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Israeli spy chief downplays Iranian nuke threat

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JERUSALEM — The head of Israel's intelligence agency says that a nuclear-armed Iran does not necessarily pose an existential threat to the Jewish state, according to Israeli ambassadors.

Mossad chief Tamir Pardo addressed a conclave of Israeli ambassadors in Jerusalem on Thursday, saying that Israel's existence is not inevitably endangered by Iran acquiring an atomic weapon, even as Israel has tried to disrupt Iran's nuclear program.

"What is the significance of the term 'existential?'" Mr. Pardo was quoted as saying by several ambassadors. "If you said a nuclear bomb in Iranian hands was an 'existential' threat, that would mean that we would have to close up shop. That's not the situation. The term is used too freely."

The intelligence chief did not comment on an Israeli attack on Iran's nuclear facilities, which the Islamic republic has said is engaged only in peaceful research.

Mr. Pardo's remarks contradict those of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who reportedly has sought consensus among Israeli officials to attack Iran's nuclear centers.

However, Mr. Pardo's comments echo those of his predecessor at Mossad, Meir Dagan, and of other former and current Israeli security officials.

Mr. Dagan had vigorously opposed an attack and expressed his position publicly after retiring earlier this year. Gabi Ashkenazi, former armed forces chief of staff, also reportedly opposed an attack.

Opponents to an attack plan say that Iran, as a rational state, would not launch a nuclear assault that would ensure a retaliatory Israeli strike on its cities, including holy sites.

Zeevi Farkash, Israel's former military intelligence chief, has said that Iran's main drive for acquiring atomic weapons is not for use against Israel but as a deterrent against U.S. intervention, in much the same way that nuclear-armed North Korea feels secure against a U.S. attack.

Other Israeli leaders argue that Iran, ruled by clerics and mystics, cannot be relied upon to make "rational" decisions with regard to Israel. They also warn about the possibility of Iranan nuclear devices falling into the hands of terrorists.

What's more, they argue, a nuclear-armed Iran could adopt aggressive policies that could roil the entire region and leave Israel more exposed to conventional attack.

Mr. Netanyahu's views on attacking Iran reportedly are shared by Defense Minister Ehud Barak, but not the majority of his Cabinet.

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