InterviewCountry that calls for another's destruction can't be in UN

Citing Europe’s dark past, minister calls for concerted sanctions on Tehran

Amid discussions over expiring arms embargo, Eli Cohen says Iran should be kicked out of the United Nations

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Then-economy minister Eli Cohen at a meeting in Tel Aviv, April 1, 2019. (Flash90)
Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen (Flash90)

Europe’s dark past obligates it to act decisively against Iran now, Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen has said, urging European nations to support an international sanctions regime against the Islamic Republic.

“I expect from the UK, France and Germany not to bury their heads in the sand but to join the American sanctions,” he said. “We have had bad experiences with the Europeans in our history — they have buried their heads in the sand in the past.”

In a recent interview with The Times of Israel, the Likud minister — a member of the powerful security cabinet — urged the International Atomic Energy Agency to join sanctions against Tehran and went as far as saying the country should be kicked out of the United Nations.

Cohen, 47, also called for the speedy implementation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan to unilaterally annex parts of the West Bank — though he spoke before Israel suspended the annexation plan as part of its historic deal to normalize ties with the United Arab Emirates, announced Thursday. Cohen praised that deal in a Channel 12 interview on Saturday night, and predicted that Sudan would follow the UAE’s lead and make peace with Israel later this year.

Screenshot from footage of what Iran says was the unprecedented launch of a ballistic missile from underground, July 29, 2020 (Twitter)

“Iran remains the biggest state sponsor of terrorism — it finances Hezbollah in Lebanon and terrorist groups in Syria, Yemen, Gaza and elsewhere,” Cohen told The Times of Israel in his Knesset office.

“Iran is a threat not only for the Middle East, but for the entire world. And it’s clear to us that any money flowing to Iran will provide financial oxygen to those organizations.”

Countries refusing to support the US administration’s current effort to extend an international weapons embargo against Iran, which is set to expire in October, will “make a historic mistake,” Cohen warned. “They will be on the wrong side of history. They choose to stand with a radical dictatorship that kills its own people.”

In this Jan. 11, 2020, file photo, protesters hold flowers as tear gas fired by police rises at a demonstration in front of Amir Kabir University in Tehran, Iran, to remember victims of a Ukrainian airplane shot down by an Iranian missile. (AP Photo/File)

Under the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which was enshrined in a UN Security Council resolution, the ban on selling weapons to Iran expires on October 18. The US, which has since left the deal, on Friday proposed additional Security Council resolution to indefinitely extend the arms embargo. The resolution was defeated, with only two yes votes and 11 abstentions. Russia and China had announced their strong opposition to the resolution prior to the vote but eventually didn’t need to use their vote block it.

Europeans countries, too, were wary of the US initiative, worried that it could further unravel the nuclear deal with Iran and cause the regime to accelerate its pursuit of nuclear weapons.

Cohen, a former economy minister, said regardless of the resolution’s success, Washington’s unilateral sanctions will continue and likely increase.

Adamant to intensify its “maximum pressure” campaign, the administration will force international companies to choose between doing business with America or with Iran, he said. “And I don’t know many significant companies in Europe that will forgo the American market. The Iranian market is very small compared to the US market.”

Any arms that will still be sold to Iran will ultimately be used to advance the regime’s regional aggression, he added.

‘Did you watch Tehran? It’s a good show’

Iran never abandoned its ambitions to develop a nuclear weapons program, according to Cohen. “They never stopped wanting it, they never stopped working toward it, and they never stopped lying about it.”

Cohen believes that the new head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA, Rafael Grossi, who has taken a more aggressive stance toward Tehran, demanding it grant access to suspicious sites suspected of being nuclear facilities, has “good intentions” but is not doing enough.

IAEA director-general Rafael Grossi in Vienna, March 9, 2020. (AP Photo/Ronald Zak)

“You have to ask for sanctions,” he said. “Otherwise, what’s the purpose of your organization? If you cannot carry out inspections and you don’t call for sanctions of those who prevent you from carrying out inspections, then how is this organization relevant?”

Cohen went as far as calling on the UN to expel Iran due to its unabated calls for Israel’s annihilation. “Iran cannot be a member of the UN,” he insisted. “A country that calls for the destruction of another cannot be a member state of the UN.”

Asked about recent mysterious explosions in Iran that caused tremendous damage to the country’s nuclear facilities, Cohen demurred. After a few seconds, he said with a smile: “Did you watch ‘Tehran’? It’s a good show.”

He was referring to a successful Israeli TV espionage series in which Israeli agents try to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program. The show was picked up by AppleTV, where it will air starting September 25.

Niv Sultan appears in the trailer for “Tehran.” (Screenshot/ YouTube)

Pushed for a more substantial answer, Cohen offered: “We cannot allow ourselves — and the world cannot allow itself — to have a nuclear-armed Iran. Therefore we will act with all means at our disposal to guarantee that this won’t happen.”

Annexation for Israel, a ‘sub-state’ for the Palestinians

Born in the Tel Aviv suburb of Holon, Cohen worked as an accountant and later assumed various senior positions in the business sector before he entered politics with the now-defunct center-right Kulanu party in 2015. Last year, he joined Netanyahu’s Likud list and has been serving as intelligence minister since May.

His views on the Palestinian question appear slightly to the right of those of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whom he has urged to advance the unilateral annexation of the Jordan Valley and all settlements across the West Bank before the “historical window of opportunity” closes.

That window may have now closed, with Thursday’s announcement that Israel would suspend the annexation plan. Netanyahu later insisted the plan was still on the table though temporarily halted, while US President Donald Trump gave a confusing series of statements on the matter that also appeared to amount to the same message.

Palestinians, some wearing protective masks amid the COVID-19 pandemic, wave national flags as they attend a rally against Israel’s West Bank annexation plans, in the Jordan Valley village of Bardala, on June 27, 2020. (JAAFAR ASHTIYEH / AFP)

Cohen said: “There are 21 Muslim countries that surround us, and only one Jewish state. There is no doubt that we’re talking about our patriarchal homeland.”

He adamantly refused to endorse the idea of Palestinian statehood, saying that he advocates for Palestinian “autonomy” instead, in which Palestinians elect their president and their municipal leaders and get to determine their civilian agenda.

“We call it a sub-state,” he said. “It’s important to stress that the Palestinians have democratic rights… But we want security control.”

Palestinians currently living in parts that would be annexed to Israel should not be given Israeli citizenship, Cohen argued. Palestinians cannot vote for the parliament of the Palestinian Authority and also for the Knesset, he posited.

An employee inspects the main hall of the defunct Palestinian Parliament in the West Bank city of Ramallah on December 17, 2019. (ABBAS MOMANI/AFP)

“It doesn’t work like this… Everyone who defines himself as a Palestinian should vote for the Palestinian Authority. I am not in favor of giving a double right to vote,” he said.

“It sounds strange to me when people are saying, ‘I have the opportunity to vote for my people, but no, I want to vote for the people that I am opposed to.’ They say their nationality is Palestinian. If someone recognized the State of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, we can think about it. But it’s not possible to say, ‘I am Palestinian, but I don’t want to vote for the Palestinian Authority but for the Israeli Knesset.’”

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