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Israeli intelligence expert Yossi Kuperwasser: "China and Russia's support for Iran is one of the reasons for the Hamas attack"

The Middle East is about to explode. The Hamas terrorist attack against Israel and the war that the country's defence forces are currently waging in Gaza may be just the beginning of tragic events. The Israeli army is already covering several fronts and preparing for potential resistance to pro-Iranian forces in Lebanon and Syria. At the same time, it is still unknown whether Iran is inclined to enter a direct confrontation with Israel. spoke with Gen Yossi Kuperwasser, former head of analysis at the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) Directorate of Military Intelligence, about what is happening in the region.

We asked him about the key tasks Israel is pursuing in the Gaza Strip, whether a major war in the region is possible, and why the country's intelligence missed the terrorist attack. At the same time, we learned how Russia and China benefit from the radicals' war against Israel and how Moscow, in particular, will benefit from it. Of course, we also asked the expert whether the various forces in Jerusalem are ready to take advantage of the window of opportunity and improve relations with Kyiv.

Gen Yossi Kuperwasser
Photo: Miriam Alster/ Flash90
Gen Yossi Kuperwasser

"Now the probability of Iran's direct intervention in the war is relatively low"

Do you have a feeling that we are on the verge of a big-scale war in the Middle East? Can we call the current events in the Gaza Strip and around Israel only the beginning of a great tragedy?

It's not clear. It's a possibility that we have to be ready for. And Israel has taken the necessary precautions and the preparations to face such an eventuality. But it's not a necessity because there is a lot of considerations for Hezbollah to reconsider the idea of escalating. They see that Israel is ready. The United States is there. The Lebanese people are very much against it.

Hezbollah, being a terrorist, Islamic, radical, pro-Iranian Shiite organization, may be willing to take steps in order to make sure that the Iran-led axis would not suffer the loss of a very important stronghold, the control of Gaza by Hamas. And it might be ordered by Iran to do that. But at the same time, it is also a Lebanese organization. The leaders of this terrorist group understand that Israel is going to inflict a very heavy blow on Hezbollah if it decides to escalate. So, it's Nasrallah's time to decide. For Nasrallah, the most important thing will be the potential ground offensive by Israel. If this is going to happen, then the pressure on Nasrallah is going to be very big. And we shall be witnessing what he's going to decide.


However, you agree that Tehran has the last word in this terrorist game. And the real leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini, has already stated that his country will support the Lebanese attack as soon as it begins. The Iranians are currently training militants in Syria who are also expected to join the attack on Israel.

Syria and Lebanon can get involved in this war too. According to all kinds of information, we were carrying out air offensive in Syria just the last couple of days. The forces in Syria, as well as in Lebanon, can of course also intervene. The Israeli army has already carried out strikes on Syrian airfields and attacked Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad terrorists in Lebanon. The level of their involvement for the time being is relatively low compared to what happened in Gaza. But there definitely can be a situation where we are going to be attacked from both Syria and Lebaon. Yes, we have already been. But we can be attacked again from Syria and from Lebanon. This is something we take very much into consideration. We put a lot of forces along the borders with Syria and Lebanon, especially Lebanon.

We understand that the main decision and the key of this war is not in the Lebanon hands or in Gaza, but in the Iranian hands. But I see the prospects of Iran directly getting involved in that relatively low. This is why they invest so much in strengthening Hezbollah. This is why they keep sending weapons to Hezbollah, even as the war is being waged in Gaza. They rely on Hezbollah more than themselves in this respect. Definitely, they will start with Hezbollah before they get directly involved.

The message of the United States was first and foremost to Iran before it was to Hezbollah. So even though there was no address attached to the message, those who consider intervening should not do that. That was both for Iran and Hezbollah, but first and foremost Iran. So, I think the Iranians will be cautious although they may use Hezbollah for that purpose.

Do you think that the risk of the war between Israel and Iran at this very moment is pretty low?

For the time being it's pretty low, but it may rise as time goes by if they decide to come to the rescue of Hamas. It might be too late, but they may do that.

