HERZLIYA, Israel — The head of Israel’s intelligence service said flatly on Monday that Iran was directly responsible for the repeated attacks on oil tankers in the Persian Gulf, along with other targets in Saudi Arabia and Iraq, that have raised tensions in the Middle East.
“They are a single campaign initiated by a single party,” Yossi Cohen, the chief of the Mossad, said in a speech at a conference on national security at the Interdisciplinary Center, a college in Herzliya, north of Tel Aviv. He did not provide any evidence to support his claim or explain how the Israelis authorities had come to that conclusion.
“I can say to you with certainty, from the best sources of Israeli and Western intelligence, that Iran is behind these attacks,” Mr. Cohen said. “They were authorized by the Iranian government leadership” and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and its various branches.
The Trump administration has accused Iran of responsibility for the attacks on the tankers, based on an assessment of available intelligence, and most Western analysts concur. But Mr. Cohen’s accusation was among the most definitive yet. Iran has denied responsibility for the attacks.
Sanctions have crippled Iran’s economy, and tensions have been ratcheted up in recent months by a series of confrontations: the attacks on the tankers, the shooting down of an unmanned American military reconnaissance plane, and Iran’s announcement on Monday that it had exceeded a key limitation on its nuclear program as laid out in the international agreement that the United States withdrew from last year.
“Through these attacks, Iran is trying to say to the world — a world that is afraid of escalation — that if the sanctions are not lifted, it will cause serious damage to the world oil economy,” Mr. Cohen said. “This is an irresponsible Iranian policy that could ignite a fire in the region, and will lead to just the opposite.”
At the same time — pointing to the shared interests of Israel and Sunni Arab countries, the White House, and open lines of communication with the Kremlin — Mr. Cohen said the Mossad had identified “a rare opportunity, perhaps the first in the history of the Middle East, to reach a regional understanding that will lead to a comprehensive peace plan.”
He said the Mossad had created a new unit to focus on opportunities for peace and on “leveraging diplomatic means” along those lines.
“This is a window of opportunity to lead the region to balance and peace and quiet, to defeat parties like Daesh,” he said, referring to the Islamic State, “and Al Qaeda, and perhaps to find a solution or to move ahead on the Palestinian track.”
But he warned that the opportunity “may be a one-time thing,” saying that the role of the Mossad was “to be part of this effort, and sometimes to lead it.”
Mr. Cohen, 57, who has led the spy agency since 2016 and is sometimes called “the model” for his good looks, seemed to be stepping out on the public stage more than Israelis are accustomed to seeing from people in his post. He trumpeted a number of recent Mossad accomplishments, above all its daring heist of Iran’s nuclear archive from a Tehran storehouse early last year.
He said that under his watch the agency had worked hard to diversify, with women making up 40 percent of its officers and 26 percent of its commanders, “but we want even more.”
Mr. Cohen, who has a son with cerebral palsy, said he was also working to bring in disabled Israelis. “Difficulty moving isn’t difficulty thinking,” he said.
But his remarks were more notable for the tidbits he disclosed about Israel’s adversaries. He said that Hamas, the militant Islamic group that rules Gaza and has engaged in frequent rounds of violence with Israel over the past year, had set up a new unit, called the “building department,” to acquire weapons abroad “in order to evade Israel’s hand.”