Sunday, September 16, 2012

Chance of a deal with Iran? No.

Shlomo Cesana..
Israel Hayom..
16 September '12..

Although we often forget, Israel is still a state in the making. These past 64 years, we've been doing things on the fly. Suddenly, however, we realize that an entire chapter is missing, the one that talks about formulating a clearly codified national security doctrine. Brig. Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser, the former head of the research division of Military Intelligence, wants to fill in the blanks. By dint of his position as director-general of the Ministry of Strategic Affairs, he has summoned aides and officials from other government agencies to collaborate on a document that looks to address this issue.

“To this day, there has been no officially commissioned document that spells out Israel’s national security doctrine,” he said this week during an interview in Tel Aviv. “There is room to re-examine the defense doctrine that was established by David Ben-Gurion since today's reality is much more complex than it was during the establishment of the state. We have gone through a process of attaining peace with some of our neighbors. We have recognized the existence of a Palestinian people, which in the past we had always viewed as part of the Arab nation. The threats to the Israeli homefront are manifested not just by missiles and rockets, but also by cyberwarfare, and these threats have only proliferated. There have also been changes in Israeli society as well as challenges that test its strengths.”

“So there were questions about whether the state was capable of enduring, and today the mission is to fortify it and to ensure its integration into its immediate surroundings,” he said. “Israel has accomplished tremendous achievements over the last six decades. We are evaluating ways to shore up the pillars of our strength, and at the same time we are assessing our basic assumptions in an effort to lessen the threats to national security.”

Kuperwasser, 58, resides in the city of Rosh Haayin. In his view, the ministry for which he works, which is headed by Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Ya’alon, is vital to the state as it contributes significantly to its ability to deal with national security challenges. In its previous incarnation, the ministry was run by Avigdor Lieberman, who bore the title of minister of strategic threats. Lieberman was mainly preoccupied with the Iranian issue. During the Ya’alon era, the ministry has dealt with all of the relevant national security issues on Israel’s agenda.

“We are busy with the Iranian threat, regional relations, and quite extensively with suggesting and advancing ways to deal with those who seek to harm the legitimacy of the State of Israel. Together with representatives of the various government ministries and other experts, we are evaluating the important factors with an eye toward its impact on foreign relations, from a legal standpoint, and from a security standpoint.”

To what extent is Iran a dominant subject in this dialogue?

“Even before we get to the Iranian issue, our strategy should start with ensuring our domestic strength,” he said. “The State of Israel’s internal might stems from universal acceptance of the importance in preserving our identity as the democratic nation state of the Jewish people. It is on this basis that unity can be solidified and we can then begin to deal with the disagreements and fissures that characterize our society. This can be done while reaffirming our commitment to preserving the agreed upon decision-making mechanisms.”

“Israeli democracy is the main source of its strength, and there is tremendous importance in buttressing it,” he said. “Furthermore, Israel is a focal point of thinking, creation, and innovation which can all be utilized to double our strength as we formulate a strategy for fortifying our national security.”

What about Iran?

“Naturally, Iran is a very central issue. The combination of a regime with a missionary worldview with aspirations to change the current world order, not just the regional order, and the desire to attain a capability to foment this desired change, is worrying. There’s no need to be alarmed by them, but there is a capability there and an intention, and so there is a danger. This is a fanatic regime that is motivated, to a great extent, by ideological considerations, although there are elements there that do give greater weight to nationalist considerations.”

“Today, there is no way of striking a deal with the Iranian regime, because it has no interest in stability but rather wants to change the status quo. There are many forces in the region that seek stability. The Iranians are interested in undermining this stability. The very existence of upheaval is a means to this end. As such, they are trying to generate instability wherever possible, and they are intervening in the affairs of almost every country in the region. This is not a government that will be placated by recognition of its history and its importance. On the contrary. Obviously we are more disturbed than others by this regime because its leaders constantly talk about removing Israel as the first stage of removing the West from the region.”

“But Iran’s agenda is not focused solely on us. Their goal is to replace moderate, pragmatic regimes in the region with radical Islamic governments, all as part of bringing about a new world order. They are waging war against Western culture and values to supplant them with their own culture and values.”