And one thing is to be clear, we by ourselves and maybe even with the Americans are ready to face this kind of threat if they are going to make a mistake. They might give us the excuse to take action that we should have maybe taken anyhow, but this is going to be the excuse to do that. So, Teheran has to be very cautious.

Israeli army patrols the city of Sderot, 13 October 2023
Photo: EPA/UPG
Israeli army patrols the city of Sderot, 13 October 2023

A plethora of experts are pointing fingers at Israeli intelligence for this setback. Do you agree with this position?

Yes, definitely there was an intelligence failure, nobody can argue about that. It's frustrating, it's almost exactly 50 years after the Yom Kippur War that we repeat these mistakes, the mistakes that led to the Yom Kippur.

Relevant agencies will have to make an investigation and see what happened exactly. I understand that there were some weak signs that indicated that something is cooking. But definitely the state of mind of the intelligence, not only the intelligence, was that Hamas is deterred, Hamas has lost its capability to carry out massive terror attacks against us, and that Hamas is focused on improving the living conditions of the people living in Gaza; and that if we allowed it to send 18,000 workers from Gaza to Israel, this is going to satisfy them and from now on we can be sure that everything is going to be calm.

We shouldn't have slept on top of that. We should have understood that if they lost certain capabilities, they would work hard on building alternative capabilities, new capabilities, substitutes. They lost the tunnel, they lost the rockets, the effectiveness. They lost the capability to use effectively the UAVs that they have developed for a long time and they lost the capability to use many times offensive measures that they have developed. That was all proven during the Gaza War operation.

What should be Israel's ultimate goals in Gaza? Should the discussion include the elimination of both the military and political wings of Hamas?

Sure, we have to deny Hamas the ability to have any arms that may be used in order to threaten Israel, and we have to deny Hamas the capability to govern Gaza. The international community must understand that Hamas is a terror organization all in all, and the purpose of what they're doing, be it carried out on the military level or terror level or the political level and social level, everything is done in order to enable them to be able to carry out terror attacks against Israel. That's the purpose. Destroy Israel. That's what they are here for.

Items are scattered on the ground after a Palestinian attack that killed more than 260 people during a music festival on 7 October near Raim, Israel, 12 October 2023
Photo: EPA/UPG
Items are scattered on the ground after a Palestinian attack that killed more than 260 people during a music festival on 7 October near Raim, Israel, 12 October 2023

Russians are worried that Israel and the USA could win

Could we say that the key authoritarian powerhouses which are struggling right now with the United States have crafted the second front for the West in the Middle East?

Indirectly, yes. I think that for the Iranian-led axis in the Middle East, the support of China and Russia is something that made them feel more self-confident and readier to take this initiative. The feeling was that they are making progress and together with the Chinese and the Russians they can pose a challenge to the world order and weaken the free countries. That was in a way the background upon which the decision of Hamas was taken. We have also seen that the civilised world has also made significant mistakes: its reactions to Iran's previous actions have been extremely feeble.

Iran is supplying weapons to Russia in its war in Ukraine and nobody does anything about it. Iran is accumulating 60% highly enriched uranium without anybody doing anything about it. Iran is moving forward with its ballistic missiles, launching the satellite and nobody does anything about it. Iran is suppressing its people and nobody does anything about that either. Iran is strengthening its grip in the Middle East and nobody does anything about that. Assad coming back to the fold of the Arab world, nobody is concerned about that.

Also, Israel was showing weakness because of its internal rifts and because of the way it treated Hezbollah in the last years, especially by accepting the strange conditions that Hezbollah forced upon the Israeli government in the gas deal with Lebanon. And they saw the weakening of Abu Maaz in the West Bank and the growing terror activities over there, sponsored by themselves, by Iran and Hamas. They felt that everything is going their way.

And now they are trying to disrupt the agreement between the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia, and no one is doing anything either?

