The US inches ever closer to attacking Iran

Thursday, November 03, 2005

‘A Military Option Is Not on the Agenda’

In a wide-ranging interview, Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz rules out strikes against Iran and raises doubts about whether Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has what it takes to forge a permanent peace.

By Michael Hirsh
Updated: 6:54 p.m. ET Nov. 3, 2005
Nov. 3, 2005 - Shaul Mofaz is a tough Likudnik, but he’s also shown a pragmatic willingness to negotiate with his enemies. The Israeli defense minister was born in Tehran, and he believes diplomacy can still work despite Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s call last week for Israel to be “wiped off the map.” Mofaz has forged a deep working relationship with younger Palestinian leaders such as Mohammed Dahlan, the Palestinian civil-affairs minister and security chief for Gaza. And Mofaz suggests that real peace will have to await their ascension to the president's office. As the man responsible for implementing the Gaza disengagement plan, Mofaz also met last week with President Hosni Mubarak, along with Egypt’s defense minister and intelligence chief, forging a previously unreported agreement on regional security. This week he is in Washington to meet senior U.S. officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. On Wednesday he sat down for an interview in his suite at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel with NEWSWEEK’s Michael Hirsh. Excerpts:

Story continues below ↓


NEWSWEEK: Let’s talk about Iran. This is a very personal issue for you in some ways. I understand you were born in the same city, Tehran, as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president.
Shaul Mofaz: Yes, I was born in Tehran, and I came to Israel when I was 9 years old, in 1957 … I can tell you that what Ahmadinejad said about erasing the state of Israel from the map, [combined with Iran’s] surface-to-surface missiles and the fact that they have a high desire for achieving nuclear power, is a real threat against the state of Israel but also against all the Western countries. Under the nuclear umbrella in the future [Iran] will be a threat to all the world.

As a person who knows Iranian culture, what do you think is going on inside the Iranian regime? Do you think Ahmadinejad was speaking for the Iranian government, and that his views represent a new level of extremism for the regime? Or were his comments to a group of anti-Zionist students just an indiscretion on his part?
It is a new level of extremism in the regime. I'm not sure what it reflects for the population. I know there is a gap between the Iranian people and the regime ... I believe for the time being the diplomatic channel is the main one, and the United States along with the European countries should put this on the table of the U.N. Security Council, to talk about sanctions and a very deep and large inspection of all Iran’s nuclear locations.

Are you concerned that the Iranian game is to draw out the negotiations so they can get to the point where their nuclear program is advanced enough and dug deeply enough into tunnels that there is no longer any military option against it?
Well, a military option is not on the agenda today.

It’s not on the agenda. But … we know that the Iranians are supporting and harboring terror. They support Islamic Jihad, they support other terrorist organizations, including Hizbullah. Remember the Karin A, the ship we captured in January 2002. That occurred after [the late Palestinian President Yasir] Arafat met with representatives of Iran, and they produced a special line of armaments for the Palestinians. The goal was to send 50 tons of arms to the hands of the Palestinian Authority. The Palestinians promised the Iranians in return they would give them security for Iranian terror groups coming to Israel. This was the deal. We were very lucky to expose it. But I believe. as I said, that this type of threat can be brought to the Security Council with the leadership of the United States and the European countries.

But Iranian support of Hizbullah and other groups is not the main focus of that diplomatic effort. The diplomacy is focused almost entirely on the nuclear issue. Do you have any leverage over the Iranians against their alleged support for terrorist groups other than rhetoric?
The main threat is the nuclear … But speaking about the support for Hizbullah, there is another side too: Syria. They support Hizbullah financially, and they are not allowing the Lebanese Army to come to the south of Lebanon to deal with security there.

Clearly there are a lot of reasons to be skeptical about whether the European-led negotiations with Tehran can forge a solution. Is that really the only option? Is there no military leverage at all?
I believe today we should make the best effort in the diplomatic channel. And there is a chance that by putting pressure on Iran, a decision in the U.N. Security Council [will] delay or stop an Iranian nuclear capability.

Is it really satisfactory to you to merely delay the Iranian nuclear program when you see this as an existential threat to Israel?
I believe we should make our best effort to achieve the maximum we could achieve by diplomatic channels, before thinking about other channels.