A zone of immunity

Kuperwasser says that the Iranians are operating in accordance with a long-term plan. “For years, they have been thinking and acting in one direction,” he said. “This is a mission that isn't fulfilled in the blink of an eye. It is evident in Iran’s political and diplomatic activities, its use of terrorist proxies abroad, and its brazen intervention in the domestic matters of other countries. On the Israeli front, they are preoccupied with continuously supplying arms, instruction, and military knowledge to whomever wages conflict against ‘the Zionist entity,’ principally Hezbollah and Hamas.”

“More than anything, this is evident in their efforts to attain a nuclear weapon. This effort has been ongoing for many years. This is not a simple process. One needs to manufacture fissionable material and then to know how to convert it and shape it in a way that will turn it into a weapon that can take the form of a bomb which could be delivered to a target. From a technical point of view, these are not simple tasks.”

“The Iranians have managed to overcome many technological obstacles en route to their goal. It took them longer than they had hoped and longer than we had anticipated, but after a bumpy ride, they now find themselves in a situation where they are making progress toward reaching the capability to manufacture a bomb.”

“At a certain point a few months ago, the world understood that the Iranians were liable to cross a dangerous line and so a number of far-reaching steps were taken against them that left them battered from an economic perspective,” he said. “But because they have arrived at the advanced stage in which they find themselves, it doesn’t appear that they are ready to halt the process just because of economic sanctions, irrespective of how damaging they are.”

Have they already entered the zone of immunity?

“One possible Iranian plan is to get to a point where they can decide to sprint toward the bomb so that anyone who wants to disrupt this process will have a hard time doing so,” he said. “They’re not there yet, but they aren’t far off, and they are certainly getting closer. This intelligence assessment is accepted by everyone. The question now remains, ‘What do we do now?’”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who as early as the 1990s foresaw the danger of the Iranian nuclear threat and cited it as the central problem which the world needs to tackle, recently repeated what he feels is the necessary course of action: delineating clear red lines to the Iranians, which if crossed would compel the international community to act in stopping the ayatollahs from Tehran.

“Either the Iranian regime decides to stop its progress towards the bomb, or else the worlds decides to stop the project,” Kuperwasser says. “For the regime to halt the process, it needs to understand that moving full speed ahead toward the bomb threatens its continued existence. One of the ways to get this message across is economic pressure.”

“The picture that is emerging today is that economic sanctions are not enough. This is where we see the importance of intensifying sanctions and presenting a credible threat of the use of military force to stop the project. At the same time, we need red lines. Nobody in this world is eager to use military force against any country, but it seems that everyone is wondering when this needs to be done in the case of Iran. For this reason, it is important to sketch out red lines that will be clear to the Iranians.”

“It is reasonable to assume that if clearly defined red lines are drawn, the Iranians will be deterred from crossing them, because they recognize their weakness when faced with a superpower on the scale of the U.S., and consequently they won’t want to put themselves at risk by engaging it in a confrontation that would endanger the regime’s survival. In that way, we could be spared having to following through with the threat.”

In Israel, it seems that the chatter over the Iranian issue is nonstop and it certainly harms any chance of taking action. Why do we need to talk about it so much?

“We’re a free and open society, and it is natural to talk about things that threaten us. We've already discussed our might as a society and the fact that this is a democratic society that demonstrates fortitude. There is no harm in having a public discussion so long as it does not entail revealing secrets or undermining the authority of elected officials to make decisions.”

“At the same time, I would like to remind those who subscribe to the ‘bark is worse than the bite’ school of thinking that this approach has failed on numerous occasions. When there was a need to act, the State of Israel always took action. The question is if and when we reach a point where enough is enough. [Hezbollah Chief Hassan] Nasrallah, for instance, did not think that we would ‘bite’ in 2006, and he was surprised, and [Yasser] Arafat thought that we would not ‘bite’ and he was surprised by Operation Defensive Shield. Both of them absorbed a very serious strategic blow. I believe that when the time comes, the Iranian program will be stopped.”

From a technical standpoint, what can Israel do?

“Israel took upon itself the responsibility of ensuring that it would have the capability of defending itself on its own. This capability is also built upon help from our friends, but the principle is clear and it is acknowledged by all sides.”

