Former NSC head Mizrahi: Iran a major threat even without nukes

Tells 'Post' Iran's work on long-range missiles shows it aspires to nuclear weapons.

ilan mizrachi 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
ilan mizrachi 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Even without a nuclear bomb, Iran's acquisition of nuclear capability would dramatically destabilize the strategic balance in the Middle East, outgoing National Security Council head Ilan Mizrahi told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday, a week after a United States intelligence report claimed Iran was not developing a nuclear weapon. Claiming Israel had concrete evidence that Iran was developing a nuclear weapon, Mizrahi, who stepped down from his post last week after a year and a half, said the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) released last week "smelled of politics," came at a very "difficult time" and played into the hands of Russia and China, who oppose imposing additional sanctions on Iran. He said that Israel's evidence that Iran was developing nuclear weapons demonstrated the urgency of stopping the country's nuclear program as soon as possible. Its unprecedented development of long-range missiles was also an indication that it aspired to nuclear capability and planned to project its power throughout the entire Middle East and South Asia, he said. "The evidence that we in the State of Israel have is such that I have no doubt that Iran is advancing toward a [nuclear] weapons program," said Mizrahi, who in the past served as deputy head of the Mossad. "I cannot provide more details, but I am convinced that they are moving toward a military program." While claiming that Israel could live with a civilian program under strict international control and guidelines, Mizrahi emphatically rejected the possibility that Iran would obtain nuclear capability, even if it were not for military purposes. He said that additional sanctions, which needed to be imposed on Iran immediately, could have an effect and cause the country to rethink its nuclear development. At the same time, he said, the Iranian leadership needed to understand that the world had military capabilities and not only sanctions as a means of stopping them. "I believe they will think 200 times [before using a weapon against Israel], since they understand that they can also be destroyed," he said. "Without talking about using it, however, the mere fact that they have the ability is enough to dramatically destabilize the strategic balance in the Middle East." He said the world currently had three options for dealing with Iran - a military strike, additional sanctions and the possibility of a deal under which the Islamic Republic would stop its development of weapons but possibly be allowed to retain a civilian capability under strict international control and supervision. Citing Egypt as an example of a country with a research reactor, Mizrahi said that Israel was not, in principle, against the activation of the Bushehr reactor under strict international control, but feared that it would be used in the future as a means of pursuing nuclear weapons. "Israel is not against Bushehr and is not saying that Bushehr cannot be activated," he said. "The fear is that Bushehr will be a platform for a different [military] type of enrichment." Iran claims that the reactor will be used to provide nuclear energy. Mizrahi said that he would not be opposed to the US striking a deal with Iran under which the country would stop its nuclear weapons program immediately but possibly retain a civilian capability. He said that the deal would need to include strict safeguards and inspection rights and ensure that Israeli interests were not harmed. But for the present, he said, the preferred modus operandi was to increase the sanctions on Iran. "If there is an arrangement with the Iranians and they completely stop what they are doing today, and it [the agreement] is controlled [and] has safeguards, and sanctions are imposed if it is breached, and it doesn't hurt Israeli interests, then I am not against it," Mizrahi said. Turning to the Palestinian issue on the eve of the launching of bilateral talks between Israel and the Palestinians, Mizrahi said he did not foresee a solution for many, many years. "I don't think it will be possible within a year to reach an agreement on the core issues with the Palestinians," he said. "Perhaps we can get to a general understanding, but implementation - that is a very long road." Mizrahi said it was necessary to differentiate between an agreement and implementation. "There is a long way to agreement, and even longer to implementation," he said. As to whether Israel would be able to carry out any withdrawal from the West Bank in the interval between those two stages, Mizrahi said, "I think that at this stage, as long as you don't see that there is anybody who can take authority in the West Bank and take control of the terror forces there, and be a factor to ensure that there will be a halt to terror activity, then we cannot leave there. That is my opinion - we can't leave there in the present circumstances." Mizrahi would not say how long he thought it would take before Israel could withdraw, saying only that those who said such a withdrawal could take place in five or 10 years were just throwing out numbers. Regarding the possibility of Israel talking with Hamas, Mizrahi - who said he "never says never" - made clear that he was firmly opposed to the idea because it would be seen as strengthening the radicals. "The Israeli interest, in my mind, is to strengthen the pragmatists and to stop the radicals," he said. "If you look at your immediate neighborhood, you say, 'I don't want the Palestinians to join up with the radicals and will do everything to ensure that they don't.' In order for this to happen, I need to support the pragmatists there. True, they are without strength now, but I need to support them. Any Israeli agreement of dialogue with Hamas will weaken the pragmatists." While Mizrahi made it clear that he supported going to Annapolis as a way of trying to strengthen the moderates and weaken the radicals, he said that he had never hidden his position that he thought it was a higher priority at this time to engage the Syrians. "Dealing with the Syrians would make it easier to deal with the Palestinians," he said, saying that Syria's moral and material backing for the Palestinians would lessen if Damascus reached an agreement with Israel. Furthermore, he said, Israel's main long-term strategic threat is not the Palestinians, but rather Iran. "That is why I am in favor so much of dialogue with Syria," he said, "to get them out of the Iranian embrace." The full interview with Mizrahi will appear in Friday's Frontlines.