Former Mossad chief: nuclear Iran not existential threat, prevention not “necessarily by means of force”

Ari Shavit reports on his interview with former Mossad chief Efraim Halevy, one among several former Israeli intelligence and security officials who have infuriated Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by making public statements against an Israeli strike on Iran. Halevy tells Shavit that his views about the threat that Iran poses to Israel are “complex”, but compared with Netanyahu’s statements, it’s strikingly apparent that Halevy wants to avoid a lone Israeli military venture with Iran:

…“I do indeed argue that a nuclear Iran does not constitute an existential threat to Israel. If one day we wake up and discover that Iran has nuclear weapons, that does not mean the start of the countdown to the end of Israel’s existence. Israel need not despair. We have deterrent capability and preventive capability. If Iran acquires nuclear weapons, Israel will be able to design a true operational response that will be able to cope with that. We will be able to prevent a Hiroshima in Tel Aviv and we will prevent a Hiroshima in Tel Aviv; so we must not talk about a Hiroshima in Tel Aviv, because prophecies like that are self-fulfilling. Nor must we draw baseless analogies with the 1930s.

“The true Churchillian way is not to talk about the possibility of a second Holocaust, but to ensure that there will be no holocaust here. I was a boy in Britain during the Blitz. I remember vividly Churchill’s speeches blaring from the radio. He did not talk about the possibility that Britain might not survive. On the contrary: even in the direst straits he said that Britain would have the upper hand. He promised that whatever happened, come what may, in the end Britain would win. Anyone who purports to be Churchill needs to talk like Churchill and project self-confidence.

“I am absolutely appalled when I hear our leaders talking as though there were no Israel Defense Forces and as though there were no State of Israel and as though Auschwitz is liable to be repeated. As I see it, the message we should be conveying to the Iranians ? and to ourselves ? is that we will be here in any event and in any scenario for the next two thousand years.

“But we must not become confused,” Halevy continues. “A nuclear Iran is not an existential threat, but a nuclear Iran is a grave matter. Nuclear weapons in Tehran’s hands upset the regional balance and create a very serious strategic situation. Nor can we completely rule out the possibility that if Iran possesses nuclear weapons it will ultimately use them. When the danger is very great, even if the risk that it will be realized is only 10 percent, we need to treat it as a risk of 100 percent. So I am not one of those who are indifferent to the Iranian danger. Under no circumstances am I ready to accept a nuclear Iran. But I maintain that the way to prevent nuclearization is not necessarily by means of force.

To prevent a “a generations-long war”, Halevy says that Iran can be deterred from building a nuclear weapon through more international pressure aimed at further weakening and isolating it:

“There should have been cooperation with Turkey vis-à-vis Iran. There should have been action against Iran in Syria. The Russians should have been brought into the picture. If Israel had adopted a creative, active policy, and if the international community had held up to the Iranians a far richer package of threats and enticements, I think there would have been a chance to dissuade the Iranians from embarking on the dangerous road they have taken. And I believe it is not too late. The sanctions are very painful. The negotiations have not yet been exhausted. The threat of an American military option can also be more concrete. If instead of focusing on a military solution, Israel were to succeed in mobilizing the international community for complex and sophisticated political-economic action, I believe that the results might be surprising.”

Jasmin Ramsey

Jasmin Ramsey is a journalist based in Washington, DC.


One Comment

  1. Not only the ‘scneario of a Hiroshima in Telaviv” is unlikely as this gentleman points out, Israel can solve the problem of the alleged threat from Iran as well as threat from anyone else forever. As Fareed Zakaria pointed out a while ago,the solution for Israel is to make peace with Palestinians and integrate itself in the region. If , say, tomorrow Israel, said it will allow the 1947 refugees – at least those who leave in refugee camps which is estimated to be around 1.5 million strong – to return, something that she is obligated to do under international law anyway, it will perhaps become one of the most popular countries in the world overnight. The pressure of popular opinion in Iran will be so great that I bet the Iranian leaders will wait in line to shake hands with the leaders of the former “zionist entity”.

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