According to a report in the Israeli daily Haaretz, Mossad chief Tamir Pardo told a gathering of about 100 Israeli ambassadors that, while Iran’s nuclear program does constitute a threat and Israel will continue to do covert work to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions (hand-in-hand with the U.S.), an Iranian nuclear weapon would not necessarily pose an “existential threat” to the Jewish State. Based on the accounts of three ambassadors at the meeting, Haaretz’s Barak Ravid quoted Pardo as saying:
What is the significance of the term existential threat? Does Iran pose a threat to Israel? Absolutely. 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.
The remarks stand in contrast to frequent statements from hawkish Israeli leaders, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, that Iran poses an “existential threat” to Israel. But others have disagreed with the assessment. This year, Defense Minister Ehud Barak was quoted as saying, “I am not among those who believe Iran is an existential issue for Israel.” A former Mossad chief, Ephraim Halevy, also suggested Iran didn’t pose such a threat and issued a warning about the potential consequences of an attack. (That lines up with yet another former Mossad chief’s assessment, as well as other former high-ranking Israeli security officials.)
While Iran’s program does constitute a threat to nuclear non-proliferation efforts as well as Israel’s security — exacerbated by a long history of belligerent anti-Israel rhetoric from among Iran’s top leadership — comments like Pardo’s seem to be pushing back against one casus belli. The U.S. has vowed to not take any “options off the table” for dealing with Iran’s program, and calls an Iranian nuclear weapon unacceptable. The top U.S. military officer recently said he doesn’t know if Israel would warn the U.S. before attacking Iran.