Tells 'Post' political process has "exhaused itself"; Olmert disagrees.
By DAVID HOROVITZ
Iran will not be deterred from its nuclear program and will ultimately reach a nuclear capability, Giora Eiland, the recently retired head of Israel's National Security Council, has told The Jerusalem Post, in an assessment immediately refuted by the Prime Minister's Office.
"The political process vis-a-vis Iran has more or less exhausted itself," Eiland said in an interview this week. "The efforts being made now to try and reach some kind of agreement with the Iranians are really the final efforts. In my opinion, they will fail."
Speaking with the Post in his office at the council, where he is still working as he completes a transition period after stepping down as its head, Eiland added: "In the end, Iran will attain a nuclear capability. The international opportunities of a few years ago were not exploited, and today it's too late. I don't regard the [international diplomatic] processes unfolding now as being strong enough to stop them, or even to temporarily suspend them."
But Miri Eisin, a spokeswoman for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, said that Olmert "doesn't accept this assessment."
"The prime minister doesn't see this [a nuclear Iran] as a given," she said. "He doesn't accept this assessment as fact, but feels that Iran can still be deterred." Eisin stressed that Olmert believes that the issue is a world problem, and that Israel "sees that the US is not about to back down."
In recent months there have been different assessments at the highest levels of Israel's policy making pyramid regarding whether US President George W. Bush would take military action against Iran to stop its nuclear march, with some saying he is too weak politically and over-extended in Iraq and Afghanistan to take such a dramatic step, and others arguing that he would not want to leave office with a nuclear Iran as one of his legacies to the world.
Traces of Eiland's comments about the inevitability of a nuclear Iran were evident in a statement Vice Premier Shimon Peres made at a 9/11 memorial service earlier in the week.
"Even if Iran gets the nuclear bomb, and I hope that it doesn't, we shall develop and can develop better technology to face them," Peres said.
This was the first time a senior Israeli official had publicly acknowledged that Israel might have to adapt to a reality where Iran has nuclear capabilities.
Eiland said that Israel, facing a nuclear Iran, would have "two terrible options." One is to do nothing [militarily], which is dangerous. And the other is to do something, which is dangerous. It is a very grave dilemma."
If Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became the next supreme leader of his country, and it attained a nuclear capability, "that's a problematic combination," Eiland said dryly. For now, he stressed, Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, reports to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei." (In a briefer conversation with the Post three weeks ago, Eiland had warned that Ahmadinejad, if he ever became the supreme decision maker, would "sacrifice half of Iran for the sake of eliminating Israel.")
Eiland said Israel should not blame itself "too much" for the anticipated failure of the effort to thwart Iran. Israel had not been at the center of the diplomatic struggle, although "maybe we could have tugged at the sleeves of those who were making decisions" with suggestions for wiser policies, he said.
Specifically, he faulted the United States with a "double mistake" that had prevented a possible political solution.
On the one hand, he said, Washington "is not giving any credibility to the notion that it would weigh military action. Nobody takes such a notion seriously. It is not carrying out activities that would suggest any such readiness. So the stick is not big enough.
"On the other hand it is not prepared to offer a bigger carrot - in the form of a dramatic change in policy on Iran, to say that 'We'll speak directly to you.'" Direct US engagement "might make an impression on the Iranians. But the US is ideologically opposed to doing this.
"So the carrot is small and the stick is small, and there's no reason for the Iranians to be persuaded [to change course]. The more time passes, the clearer this becomes, to my sorrow."
He said Israel had always been unwilling to so much as suggest to the US that it might change tack in situations where Washington's policy was tougher than Israel's, on matters relating to "Iran, the Palestinians, the Syrians, whoever. We don't dare to suggest to them that perhaps something else would be better...
"Israel is very faithful to the American ideological position," he said. "If the US is right, who are we to say anything different?
"But politics isn't about being right or wrong. It's about being smart or not smart. Sometimes the thing to do is not necessarily the "right" thing but the thing that will ultimately bring the best result. And if we think the US is making a mistake, we should say so. We don't. We do go to the Americans with complaints when we think they're not being tough enough, but never in the other direction."
On the Iranian issue, he went on, "there have been grave missed opportunities over the years, because the US did not merely say that it wasn't prepared to speak to Iran. Until February 2005, the US said that it would not support anybody else speaking to Iran either. 'They're bad. Don't talk to them.' But that doesn't work. Neither Iran, nor Hizbullah, nor anybody else, surrendered. We're through with the era of the ultimatum."
Herb Keinon contributed to this report. A full interview with Giora Eiland will appear in the Post next week.
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