'Iran talks an opportunity for Israel'

Ex-Mossad chief: Obama administration's readiness to start dialogue over nukes could help Israel.

Efraim Halevy 248.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Efraim Halevy 248.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The new US administration's willingness to begin a dialogue with Iran over its uranium enrichment program is an "opportunity" for Israel, even though the Islamic Republic's track record in international negotiations is one of "prevarications, lies and master manipulators of time," former Mossad chief Efraim Halevy said Tuesday. "On the issue of Iran, the aims of the US and Israel are identical," Halevy said in an address to a gathering of the New York-based World Jewish Congress in Jerusalem. "If they want to try a different [approach] on Iran, we should not consider this as a threat, but as an opportunity." His remarks came one day after US President Barack Obama reiterated in an interview with an Arabic-language satellite TV network - his first formal TV interview since being sworn in last week - that he was interested in engaging Iran in dialogue. The former spymaster said that Israel must be "cool-headed" in its approach to the Islamic Republic, which he called "one of the most implacable foes" the Jewish state has had to confront since its establishment 60 years ago. He noted that Iran was motivated by religion, but would do everything to ensure the preservation of its regime. "If they feel the regime is in danger, they will change their views," Halevy said, citing the Iranian decision to call for a cease-fire during the Iran-Iraq War after Saddam Hussein's US-backed regime began bombarding Teheran with missiles. "In extreme cases we might even find [the] Iran of today changing course," he said. Halevy, who immigrated to Israel from the UK as a teenager in 1948, has previously broken ranks with the Israeli establishment over the seriousness of the Iranian threat, as well as by advocating talks with Hamas despite the group's open commitment to Israel's destruction. Israeli officials have previously voiced concern that the new US administration will take a softer line against the Islamic Republic. In his address, the former Mossad chief said that the hour of reckoning with Iran was "fast approaching," and noted that the Islamic Republic was facing a wave of internal tensions, sparked by falling oil prices. He cited a 30-percent inflation rate and unprecedented unemployment figures some months before its presidential elections. Halevy opined that an "indestructible" Israel should be "serious, anxious, but confident" as it deals with the looming nuclear threat. "We must prepare ourselves in a cool-headed manner for a day when all other means are exhausted," he said. "It is necessary to be aware of the threat, but we should be imbued with confidence that we are able to meet it head-on if necessary." In a separate address, former ambassador to Iran Uri Lubrani said that "nothing" would prevent Iran from attaining nuclear capabilities. Lubrani, who served as Israel's envoy prior to the 1979 Islamic Revolution, said that Israel needed to do "whatever possible" to prevent Iran from attaining nuclear weapons, but added that it was nearly "mission impossible." "It is not a question of whether they will have it or not, but who is in charge and who will have the finger on the button," Lubrani said. He added that he did not envision any reason why the Islamic regime would want to forgo its nuclear weapons program when it was "on the threshold" of attaining a bomb, short of the Iranian people - backed by the West - taking action. "The Iranian regime is on a war-path with the West," he said. He proposed tightening and deepening sanctions "so that they really bite." "The people will not stand [for] this indefinitely," he concluded.