They were concerned that as a result of that the Americans, the Israelis and the Saudis are going to form some sort of a normalization agreement that would stop a little bit or weaken a little bit this tendency of strong growing strength for the radical axis in the Middle East. And that was the time for them to operate. In order to, as they said, this is the way they described the goal, to change the equation.

They believed that by this operation they will change the equation. Unfortunately for them I think the equation is going to be changed in exactly the opposite direction. But that's their miscalculation.

Gen Yossi Kuperwasser
Photo: Flash 90
Gen Yossi Kuperwasser

We have all heard the position of Moscow, which has not supported Israel. Can we speculate that Russia has an interest in a conflict? If so, what would this interest entail?

Well, it's difficult to understand what the Russian interest in the conflict is. I don't think that they were directly involved in the Hamas attack. The Russians definitely don't want the United States to gain anything out of it. And they are worried that if Israel does the right thing and manages to inflict a very heavy blow on Hamas and deprive it from its most important asset, which is the control of Gaza, this is going to have a negative impact on the Russian ally, Iran, that supports it in the war in Ukraine. And this is something they worry about.

Not sure they're going to do anything about it, but they worry about it. That's why they adopted a weird approach to this. Instead of condemning in the harshest way the terror attack, they came out with something that is difficult to understand what they want.

Photo: EPA/UPG

Do you think Putin wants the United States to struggle with the new second front?

Yes, of course. There are benefits for the Russians when the United States has to worry about some other things than Russia and spend money and efforts elsewhere. There are benefits for Russia. Yes, I think that all in all he's satisfied with that, but at the same time he's worried that once the United States intervenes in supporting Israel, his friends are going to suffer.

A few months ago, when I saw the Americans building up their capabilities in Lebanon, I realised that something was about to happen in Israel. You probably heard about it too. I think the US was preparing for possible bad scenarios. What was not ready was Europe, which, by the way, is heavily dependent on Middle Eastern energy. Do you also think that Europeans made a mistake?

Europeans have a very long history of misunderstanding the situation in the Middle East. However, I think that more and more people, even in Europe, understand that this is not only about Israel and the way to fight back against terror, but this is the axis that stands there for radicalism and terrorism. And if you don't stand with Israel at this point, then the next thing that's going to happen is that this Hamas horrific terror attack is going to inspire more terror attacks from other radical Muslim organizations. That's why it's not only about Israel, it's about the security of the West which both the terrorists and the other authoritarian regimes seek to undermine.

Rishi Sunak during a visit to the Finchley Synagogue in central London
Photo: PA
Rishi Sunak during a visit to the Finchley Synagogue in central London

And that's why I think that the Europeans this time are going to at least for a while show a different attitude. We hear statements in support of Israel and the corresponding actions of the leaders of the UK, Germany, France, Italy, and Austria. They are trying to help us. So there is a chance that certain things will change.

"Relations between Kyiv and Jerusalem can be further improved now. It is very important"

Ukraine has openly supported Israel. President Zelenskyy recently said that Israel has the right to defend itself and that every leader of the free world ought to pay a solidarity visit to Israel now. Do you believe that a window of opportunity has opened, allowing our countries to establish better relations?

From our point of view, we are very friendly with Ukraine and we support Ukraine in its war against Russia. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met Volodymyr Zelenskyy at the UN. Relations are good.

The fact that President Zelenskyy and Ukraine in general quite publicly and loudly stand on the side of Israel, what the president said, is an opportunity for Israel and Ukraine to further improve the relations. It's very important.

Photo: Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Benjamin Netanyahu

What practical steps can be taken?

Our ability to give more military assistance to Ukraine is going to be questionable because we really need everything we have to protect ourselves. But we could struggle together against Iran, for instance. But we can struggle together against Iran. We can share intelligence, we can share a lot of knowledge about warfare that both of us are going to gain from experiencing the need to fight against the opponents each of us has. There are many tactical methods that can be learned from each other that are necessary in this battle. I'm quite sure that this opportunity is going to be taken advantage of.

Oleksandr DemchenkoOleksandr Demchenko, editor of the World section
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