Tomer spoke to the Post about a range of issues relating to Iran, intelligence and national security, leading into Wednesday’s conference in Tel Aviv on intelligence sponsored by the Intelligence Heritage and Commemoration Center and Israel Defense, where he will be a featured speaker.
Tomer, who held top positions until 2014 in the Mossad – working with foreign intelligence agencies and in operations, technology and other units – was focused on two prior dilemmas regarding Iran: “How to deter Iran; and can Israel… promote regime change?”
He explained that, “the big problem isn’t that Iran has conventional missiles or potentially worse. The problem is this Khomeini-ist Islamic state... has a defining goal of destroying Israel” which, combined with “weapons of mass destruction, [presents] a very deadly scenario.”
“We can deal with the threat itself: nuclear weapons, conventional Iranian missiles. We can defend against them. But [US] President [Donald] Trump’s actions on the Iran situation have created a major opening… to carefully weigh pushing for regime change as a formal goal,” he said.
Elaborating, he said that since the ayatollahs took control of Iran in 1979, there have been regular rounds of protests illustrating the regime’s socio-economic weakness and its unpopularity with a wide range of the Iranian public.
Importantly, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is old and has been sick for a long time. While there are debates about how sick he is, Tomer points out that most expect he will not last much longer and that his successor will not have nearly the same status or control.
He said that Israel could clandestinely help facilitate regime change, while the Saudis could help finance it and the US could support it on various fronts – if all of the parties worked together as part of a cohesive strategy.
Admitting that Israel failed in its attempt to facilitate regime change in Lebanon in the 1980s – when its handpicked peace-promoting Lebanese president Bashir Gemayel was assassinated and Lebanon almost immediately switched back to confrontation with Israel – but he said that its failure should not disqualify Israel from taking a shot with Iran.
“I am not saying it will be a piece of cake – The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and the Basiji militias are very strong. But… even if regime change does not succeed… it is better to have the Iranians fighting among themselves.”
Asked what specifically Israel could do, he said, “there is potential… clandestine actions can lead to change… There is a lot that the Mossad can do when it gets a mission. I cannot go into the details… but it would be clandestine.”
BESIDES REGIME change, Tomer also described a new strategy for deterring Iran.
He noted that Tehran can already threaten Israel with conventional ballistic missiles and with attacks from Syrian Shiites, Hezbollah and potentially Hamas – and maybe with nuclear weapons in the future.
“If Iran goes all out, it can fire a large volume of missiles at Tel Aviv and Haifa and can activate Hezbollah to fire 300- 400 rockets per day or more for an extended period… Iran has the potential to open a very difficult front against Israel… so what do we do?” he asked rhetorically.
First, he dismissed “all sorts of statements about attacking all of these different threats at once. If there was an all-out conventional war with Iran, we could not use... our weapons fast enough.”
He also said that Israel’s impressive missile defense “provides a response, but is not a hermetic” defense, especially “against hundreds to thousands of Hezbollah, Iranian, Syrian and Gazan rockets at once… so how do we avoid war?”
The key he said was to be publicly clear with Iran about exactly which parts of Iran itself would be targeted if missiles are fired on Israel. “If you shoot at us – it will be oneto- one that we will shoot at you. Israel must declare we will do this and be ready at all times” to take the war directly to Iran.
Tomer moved on to discuss the Mossad’s recent operation appropriating a large volume of secret Iranian nuclear files to Israel. While many have said this was the most successful and complex operation that the Mossad ever performed, he knowingly said that it was impressive, but was not the first massively successful operation.
“The Mossad carries out substantial and complex operations – and has carried out many. Since 2005, there were reports of managing various confrontations with Iran. Foreign publications say that Iran was eventually infected with a cyber [virus] program called Stuxnet. The Mossad has done many things in Iran before. This was among the most important, but there have been operations like it, and maybe even more important,” he said.
Attempting to predict which of the Mossad’s many units that he ran or had a hand in may be the most important in the future – foreign intelligence cooperation, operations and cyber – Tomer said, “Israel, in its current circumstances, needs to move toward every one [of its allies] working against Iran. This will pay big dividends.”
However, at the same time, it needs to “develop independent blue and white abilities where sometimes it needs to do something. [Regarding] targeted killings, very few [foreign intelligence agencies] do this; Israel [is one that] does, according to foreign sources. The head of the Mossad should explore both directions and abilities. And if I understand what is happening, this is what Israel is doing.”