The Palestinians will have to concede

How do you see the changes that have taken place in our neighboring countries?

“The regional upheaval is quite impressive. We haven’t seen anything like it since the 1950s, at least. This changes the environment in which we live. It’s still too early to say what kind of reality will be shaped as a result. The developments quickly unfold, and the changes are significant. Nobody really knows what is going to happen. On the one hand, we see a process of democratization, and this is a positive development. On the other hand, we are shocked at the depth of the brutality in Syria, and we are learning of the limitations of the international system as it concerns its ability to intervene and impact the regional arena. We notice that there is great hostility toward Israel in the region, but there is also recognition of its potency. We are witnessing the growing difficultly experienced by regimes to exercise their sovereignty over the entire landmass of their states. The difficulties of governing are even more profound in areas where there is scant support for the ruling establishment. As a result, the situation in the areas along the borders needs to be reassessed.”

What needs to happen so that Israel can continue to live in a state of calm and security?

“It’s very important that we have the capability to deal with threats and challenges — deterrent capability on one hand, and an ability to tailor policy to the changing circumstances on the other. The developments on the ground are not just a danger, but they also present an opportunity. In any event, it is important that we preserve the clearly positive elements in this situation, like the peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, and it is also important to clearly illustrate to our neighbors that adhering to the agreements and keeping their commitments to ensuring stability is also in their interests.”

You and your ministry are overseeing a relatively new project in which a government agency is gauging the level of incitement in the Palestinian Authority. Given the worrying results there, what do you think are the chances of reaching an agreement with the Palestinians?

“The Palestinians are frustrated by the fact that their argument of ‘the occupation being the mother of all problems in the region and the world,’ which for them was a winning card for many years, has turned out to be wrong . As such, there is growing doubt regarding a number of other basic, underlying assumptions in the Palestinian thinking, which in the past have enabled them to dictate the texture of dialogue surrounding the Palestinian issue. For there to be a real change in the dialogue, it could take a long time.”

“The real problem with the Palestinians is that under no circumstances are they willing to change their fundamental outlook, chief among them their refusal to accept Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people. This is the real reason that they are refusing to renew negotiations with Israel. They prefer the unilateral route in which they will be able to receive without having to make concessions of their own. Their entire strategy is predicated on the need to pressure Israel so that only we would be forced to change our positions on the key issues. This will not happen.”

“The Palestinians are ignoring the fact that at the end of the day, to advance a peace agreement, they will have to win the approval and acceptance of the Israeli public. In the way that they are going, they have very little chance of winning widespread support for their principles because they insist on leaving open the possibility that one day all of the historic Land of Israel will fall under their control and, as we all know, there aren’t many Israelis who would agree to this.”

“They are brainwashing the Palestinian public with three messages which essentially entrench their commitment to perpetuating the conflict. First, that all of ‘Palestine’ will eventually fall under Palestinian control at the end of the process; secondly, the demonization of the Jews, with an emphasis on Israeli Jews, particularly the settlers; and thirdly, in light of all this, that the Palestinians have a right and an obligation to continue the struggle against Zionism, and that violent struggle is legitimate but not always sensible.”

“The outcome of this is a solidifying of the psychological infrastructure that justifies continued conflict and sanctifies nationalist values that contradict the idea of compromise and reconciliation. As such, they continue to reject the idea of two nation states.”

“In his remarks to Arab League foreign ministers in February of this year, [Palestinian President Mahmoud] Abbas said, ‘Under no circumstances will I ever recognize Israel as a Jewish state, because I know what they mean when they say “Israel is a Jewish state.” They mean that Palestinians living in Israel have no value, and that there will be no right of return for refugees.’”

“These statements are an expression of his thinking. I hope that in the end, there will be someone willing to make peace with us. Peace will have to be based on concessions from their side as well. Unfortunately, today there are people there who think the opposite. Despite this, I am optimistic, but this isn’t something that can happen overnight. We need to persuade anyone who wants to see peace, including those in the international community, that it is impossible to make concessions if there is no infrastructure in place to allow for concessions from the other side.”


Brig. Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser, the former head of Military Intelligence research division and currently director-general of the Ministry of Strategic Affairs

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