of Israel and challenges the Israeli security approach many years ahead. This will force us to prepare accordingly, invest resources, and pay attention. Unless we take this seriously, we may wake up to developments that we were not prepared for in time."
According to Col. T, this is not purely a military, but also a national challenge. The IDF is leading this fight, but it cannot do this alone, and a shift is required in the national understanding.
"Iran challenges us on several levels," Col. T. continued. "The first, in their quest for nuclear power. The second, in the proxies they are trying to position around us, whether it is Hezbollah in Lebanon, whether it is the desire to establish a base in Syria, or whether it is the support for the Shiite militias in Iraq, Yemen or the Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Gaza Strip.
"The third thing is that Iran is the largest and most dangerous supplier of weapons, capabilities, means and technology to all our enemies. And when you combine all these components into one picture of the challenge that Iran poses to us, it is a challenge that obliges us to prepare for it with the utmost seriousness, certainly when accompanied by the fact that Iran denies our existence and actively works to make sure we are not here in 10, 20 or 30 years.
"It is working to achieve this with ideology, money, budgets, trying to hurt us no matter where we are, and when it comes to a regional power gaining strength, and it also has many means and reserves and will have even more advanced capabilities in the not too distant future – this is a major challenge to our security."
Q: Hasn't this been the case for many years?
"The vectors were there, but the threat of this capacity was not. Iran has made a dramatic leap forward in its military capability. In 2000, it had no possibility of hitting us from Iran. In 2010, it had several hundred inaccurate missiles. If you look at its arsenal today, at the number of precise missiles it has, on how it arms our enemies – this is a different Iran. So the nuclear issue is, of course, the main threat, but along with it there is a threat developing here on a scale that we've never known before, which is only going to increase in the coming years and requires us to be prepared and deal with it differently."
Q: What exactly do you mean?
For example, "If today Iran has hundreds of missiles and drones that can reach us from Iran, in 2025 it will have thousands. All of them of the precise kind."
Q: And what does that mean for Israel?
"Israel has incredible layers of defense, but our preparation against Iran should also be an offensive preparation so that if we come to a confrontation we can defend ourselves, but also deal such a painful blow to Iran in return, that they will not think of trying to provoke us again."
Col T. believes that Iran is not currently interested in a broad confrontation with Israel, but is preparing itself for such a possibility in the future. The more Iran's military prowess grows, the more likely it is to act or join in case of a war with Hezbollah in the north.
"Iran is not alone, it is trying to create a regional system. And members of this system will want to protect each other. Therefore, when we look ahead, we need to prepare not only for one arena but to deal with the entire Iranian system.
"Iran is not just Iran itself, Iran is the regional system it is trying to create. And this system will want to protect and protect each other. Therefore, when we look ahead, we need to prepare not only for one arena but to deal with the entire Iranian system," he said.
"It's not just about the pilot in the cockpit"
Col. T. stays away from the media and does not meet with journalists. His interview with Israel Hayom is the first he's ever given due to what he said was the emergency and importance of the matter.
He is 43 years old and married with four children. For many years he lived on an air force base where he served, but now the family lives in a kibbutz in the south. He has a bachelor's degree in accounting and finance as well as governance, democracy, and strategy and a master's degree in national security. In his previous role, he was the second commander of 140 Squadron and led efforts to integrate the F-35 aircraft into operational activities in various arenas.
In the early 2000s, he was supposed to be one of the leaders of the attack on the Iranian nuclear sites, that is until the nuclear agreement was signed and the plan was shelved. He has spent hundreds of hours preparing and knows the arena in great detail. When asked about that time, Col. T. smiles. At the end of the day, combat flying is his greatest love.
Q: What would you say is relevant to 2022 from that time when Israel was most ready to attack Iran?
"First of all, that it is incredibly important, and doing it means dealing with the greatest potential threat to the State of Israel. Second, that there is no one else to do it, that our destiny is in our hands and that we should be prepared for it. And third, to be proud that we have the ability, means, intelligence, weapons, and fighters – all the components that ultimately lead to the ability in the end."
Q: Did you think at the time that we would strike Iran?
"We were very, very, very seriously involved. I didn't know if it was going to happen, and it's not the point either. Our job is to be prepared for what they ask of us. And that's what we did. We trained as hard and as best as we knew how to, so that when they asked – the ability would be there ".
Q: Was it in a way disappointing when you weren't sent on the mission after all that preparation?
"Absolutely not. It provides a sense of security that you are only called upon on a mission when needed. You trust the decision makers not to do something that is not necessary, and when they do go ahead, you know that it is important enough for the security of the country."
LEIA MAIS >