The head of Israel’s Mossad spy agency has said a nuclear Iran might not pose an “existential threat” to the Jewish state, in remarks reported Thursday by Haaretz newspaper.
“Does Iran pose a threat to Israel? Absolutely,” the daily quoted Mossad chief Tamir Pardo as telling a group of Israeli ambassadors.
“But if one said a nuclear bomb in Iranian hands was an existential threat that would mean that we would have to close up shop and go home. That’s not the situation. The term ‘existential threat’ is used too freely,” he said.
His remarks, which were made on Tuesday, stood in contrast to the position of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu which was laid out two months ago in remarks at the opening of the parliament's winter session.
“A nuclear Iran would pose a dire threat to the Middle East and to the entire world,” he told MPs. “And of course, it poses a grave, direct threat to us too.”
Speaking with the same ambassadors earlier on Tuesday, President Shimon Peres said Israel had “answers” to any threat posed by Iran but it was not the Jewish state’s sole responsibility to deal with the issue.
“Israel has the answers to the Iranian problem but it is the responsibility of the whole world to solve it,” he said. “This cannot be transformed into an Israeli monopoly.”
A report published by the International Atomic Energy Agency in November expressed “serious concerns” that Iran had “carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device.”
Iran says its nuclear program is peaceful and rejected the report as “baseless.”
Israel is widely suspected to have the Middle East’s sole if undeclared nuclear arsenal.
U.S. aircraft carrier
Meanwhile, a U.S. aircraft carrier entered a zone near the Strait of Hormuz being used by the Iranian navy for wargames, an Iranian official said Thursday amid rising tensions over the key oil-transit channel.
“A U.S. aircraft carrier was spotted inside the maneuver zone... by a navy reconnaissance aircraft,” Commodore Mahmoud Mousavi, the spokesman for the Iranian exercises, told the official IRNA news agency.
Iranian planes and vessels took video and photos of the U.S. ship and the weaponry and aircraft it was carrying, he added, according to a report carried by state television.
“We are prepared, in accordance with international law, to confront offenders who do not respect our security perimeters during the maneuvers,” the IRIB network quoted Mousavi as saying.
“We suggest that trans-regional forces completely and seriously take any warning issued by any unit of (Iran’s) naval forces,” he said.
One of the biggest warships
The US aircraft carrier was believed to the USS John C. Stennis, one of the U.S. navy’s biggest warships.
U.S. officials announced Wednesday that the ship and its accompanying carrier strike group moved through the Strait of Hormuz, a narrow stretch at the entrance to the Gulf that is the world’s most important choke point for oil shipments.
After warnings from the Iranian government and navy this week that Iran could close the strait if threatened by further Western sanctions, the U.S. Defense Department warned Wednesday that such actions “will not be tolerated.”
The United States maintains a navy presence in the Gulf in large part to ensure oil traffic there is unhindered.
Iran, which is already subject to several rounds of sanctions over its nuclear program, has repeatedly said it could target the Strait of Hormuz if attacked or its economy is strangled.
Such a move could cause havoc in the world oil market, disrupting the fragile global economy.
The Islamic republic is halfway through 10 days of navy exercises in international waters to the east of the strait that have included the laying of mines and the use of aerial drones, according to Iranian media.
Missiles and torpedoes were to be test fired in coming days.
The wargames zone covers an area of 2,000 square kilometers (770 square miles) in the Gulf of Oman into the Gulf of Aden, according to Iranian media.
So far, Iran and the United States have limited themselves to rhetoric and naval maneuvers. But analysts and the oil market are watching the situation carefully, fearing a spark that could ignite open confrontation between the longtime foes.
The United States had proposed a military hotline between Tehran and Washington to defuse any “miscalculations” that could occur as their navies brush against each other. But Iran in September rejected that offer.