When Uzi Arad, a former national security adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, analyzes the nuclear deal reached with Iran in November, he sees little prospect of the Islamic Republic rolling back its bid to attain nuclear weapons capabilities. The inability to reach a final agreement with Iran, he predicts, will leave Israel to face the dilemma of whether to attack Iran on its own.
According to the interim deal finalized between Iran and the six superpowers on January 13, the Islamic Republic is to limit the enrichment of uranium to a level of 5 percent and dilute its stockpiles of enriched uranium. The process, a spokesman for Iran’s atomic department stated, began on January 20.
But Arad, who has spent decades monitoring Iran’s nuclear proliferation, was deeply skeptical on Tuesday that Iran would voluntarily forgo its bid to attain nuclear military capabilities — in the allotted six-month time-frame for negotiations, or beyond. True to his past in Israel’s intelligence services, Arad’s messages are often cryptic; he refuses to reveal where he personally stands on many specifics. But the crux of his argument on Iran is fairly clear.
“From Israel’s perspective, the result [of the interim nuclear deal] is disappointing compared to what we had hoped for,” Arad told The Times of Israel on the sidelines of a first annual lecture series in memory his former history teacher, Tel Aviv University founder professor Zvi Yavetz, who passed away last year.
“Most experts doubt whether a [final] deal can be reached, so we should treat the current situation as one which will continue. They [the Iranians] will continue enriching [uranium] to a level they regard as permissible, until the opportunity arises when they decide to catch up easily. It’s only a matter of time. Meanwhile, they achieve sanctions relief and the sense of [Western] laxness. The threat of military intervention is dissipating in the air,” he said.
Once one of Netanyahu’s closest security confidants, Arad ended a 25-year career in the Mossad to become Netanyahu’s foreign policy adviser when he was first elected prime minister in 1997. Arad left that post when Netanyahu was replaced by Ehud Barak in 1999 to found the Institute for Policy and Strategy at the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center (IDC), launching and presiding over the prestigious annual Herzliya Conference series. He returned to Netanyahu’s side in 2009 as head of Israel’s National Security Council and Netanyahu’s adviser on national security, a position he held until 2011.
For Arad, those who contend that American pressure can cause Iran to forgo its nuclear bid are delusional.
“I ask in the name of common sense: a state which went through such efforts to reach military nuclear capabilities, which paid such a heavy price over the years for whatever reason, will suddenly simply say: ‘Alright, never mind, this was just a game?’ Of course not. The same impulses remain, except now [Iran] needs to add new considerations to the equation. They want to reach nuclear capabilities cheaply, without sanctions.”
Iran already enjoys many of the benefits of being a “nuclear breakout state” (that is, a state which can produce a nuclear weapon within months if it so chooses), he said. The only situation worse for Israel is if Iran produces actual weapons.
Israel, for its part, is gradually losing confidence in the international coalition led by the US, which it formerly believed could tackle the Iranian challenge to Israel’s satisfaction, Arad said.
“If we have the ability to solve the problem through certain means, what are we waiting for? Why haven’t we done so earlier? Obviously our leaders, since the time of [Ariel] Sharon, thought that we’re part of a coalition. That the US is bearing this heavy burden. This was the situation until not long ago, but if no one is going to do it, Israel will face a dilemma; it will need to weigh [a military strike] in light of the possible outcomes.”
Two schools of thought now exist in Israel, Arad noted. There are those who believe in the “apocalyptic scenario” of a nuclear Iran, concluding that Israel must take any risk to stop it. Others believe that Israel can maintain a high level of security even given a nuclear Iran; hence expressing less willingness to go all out.
Arad refused to reveal which of the two views he supports.
‘Israel has discussed sovereign Jewish enclaves within Palestine’
The question of whether Jewish settlers should be allowed to remain in their communities under Palestinian sovereignty, a position The Times of Israel first revealed is supported by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has dominated Israeli headlines over the past few days.
According to Arad, who currently heads the Center for Defense Studies and serves on the faculty of IDC’s Lauder School of Government, the idea of leaving Jewish settlements under Israeli sovereignty as enclaves within the Palestinian state has been discussed both by the Israeli government and academia.
“These ideas are part of the international inventory [of solutions]. There are precedents for this in almost every continent,” he said.
“Every Israeli should realize that transferring human beings is a serious matter. The blood of Jews is no less red than the blood of non-Jews. Just as we do not rush to move one population, so we should not rush to move another.”
Arad said that the evacuation of settlers should be treated as a matter of human rights and accordingly reduced to a minimum.
“The blasé attitude toward uprooting and moving families makes me uncomfortable. There should be a principle of minimizing the movement of populations, regardless of which side, if only from a human rights perspective.”
When speaking to his American counterparts, Arad said, he often compares the evacuation of settlements to a professional relocation, which employees often try to avoid for its harmful effect on family life.
“I ask the Americans: why are you so lighthearted about moving people who work and live in their historic homeland?”