(photo credit: AP)
Highlighting new indications that the US government will directly engage with Iran in the near future on all issues including its nuclear program, former Mossad head Efraim Halevy said Tuesday that Israel must ensure that it is a direct participant in such contacts. Otherwise, he warned, the future of the region will be determined in a forum from which Israel is excluded.
Interviewed by The Jerusalem Post, Halevy said he had no doubt that Iran was bent on attaining a nuclear weapons capability, but that it could and must be deterred.
He stressed that the latest American National Intelligence Estimate, while engendering an unjustified sense of relief in some overseas quarters because of its talk of a halted Iranian nuclear weapons program, made plain in its crucial final sentence that "Iran has the scientific, technical and industrial capacity eventually to produce nuclear weapons if it decides to do so."
Halevy said he thought the timetable presented in the NIE - which states that Iran could produce enough highly enriched uranium for a bomb by late 2009 at the earliest, and certainly during the 2010-2015 time frame - was "too sanguine." Israel, he said, had to operate "on the basis of the worst-case scenario."
Ultimately, though, he said, the Iranian regime "operates in a rational way, based on its interests."
"They can be deterred," Halevy stated. "They have to be deterred."
Currently the head of the Shasha Center for Strategic Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Halevy said he was "not sure" the NIE report had taken the US military option off the table, but that what was "on the cards" now was US engagement. The US "has already involved Iran in its Baghdad Conference setup," aimed at reducing violence in Iraq, and would need direct engagement with Iran to deal with Afghanistan, with the al-Qaida threat and with other issues.
"In the situation now developing, US-Iranian engagement is coming closer and closer - regardless of whether it's in our interest or not," he said. "The US will [engage diplomatically] whether we want it to or not. And if what is on the cards is engagement, it is essential that Israel have a seat at the table. The future of the region cannot be determined with Israel outside the door."
Asked why Iran would agree to any such direct contact with Israel, Halevy said that Israel should ensure that the US makes it a precondition.
"As with Annapolis, everyone has to be there," he said.
He noted that Iran "needs the dialogue" with the US and that "each side has to make concessions." Acknowledging that what would amount to direct Israeli-Iranian negotiation seemed unlikely in the current regional atmosphere, he added, "The impossible happens twice a week in the Middle East."
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