Steinitz at post 298.88.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
Ignore Iran's assertions that its nuclear drive is unstoppable, Likud Knesset member Yuval Steinitz urges, because the fact is that Iran is itself signaling that its facilities are vulnerable to attack. Why else, he asks, would it be spending billions of dollars on missile defenses?
Nonetheless, Steinitz is adamant that the international community need not actually resort to military force. A truly credible threat of "brute force" would yet deter the mullahs, he believes.
And in a discussion last week with editorial staff at The Jerusalem Post, Steinitz, the former head of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, and would-be senior minister in a future Likud government, made clear that it is not Israel that should be issuing the threat - Iran thinks that Israel is currently weak politically, he says - but the United States. Washington, he says, needs to choose "a big enough stick" and "wave it wildly."
Steinitz, who began his political career on the left with Peace Now but moved across the spectrum to become one of the most prominent voices of concern about ongoing Egyptian military ambitions regarding Israel, also highlighted the growing danger posed by arms smuggling from Egypt into the Gaza Strip. Israel should be acting to counter this build-up, he indicated. Instead, foolishly, it is "waiting and waiting."
Can we live with a nuclear Iran?
It is very difficult and very dangerous. We cannot say in advance because we don't know what the behavior of this very dangerous regime will be.
The Iranians will not give up their weapons because it is too important for them right now. I just don't see them stopping their nuclear program soon. I think that there is a very good chance that if, in addition to economic sanctions, somebody would put an ultimatum to Iran and would make it clear that brute force was forthcoming, there might be a change.
In many ways it is like Libya. At first nothing helped, not economic sanctions or anything else. But once [Muammar] Gaddafi was told by his aides that the US and Britain would attack his air force, he gave up. So I put it many times to my colleagues in the Senate and White House that economic sanctions alone won't do... The only chance to convince Iran to dismantle [its nuclear program] without using brute force is if you choose a big enough stick and you wave it wildly enough in order to not to use it.
What about Israel? Should it consider a military strike against Iran?
I don't want to speak about Israel, what it should or shouldn't do militarily. If it is clear to the Iranians that brute force is forthcoming, they will give up. With Gaddafi it was clear: The US Navy intercepted a ship with centrifuges and Gaddafi couldn't deny the nuclear program anymore. Then an aide told him that those crazy Americans and Brits sent their armies for a full-scale ground invasion of Iraq to save the world from chemical weapons. Surely they will send their bombers to save themselves from nuclear weapons, and this will cause Libya great humiliation. Iran thinks that Israel, at the moment, is weak politically, so it would be better if the US were to issue the threats. Iran fears the US more at this moment.
I personally think that there is a reasonable chance that the US will strike Iran if it is necessary. The Iranians were convinced this was unlikely until two months ago, when some began to suspect that it might be the case. The US sent a second carrier, it arrested some top Iranian people in Iraq. Iran heard the voices, saw the carriers coming in and started fearing what the US would do.
The US needs to make it clear to the Iranians that if they don't stop the nuclear program, they at least need to postpone it in a very serious way. The Iranians know that their nuclear project can be destroyed from the air; they know how vulnerable they are.
How vulnerable are they really?
Despite all the defenses, I can tell you something with certainty - a nuclear project is not a hi-tech industry. It is a very heavy chemical industry. They are huge, huge factories. If you think for a moment about a car company, like Chrysler, you can't put those factories so completely underground that they are immune to a massive and accurate air strike. Any nuclear project on the face of the earth can be eradicated.
The Iranians feel vulnerable and the Iranians are telling me that in a very crafty way: by spending billions of dollars on air defense around their sites. They bought from Russia and developed their own system, and put air defenses around their missile sites.
It means that they know they are vulnerable, they know that their bunkers are not deep enough underground.
Technically it still possible for the rest of the world, and especially the US, to stop Iran.
How long will it take for Iran to have nuclear weapons?
It might take Iran a year or two to completely develop its weapons, but I could see it taking longer or shorter.
Let me put it like this: I was very critical of our intelligence community following the war in Iraq, and following our big failure to detect Libya on time. I was also the chairman of the inquiry committee on intelligence on Iraq. In our conclusion we said we had very serious failures in Iraq and Libya and very great success in Iran. In Iran we don't evaluate and we don't estimate.
What effect will American success or failure in Iraq have on the rest of the region?
It is a failure and it is significant, and we don't know yet how it will be resolved. Until recently the Iranians felt that the US was too weak to do anything. In recent months things have changed. There has been criticism of [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad, that he underestimated the US intention to do something.
There have been more voices that he should reduce tensions, because the storm might encourage the US to attack.
I think they are more afraid of America than Israel. The US today has a very strong air force over Iraq, and in Kuwait, etc. Iran sees very strong American air power all over. If they think the US will attack, the picture, from a military point of view, is very frightening.
I personally think Israel should not elaborate about what it will do militarily. I think it is a mistake that some of my colleagues are hinting that Israel will do something, or should do something.
There is one leader of the world and it is not minuscule Israel. Iran is a global threat. The issue is not just achieving a nuclear bomb. Iran is developing a nuclear project to become not just a regional player, but a global player. Its missiles can already reach half of Europe. It just announced that the Shihab-3 can reach 2,000 kilometers, which puts Greece into range. In a year or two, it will have Britain and Paris in range. The Iranians have invested a lot in this.
The general attitude of Iran is that it wants to become, not just a regional nuclear player, but a global player. It wants to threaten Europe.
It might be the case that Iran is putting so much emphasis on Israel to calm Europe. I cannot avoid recalling Hitler. When he focused on Jews, the rest of the world was not so concerned. It might be the case that the Iranian strategy to put so much focus on the hatred of Israel is to calm the rest of the world. Maybe it is a very wise tactic to tell the rest of the world that it is Israel's problem... Europe seems to be falling for it.
The attitude has always been that if Israel can pay, let it pay. I think we need to enlighten the Europeans.
The Iranians want control of the whole [Persian] Gulf so that they can control the oil and blackmail Europe. Their ambition is to become a medium superpower.
You have been very critical of the war in Lebanon.
I must tell you I was overwhelmed by the mismanagement of the war.
In the last several months I met several delegations from the United States, from various branches of the government. I have been briefed on [US Secretary of State Condoleezza] Rice's visit to Israel... the picture that she returned with was very confusing. With every official she met she received a different vision of peace for Israel. The final message was that there is no cohesive plan.
I do think we should be asking questions about Gaza. What is happening now is that we are waiting and waiting. In a year from now or maximum two years, the Palestinians will be able to produce missiles to threaten Ashdod or maybe even Beersheba. They are right now sending people to Iran to learn how to produce more dangerous weapons. Egypt right now is doing nothing... It is clear that they are going through Egypt to Iran and then back through Egypt to Gaza. It is clear that this is a threat that is forthcoming. The longer we wait the higher a price we will pay.