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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Israel is not fixated on a particular point when Iran's nuclear program will become "irreversible," Maj.-Gen. (res.) Amos Gilad, head of the Defense Ministry's Political-Military Bureau, said in an interview with The Jerusalem Post demonstrating that the country is taking a more flexible position than in the past regarding what it considers Iran's nuclear "point of no return."
"I think that as a policy we are obligated to exhaust the diplomatic channel," said Gilad, a high-ranking adviser to Defense Minister Amir Peretz, when asked his view on the US decision to open negotiations with Teheran. "There is still a possibility, it is still not irreversible. Why? Because they still don't have [nuclear] weapons and a lot of other things."
Sitting in a spacious office on the 14th floor of the futuristic-looking Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv that has a commanding view of the city, Gilad - the man who served as "national explainer" during the US invasion of Iraq in 2002 - takes a very keep-things-in-perspective attitude.
Despite the situation in Gaza, despite the rockets on Sderot, despite the Iranian threat and the threats from the north, Gilad is not alarmist. Indeed, he seems like an anti-alarmist.
Speak to him of people asking when Israel would implement its pre-disengagement promise to use mighty force against Gaza if attacks continue, and Gilad would question the very existence of such people. Speak to him of concerns Jordan's King Abdullah has of a massive Palestinian flight across the Jordan River if Israel carries out its realignment plan, and Gilad would question why anyone would think West Bank Palestinians might flee following an Israeli withdrawal.
Gilad advised against seeking wonder cures for any of the country's security problems, from Kassam rockets on Sderot to the Iranian threat. Things didn't happen in real life like they did in the Rambo movies, he made clear.
But, he asserted, Israel - using more low-key measures - had significantly brought down the level of terrorism over the last few years and, in the same manner, would find a way to deal with the rockets on Sderot. Take notice, he said, that the number of Kassam attacks on Sderot at the end of the week were far fewer than in the beginning, an indication that a message Israel sent to the Palestinians through a third channel was received.
Why did Defense Minister Amir Peretz prevent the IDF from acting against Kassams this week? Does he really think the Palestinians can rein in the terrorists?
The policy is not about restraint. The essence of the decision was to transmit a message that Israel has powerful abilities and we are giving them an opportunity to stop the rocket fire and that we are for the moment only operating against Kassam launchers and terrorists. We told them that if within a certain time they did not stop the fire they would pay a heavy price. The messages were tough and, as far as we can see, they were absorbed. There was a correct combination of diplomacy and [our warning to] use a military option while leaving us the decision of when to use that option.
Why didn't the IDF immediately deny its involvement in the incident last Friday that killed 7 Palestinians in Gaza?
The problem was that, the bigger the lie, the more it is accepted [by the world]. The power of this lie was unbelievable and for a moment it seemed like [the blast] may have been [caused by] Israel. But then we checked and it didn't fit in with reality. The problem is that the moment they spread a lie it is all over the world. But for us to say something it needs to be accurate and true and in a democracy like Israel this takes time. Therefore I do not think there was a mishap since when you are facing a side that spreads lies the only weapon you have is to present a reliable report.
What has the response been from the world since you published the findings of the investigation on Tuesday?
The fact that it is no longer in the media means they must now believe us. But now the world is anyhow busy with the World Cup [Mondial]. It is not customary to apologize to us although I think we deserve an apology. If they didn't accept it they would have continued to a deal with it and would have convened the Security Council.
But now there are international calls to check into the facts we presented.
Let them check. I have not heard such calls. But if they want to, let them check.
So you would accept the idea of an international investigation?
I don't accept any ideas. I am willing to accept only that they believe us and if they want to check then let them check.
Would we cooperate with such an investigation?
I don't see why it is needed. The IDF presented the facts as clear as possible and whoever will read the report will be convinced of the findings. There were even foreign military officials who told me that the explosion could not have been caused by us.
Can the Kassams be stopped? Will Peretz's policy of restraint continue?
We shouldn't reveal what we will do. For now it has stopped. Every threat has an answer. This time they received a clear and harsh message and Hamas knows it has a lot to lose if it continues to fire rockets.