But what would satisfy your security concerns?
What would satisfy us is that the Iranians do not reach a point of no return in enriching uranium.

But right now they’ve converted quite a bit of yellowcake into UF-6 [the feedstock for enrichment]—some 30 tons—and are upgrading their Natanz enrichment facility.
We have a few years until they reach this point [enrichment], and I hope the diplomatic effort will delay this.

Some analysts have concluded that the Israelis don’t have a military option any longer—as you once did against Iraq’s Osirik reactor—because the Iranian program is too complex, too spread out, and dug in too deep.
I’m telling you that a military option is not on the table now.

Regarding the disengagement from Gaza, there are deep concerns about the rising power of Hamas and whether they’re re-equipping, and infiltration over the open border with Egypt. Just last week it was revealed that two Palestinians were captured coming across the Negev Desert into the West Bank. How concerned are you about this and Mahmoud Abbas’s ability to deal with all this?
The disengagement was so rapid that they [the Egyptians] couldn’t prepare themselves for responsibility in this area. But since they took responsibility for the Philadelphi corridor [on the border between Gaza and Egypt], the amount of smuggling has decreased. There are still some measures they need to be taking, but the deployment of border guards is effective. And they are stopping the smuggling of arms and people from one side to the other. But still they have to do more.

Is there intelligence cooperation?
Well, mainly there is cooperation between two central operational “rooms” on the Egyptian and Israeli sides.

The fact that you caught these two guys coming in from the Negev—is that evidence that you’re sharing operational intelligence with the Egyptians? Or did you just get lucky?
We understood a year ago that area of the Israeli-Egyptian border between Karem Shalom to Eilat, we don’t have a fence. So we needed to operate in a different way. We have more troops in this area, we are going to have a lot of sensors and devices to make sure we will see the picture and have intelligence. So we are becoming more effective.

So I gather that you don’t see a need to put a lot more pressure on the Egyptians on this issue?
I was in Egypt last week. I had a meeting with President Mubarak, the defense minister and the minister of intelligence. We decided they will increase their activity along the Philadelphi area, the two operational rooms will start to coordinate their activity along the border, and they should deploy patrol boats … And they promised me they would be more effective in the coming period. Also we decided we would be more cooperative on other issues [including] global terror.

On the Roadmap [plan for peace], are the U.S. and Israel in complete agreement that the next moves have to come from President Abbas, or Abu Mazen, as he is also called?
The implementation of the withdrawal plan was very painful, very difficult, but very bold step for Israel. We think that today it is the Palestinian turn to take action. We should move forward on the first phase of the Roadmap plan and President Bush’s vision. The first phase is the dismantlement of the terrorist infrastructure. … But there is no move on the Palestinian side since the declaration of Abu Mazen in the Sharm al-Sheikh summit on Feb. 8, in which he said he would create one authority, one rule, under one gun. And still there is no one gun. More than that, our feeling is that Abu Mazen’s intentions are good, to move forward, but there is a vacuum of leadership under him. There are some [views] among the Palestinian leadership that it is not our problem, it is Abu Mazen’s problem … The Palestinian security groups are not effective. They are not taking any active steps against the Palestinian terror groups, there is no one man that is controlling all Palestinian security, and there is a lack of chain of command and control of Palestinian security groups.

What is very important is that the election of the Palestinian Parliament will take place on Jan. 25. Everybody knows that Hamas intends to participate in this election, and we believe that a terror organization that is committed to the destruction of Israel cannot be part of this election. We will not interfere … but on the other side we are not going to support it.

Weren’t you quoted as saying that peace will take a generation to achieve?
No, I said that Abu Mazen has good intentions but there is a lack of activity in Palestinian security groups and they are not united under one man. So I said for a permanent agreement [to be achieved], it will be the next generation of the leadership—which exists today. They are waiting for the day after Abu Mazen. I don’t want to mention names … Abu Mazen is doing his best, but he doesn’t have the support among the other leaders of the Palestinian people.

© 2005 Newsweek, Inc.


Post a Comment

<< Home