When President Obama was here earlier in the year, he said, “Atem lo levad” –
“Israel is not alone.” Today I want to underline this message, particularly in
the context of the question that now dominates discussion of Israel’s security –
the question of Iran’s nuclear program.
I want to address two aspects of
the nuclear question in particular.
The first is reassurance.
say as clearly as I can that when it comes down to the question of how to deal
with the program, we are not going to do a “bad deal.” Nor will we stand by as
the Iranians continue to develop the capability to build nuclear
The second is opportunity. To emphasize that despite all the
risks, we have a small window of opportunity to test whether there can be a
negotiated solution or not. The Iranians have shown a more positive approach in
recent weeks, and the only way to find out if that is for real is to test it in
If the Iranians are genuine, there is an opportunity to
prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons in one of world’s most
I am here with a simple message: It is in these
challenging moments that Israel can take comfort that there are countries that
will never compromise on Israel’s security. Britain is one of those
More than that, Iran is not just Israel’s problem. Iran’s
nuclear ambitions and its support for terrorism present a threat to the region
and the world. Right now, Iran remains in breach of six UN Security Council
These are not issues between Iran and Israel, they are
issues between Iran and the world.
And so it would be neither right nor
wise for Israel to chart its way forward on the issue as if it were
We are clear that a nuclear armed Iran would jump-start a regional
nuclear arms race that would threaten not only Israel but the world. That is why
we have led the world with some of the most stringent financial sanctions on
Iran. It is why we have placed such a high value on our cooperation with Israel
against Iran’s nuclear program.
The Iranians could not be more wrong if
they mistake our commitment to parliamentary democracy for weakness. We have
made clear that while we welcome the positive tone from Iran’s President
Rouhani, we remain clear-eyed about the need to see real action from Iran on its
President Rouhani should know that our determination to
prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapons program is as strong as ever. And
all should know that our commitment to Israel’s security is
Diplomats and policy-makers sometimes talk glibly about
security, as if it were just a heading for policy papers. I know that for every
Israeli, it is very real. It is the difference between having confidence in the
future and not, between life and death.
And Prime Minister Netanyahu,
Prime Minister Cameron and President Obama are all clear: A nuclear armed Iran
is a grave threat to Israel’s security.
Iran’s program goes far beyond
the requirements of a civilian nuclear program.
Since 2012, Iran has
installed thousands more centrifuges, including the more advanced IR2M
centrifuges. The regime has expanded its stockpile of 20 percent enriched
uranium and has continued work on the heavy water research reactor at
No one can be in doubt how seriously we take the threat of a
nuclear-armed Iran. We and our allies imposed one of the most far-reaching
sanctions regimes ever adopted, which has had a huge impact on the Iranian
Eleven years ago, I was living in Iran, as Britain’s deputy
ambassador. I dealt daily with the Iranian regime. One of the key lessons from
my time there is that the Iranian regime knows its economy is a huge
vulnerability. It is inefficient, corrupt, badly managed and has tens of
millions of people directly or indirectly on the government payroll. Without the
regime’s oil income, it’s in trouble.
That’s why the sanctions are
working. The rial has collapsed in value. Unemployment is high. Inflation is
rampant. The official inflation rate of 28% is an illusion; the true figure is
double that. The cost of doing business with Iran has gone up dramatically.
Iran’s ability to sell its own oil has been curtailed by international sanctions
that make it almost impossible to conduct financial transactions with Iran. Iran
is not getting the technology it needs to sustain its own oil production, and
production is down 45%, costing the Iranian exchequer over $40 billion a year.
The reserves of the Iranian regime are shrinking fast.
This explains the
change in the Iranian tone – why have we witnessed such a marked change in their
Because the government is under unprecedented pressure due to
the sanctions. The Iranian government also know that there is a simple way to
bring sanctions to an end. By giving the international community the confidence
it needs that Iran is not developing and will not develop a nuclear
Diplomatic success often follows a readiness to use hard power.
The reason that Iran is now at the negotiating table is because we have imposed
and maintained some of the toughest sanctions in modern times.
week in Geneva we saw a new tone in the negotiations – for the first time an
apparent willingness to negotiate rather than simply to talk.
understand the skepticism in Israel – and not just in Israel – about the new,
positive tone from Iran. After all, the centrifuges are still
To succeed, conciliatory words will have to be matched by the
right actions, and they will need to be transparent and verifiable.
all, it is the Iranian government’s choices alone that have led to the
comprehensive sanctions that are currently in place, and it is those choices
that need to change if the sanctions are to be lifted.
So I want to be
absolutely clear: while the centrifuges are spinning, while inspectors are
denied full and free access to nuclear sites, while there is any sense that Iran
is prevaricating or reneging on any commitments, we will continue to maintain
As Foreign Secretary William Hague has made clear,
while we welcome the positive tone and do not want to waste a possible
opportunity, a substantial change in British or Western policies on the Iranian
nuclear program requires a substantive change in that program.
We need to
be crystal clear as we go into this negotiation.
We are not naive. We
have ample experience of dealing with the Iranian regime and go into this with
our eyes open.
As we take part in these negotiations, we will keep clear
in our minds one thing above all others – the infrastructure of Iran’s nuclear
program, how many centrifuges they have, and how long it would take them to
develop a bomb.
We will neither rush nor tarry. Iran’s nuclear program
marches on, and as more centrifuges get installed so it becomes harder to
negotiate a solution that gives us all sufficient reassurance. The clock is
But the clock is not at zero.
And it is far from clear
than time is working against us. The leaders of Iran are watching their economy
crumble, their unemployment grow, their factories shut, their reserves shrink.
They know that if these talks do not go somewhere in a sensible time frame we
will be bringing in the next, even tougher round of sanctions.
We are all
in favor of resolving this issue through negotiations rather than through
military means. The question is whether such a negotiated outcome is possible –
whether the rulers of Iran are willing to make take the concrete, verifiable
steps needed for us to have confidence that they cannot develop nuclear weapons
quickly. We hope that negotiations will lead to concrete results, and it is
important that we maintain the positive momentum. But we should not forget that
Iran’s nuclear program is continuing to develop.
Given our preference for
a negotiated outcome, we should test whether this possibility exists. We have an
opportunity, but we must not take the smiles at face value. Neither should we
rule out in advance the possibility that negotiations might succeed. Instead we
should test whether the same motivation that makes them smile might also cause
them to make meaningful steps on their nuclear program.
I do not want to
preempt the negotiations by saying exactly what those steps should be. But by
the nature of it being negotiation and not a surrender, it will involve a
serious discussion about whether Iran will give the international community what
we need to have sufficient confidence. And that means Israel having sufficient
As friends of Israel, we understand and respect Israel’s
We are neither naïve about Iran, nor blind to the risks. And we
do not underestimate the difficulties ahead.
The shadow of a nuclear Iran
has stood over the people of Israel for too long. Right now, we have an
opportunity to test whether that shadow can be removed peacefully. We will not
be naïve, we will not do a bad deal, we will neither rush nor allow Iran to play
Where the negotiations go, I do not know. But I do know that
Israel does not face the threat from Iran alone.
The writer is the UK
ambassador to Israel. This op-ed was adapted from his address to the Jerusalem
Post Diplomatic Conference in Herzliya on Thursday.