After the pullout from Gaza, Israel said it would hit the Palestinians hard if rockets were fired and that hasn't happened. Why?
The defense establishment doesn't work according to concepts of 'hitting them hard.' There is a problem here that needs to be solved and that is the rocket fire that endangers people. Suicide attacks looked, at certain periods, as if they could not be solved and in the end we found a way to minimize them. The problem of rocket attacks from Gaza has yet to be solved. But the solution will be found. We don't talk in the defense establishment of 'hitting hard' but about finding solutions.
Can you give a time frame when it will be stopped?
In the Middle East an hour is a long time. The goal is to stop it. Time frames are not the right way of thinking.
How can Israel convince King Abdullah that realignment is not a threat to Jordan?
Very easily. The government and the defense establishment are all prepared to support everything that will enable Jordan to exist as an independent, sovereign state with strength, pride and honor. There is a very wide consensus on this in Israel. Israel respects Jordan a great deal, is very proud of the peace agreements, is amazed at Jordan's ability to fight terrorism and sees it as a central pillar for stability in the Middle East, and very important for peace and the free world.
That could be, but realignment could lead to a massive Palestinian emigration to Jordan that would upset the very delicate demographic there.
Everything is possible... [Abdullah] can be sure that Israel's approach toward Jordan is very positive, and based on deep appreciation of Jordan as an independent sovereign country.
Will we keep Palestinians from emigrating to Jordan?
Who will go to Jordan, who will want to go to Jordan? Why would they [Palestinians] want to leave? I don't see any reason why they would want to leaveâ€¦ I don't see a reason or a scenario where the Palestinians would flee to Jordan.
Did we assure Abdullah that we would retain a presence on the Jordan River?
We told the Jordanians they have nothing to worry about at all regarding their security or independence when it comes to Israel.
Let's turn to Iran. Do you support the recent moves by the Americans to extend the diplomatic process?
An Iranian nuclear threat is a threat to the whole free world, because of the combination of extreme leadership preaching the destruction of Israel and its desire to change the Middle East and cause the destruction of moderate regimes.
Everyone understands this. The Americans certainly understand this, the Europeans certainly understand this. Currently they are trying, through diplomatic channels, to convince Iran to stop its military nuclear plan. As long as the goals don't change, the tactics will be judged by the results.
Do you think that the diplomatic efforts can bring about an agreement, or is it too late? Some in the IDF are saying it is too late.
I think that as a policy we are obligated to exhaust the diplomatic channel. There is still a possibility, it is still not irreversible. Why? Because they still don't have [nuclear] weapons and a lot of other things.
Did they pass the technological threshold?
The minute they show that they [can] enrich [uranium], they have passed a threshold. They still don't have potential for mass production, so there is still room for diplomatic efforts alongside other things.
We were always under the impression that for Israel 'irreversibility' was when the Iranians have mastered the technology. You just said that it will be when they have the weapons. Have we moved the line back?
Instead of using formulas that I'm not sure people understand, and only cause panic, I'm trying to speak in simple terms that people understand. It could be that they pass one point, but then wondrously don't pass another.
What do we see as the point of no-return?
I prefer to say that Israel, like the rest of the world, must do everything so Iran doesn't get nuclear arms. I don't want to get into all kinds of definitions that people won't understand. If I say it is irreversible, and then afterward the plan will be stopped, what is the value of that frightening type of statement? I prefer focusing on the strategic goals, and not slogans. Presently the central goal in the world is to keep Iran from getting nuclear weapons.
Are the Russians playing a constructive role?
Their importance is decisive. The Russians understand the problemâ€¦ They understand that a nuclear Iran is dangerous, certainly to them, because they share a border.
Russia has a great deal of influence on Iran and there is great importance in a coordinated diplomatic process. They have an important position, and this is understood by the world. They need to help with all their strength - which is a great deal - to prevent the Iranians from getting nuclear weapons.
Are they doing that?
We have to see the results.
Do you believe the US has the ability to take action in Iran, or is it limited because of Iraq?
It is a superpower. Is it not active in Afghanistan, Iraq, and in other places? I don't think anyone in the world thinks that the US has lost its abilities [to act] because of Iraq.