Former Mossad Director Advises Against Israeli Red Lines
By Gary Feuerberg On October 29, 2012 @ 2:37 pm In Middle East | No Comments
WASHINGTON—Bearing down on Israel is the threat of a nuclear capable Iran. The tension is mounting on whether to strike Iran to remove that threat. A strategy for dealing with this situation is sorely needed.
An essential component in any Israeli negotiations is to engender goodwill with its Arab neighbors and Iran, says Efraim Halevy, former director of Mossad and former head of the Israeli National Security Council.
“[They] feel very deeply that they do not enjoy dignity,” he said.
Halevy was speaking Oct. 18 at the invitation of the Woodrow Wilson Center on the topic, Iran, Palestine, and the Arab Spring: The View from Israel.
A member of Mossad—Israel’s version of the CIA—for nearly 40 years, Halevy served as director under Prime Ministers Benjamin Netanyahu, (who appointed him in 1998) Yitzhak Shamir, and Yitzhak Rabin. Mossad collects intelligence information, performs covert operations, and conducts counterterrorism.
Halevy was also the secret negotiator in the peace treaty Israel made with Jordan in 1994.
He stressed how important it was to consider other’s dignity: “You have to deal with it,” he said giving an example of a senior Iranian figure who referred to the talks of the 5+1 countries (the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany) as “wonderful” because they were conducted at a round table. No one sat at the head of the table and all were equal.
Halevy was asked whether a nuclear-armed Iran constituted “an existential threat to the state of Israel.” His answer was “No.”
Iran could not say to Israel that it has the bomb and has the capacity to destroy Israel; Halevy said that’s not the way wars are conducted. As the former head of Mossad, he was not able to go into details, but he did say Israel has numerous capabilities to deal with the situation. “Iran will not be able to do what it wants to do,” he said.
He hastened to add that he would much rather that Israel not be in that situation.
Halevy was asked about Prime Minister Netanyahu’s desire for red lines with respect to Iran—a question he said he was hoping not to be asked. He replied that he understood why the PM wants to draw a red line, but said later it is hard to reconcile positions with the red line in place. “The use of the red line is not conducive to the ultimate aim,” he said.
“I don’t think ultimately drawing a red line will convince the Iranians,” and it won’t work to try “to bring Iran publicly to its knees.” He again invoked the need to “give dignity.”
“It is not going to be easy, but I think it is something we have to do,” he said.
At the negotiating table, Iran will have to become more realistic. Both sides will have to make compromises, he said.
“Despite the rhetoric, many Iranian leaders see that Israel is here to stay. They will have to come to terms with this reality,” he said. Earlier he said that when it is in Iran’s national interest, despite their confrontational approach, Iran “finds ways and means of backing down.”
Halevy said an Israeli strike to eliminate Iran’s nuclear capability should only be used as a last resort. More thought should go into “the morning after” he said, adding that he didn’t think all would be well and peaceful after the strike.
Halevy said it is much better to follow the Chinese war theorist Sun Tzu, to win the war without firing a shot. While it is true that the sanctions have not brought an end to Iran’s program, they are badly hurting them. Sanctions are effective he said, just not effective enough.
He advocated for more sanctions and believes more effort should be made in talking to Iran. In the months to come, Israel has to make an “immense investment of goodwill” by people who are “solution oriented, not war oriented,” he said.
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