Iran knows there is almost no chance of strike, ex-top adviser says

Geneva deal delegitimized military action, says Netanyahu’s recently retired senior security adviser; adding that Tehran is unbending in its aim to destroy Israel

Raphael Ahren is a former diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Outgoing national security adviser Yaakov Amidror with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a farewell ceremony in Amidror's honor, on November 3, 2013. (Kobi Gideon/GPO/Flash90)
Outgoing national security adviser Yaakov Amidror with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a farewell ceremony in Amidror's honor, on November 3, 2013. (Kobi Gideon/GPO/Flash90)

ATHENS — The interim deal reached in Geneva last month between Iran and six world powers has drastically reduced the likelihood of military intervention to thwart the rogue Iranian nuclear program, Israel’s former national security adviser said Monday.

A military strike has been “almost delegitimized” by the deal, and Tehran knows that the likelihood of military intervention now “is almost zero,” Yaakov Amidror said, addressing European Jewish leaders in the Greek capital.

Amidror also rejected US President Barack Obama’s suggestion Saturday that Iran, “like any country.” could “change over time,” positing that the destruction of Israel is one of the Iranian regime’s key goals, for ideological and religious reasons, and will remain so for the foreseeable future.

However, it is in Jerusalem’s interest to see the Iranian nuclear standoff resolved diplomatically, since Israel will be the country to feel the heat of retaliation if the Islamic Republic were attacked, he said. But the alacrity with which the US and five other world powers struck the interim deal with Iran weakened the position of the international community for the upcoming talks of a comprehensive settlement, Amidror warned.

Asked by The Times of Israel whether Israel might be reconciled to Iran retaining what Obama called “some modest enrichment capability” under stringent international supervision in a final agreement, Amidror would not be drawn. “The answer is that we will have to decide,” he said. “I’m not answering theoretical questions.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday told the Saban Forum that a permanent accord needed to ensure the complete “termination” of Iran’s military nuclear capacity. A day earlier, in remarks to the same forum, Obama said he could “envision an end state that gives us an assurance that even if they have some modest enrichment capability, it is so constrained and the inspections are so intrusive that they, as a practical matter, do not have breakout capacity.”

Amidror, a retired general who dealt mostly with military intelligence, headed the Israel National Security Council until last month.

Giving his assessment of the Iranian leadership’s attitude to Israel, he said: “It’s not a game. Those people really believe that Israel doesn’t not have the right and the legitimacy to be an independent state in the Middle East.”

Speaking to delegates of the European Jewish Congress, holding its annual executive meeting in the Greek capital, Amidror added: “It’s not only [rhetoric intended] for the Iranian population; it’s not for elections. They really believe Israel should not exist. And this is the source of all these problems. The belief of those people, who are leading now Iran, that Israel should not exist. Everything other than that is tactics.”

Israel is acutely alarmed by the Iranian threat precisely because it understands that this is the mindset of the regime, he went on. “The elimination of Israel is one of the great, important strategies of the Iranians, and this the main problem when we’re dealing with this issue. It is based on their religious belief and this is something that I don’t see changing in the years ahead.”

Amidror reiterated Jerusalem’s criticism of the interim deal with Iran, which partially freezes the nuclear program in exchange for limited sanctions relief. For a start, he said, the agreement was bad because the P5+1 countries had shown that they wanted to sign it more than the Iranians did. “That’s a very important factor for the next stage of the negotiations: When you negotiate with someone you know is more eager to have an agreement than yourself, you’re in a better position during the negotiations.”

The deal also “almost delegitimized” a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, Amidror posited. “So, everyone says ‘all options are on the table,’ but it is well understood in Tehran that the chance that the other options will be taken is almost zero.”

He added: If the Iranians see that the other side is more eager to have an agreement, and that the other [military] option practically does not exist, that means that the P5+1 lost the best leverage that they have against the Iranians, and they are coming to the next stage of the negotiations in a weaker position than in the first stage.”

Talks on a permanent accord are supposed to start when the interim deal takes effect, and to last six months. However, the interim deal has not yet taken effect, because “technical issues” relating to its implementation are still being negotiated.

Amidror added: “I want to be very clear. It is in the interest of the state of Israel [for the international community] to have a good agreement with the Iranians. A good agreement means an agreement in which it will be clear that the Iranians cannot [attain] nuclear capability. But this [interim] agreement does not even hint towards this direction.”

If anyone — even the US — attempted to attack Iran’s nuclear site, Israel “will be the only one that will have to deal with the real capability of the Iranians,” continued Amidror, referring to potential Iranian military retaliation.

The Iranians know it would be a mistake to act against US interests in the Persian Gulf or elsewhere, because they don’t have the military means to severely damage such targets, he said. “What they have is Hezbollah, which might be used — will be used — against Israel.”

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