Former Mossad Chief: American and Israeli Interests Are Not Identical
Former Mossad Chief: American and Israeli Interests Are Not Identical
By Hanif Kashani
The initial reactions to Iran's recent nuclear agreement with the so-called P5+1 nations (the US, UK, France, Germany, Russia and China) coming out of Tel Aviv were predictably forceful, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attacking the deal and reminding the world that Israel reserved its right to a military option should it so choose. In the days since, other Israeli politicians have challenged Netanyahu's angry rhetoric, with predecessor Ehud Olmert accusing him of “waging war” against the United States. To better understand Israel's reaction beyond this public bombast, IranWire spoke to Efraim Halevy, former chief of Israel's Mossad intelligence service under three Israeli prime ministers. Amongst Israeli officials, Halevy is exceptional and known for his push for Israel to engage in dialogue with Iran, arguing that understanding an enemy is preferable to stony silence. He talks here about how the Geneva deal impacts US-Israel relations, whether the deal heralds a broader shift in the region's strategic dynamic, and whether Israel considers Washington's diplomacy as a betrayal.
Did the Geneva agreement surprise you, did you expect Iran and the P5+1 to be able to reach a deal?
I certainly expected them to reach an agreement because it was obvious to me, without knowing any of the details, that it would be unimaginable for [Iran and the United States] to meet without having had prior contact. I have no details [of that contact], but it was certainly obvious to me that something was going on before they actually met.
Do you think the signing of this deal averts the worst possible outcomes such as war?
I think the Geneva agreement as it is now does not avert the possibility of a war. Because it is a preliminary agreement and if there is no permanent agreement, then the only alternative will possibly be a military action of one kind or another.
After the details of the final agreement were released, did you personally have any reservations about the deal signed in Geneva by Iran and the P5+1?
Yes I have reservations. I think there are two major aspects of the conflict which have not been addressed yet. One is the weaponization program of Iran which exists, and which was not dealt with in the final communiqué and the final agreement of this preliminary step. And secondly I believe the level of commitment on the part of Iran to the endgame is still very unclear. And therefore I think that these two aspects make this preliminary agreement problematic, but I think it is an important step in itself because it is a beginning of Iran walking along a certain path, which should it continue along will inevitably lead it to sever with its past.
There is a narrative being floated around by some members of the Israeli government that this was an American betrayal of Israel. What is your take on that view?
I do not think that Israel is being betrayed by the United States. I think that the United States is and will remain a firm ally of Israel. I do think there are major differences of opinion on the methodology of reaching the ultimate conclusion -- an end to Iran's military capability to produce a weapon – and therefore I believe that it is grossly incorrect to say that there was an element of betrayal.
Have US and Israeli security interests in the region diverged? If the US considers this deal good enough deal to sign, and Israel sees it as a dangerous step, does that suggest a fundamental difference in strategic interests?
The interests of United States and Israel are not identical. The United States is a world power and has world interests. Israel is not a world power it is a regional power, therefore quite obviously when United States looks at its plans of action it has to take into account a variety of variables which are far beyond what Israel contemplates. But I think on the core issue of whether or not it is in the interests of the United States and Israel that Iran should have a military option, I think on this there is no divergence [of opinion]. And by the way there is no divergence with the United States and all the 5+1 countries that are negotiating with Iran. All of the 5+1 countries are committed to the notion that a military capability of Iran is something that cannot and should not be entertained.
Does this deal suggest to you the beginning of a major strategic realignment in the Middle East?
If this agreement results in a gradual change of years of Iran's hostile intentions, then obviously this will herald a major strategic realignment of the map in the Middle East. But if Iran only limits itself to the nuclear aspects of the dispute and does not go into other elements including its belligerency against Israel, then I do not think there will be a major realignment in the Middle East, and the only item which will be taken off the agenda if these negotiations succeed will be the removal of an Iranian nuclear capability. But it will not remove Iran's strategies and intentions to become hegemon in the Middle East.
To follow up on that last question, if this preliminary deal does in fact go forward and eventually lead to the potential normalization of relations between the US and Iran, from an Israeli perspective, will Iran's bellicose rhetoric towards Israel be a sticking point for a complete rapprochement between the US and Iran?
I think that if in fact Iran is serious and genuine in its new policy, and this still has to be proven, we don’t yet have proof that Iran has indeed changed its strategy and changed its ultimate aims concerning the world in general and Israel in particular, we don't know that and are still at the preliminary stage. But if for argument's sake, ultimately there will be a normalization between Iran and the United States, I don't think that Iran will be able to maintain its belligerent attitude towards Israel. This will not be mutually possible. Therefore I believe in the end if Iran indeed wishes to go the whole way, and that is the only way of solving the problem, then ultimately it will have to come to terms with a change of its posture towards Israel.
There is a lot of political rhetoric about this deal coming out of Israel, but from the quieter point of view of defense officials, is there a more nuanced view? Such as the possibly of the deal being a benefit to both the region and Israel?
Israel is not a partner to the negotiations. And as such as the Prime Minister (Benjamin Netanyahu) has said it is true that Israel is not bound by the outcome of these negotiations. So if the outcome of the negotiations are such that Israel will not feel comfortable with them, then obviously Israel will be free to follow whatever path it wishes. That's not to say that tomorrow morning Israel will necessarily resort to force, but force would certainly be a serious option to be considered. So I think we have to keep our eyes and ears open, and our options open.
Did you get a chance to see the images and videos of joyful and celebratory Iranians welcoming the Iranian negotiating team arriving back to Iran? What was your view of it and what was the reception like in Israel of those images and videos?
Yes, [I saw them]. I think the Iranians are trying to project a very nuanced script of what is going on in Iran. I think it's obvious that this chain of events has exacerbated an ever-growing division inside the leadership as to which path to follow. And I think tensions within the leadership are running high, and will run even higher. And the [Rouhani] administration is a small glimmer of a something much-much-much greater and much more profound in terms of Iran's destiny and future. And therefore I think we have to look carefully as to what will happen on the domestic scene in Iran in the months to come to ultimately get a better understanding of which way Iran is actually going.