‘Nothing left’ but force if next talks with Iran fail, warns ex-Mossad chief Halevy

There’s no more time for ‘let’s meet again in two or three months,’ he tells The Times of Israel

David Horovitz

David Horovitz is the founding editor of The Times of Israel. He is the author of "Still Life with Bombers" (2004) and "A Little Too Close to God" (2000), and co-author of "Shalom Friend: The Life and Legacy of Yitzhak Rabin" (1996). He previously edited The Jerusalem Post (2004-2011) and The Jerusalem Report (1998-2004).

Efraim Halevy (photo credit: Flash90)
Efraim Halevy (photo credit: Flash90)

If upcoming international talks with Iran on thwarting its nuclear program do not quickly produce a breakthrough, there will be “nothing else left” but a resort to force, the former head of the Mossad, Efraim Halevy, told The Times of Israel in an interview on Sunday.

Efraim Halevy (photo credit: Flash90)
Efraim Halevy (photo credit: Flash90)

And it’s “tragic,” added Halevy, that “I don’t see any great effort being made” by the P5+1 group — the five UN Security Council permanent members and Germany – to prepare urgently and effectively for those talks.

The lights “should be burning through the night” to get a strategy together, he said. “The number one thing the world should be doing (on Iran) is investing enormous preparation into the P5+1 confrontation, because this is really the ‘Last Train to San Fernando’,” said Halevy, who also served as national security adviser and held senior ambassadorial positions. “I don’t detect any signs of this.”

Iran, he said, would doubtless try to play for time in the talks, for which no date or venue have yet been set but which are likely to convene soon. (The last such talks collapsed in Istanbul in January 2011). The international community, therefore, needed to be ready with its strategy and tactics, and to be represented by “a very high-level, experienced, wise and creative negotiator.”

As things stand, he went on, the Iranians would have a single negotiator, but the international community would likely have “all these diplomats sitting there,” approaching the talks as “a very ceremonious affair.”

For the international community, said Halevy, “there’s no time for, you know, ‘Let’s meet again in two or three months, let’s do our homework, let’s not rush things, let’s look at it, and so forth.’” Rather, he said, “there has to be a breakthrough… If there is no breakthrough, it means to say that the talks have failed.”

Asked if, by a breakthrough, he meant Iran announcing the suspension of its nuclear program, Halevy demurred. “I don’t want to say ‘Iran suspending the program.’ I don’t believe that everything will become public overnight.” But it would need to be clear, he said, “that there is a serious negotiation… They don’t have to spell it all out, but it has to be clear.”

Halevy said he did see signs of greater potential international coordination over Iran. He was encouraged by the growing consensus on tackling Syria, notably including Russia and China, which he said could also be reflected in a coordinated strategy on Iran. He also noted that the priority for the ayatollahs’ regime in Iran is “survival” at all costs.

Nonetheless, if the negotiations fail, “there’s nothing else left” but a resort to force, he said.

Perhaps, it was put to Halevy, Israel could live with a nuclear weapons-capable Iran? Halevy responded: “I don’t think that we should countenance that as long as we can do what we can to remove it.

Perhaps, it was put to Halevy, Israel could live with a nuclear weapons-capable Iran? Halevy responded: “I don’t think that we should countenance that as long as we can do what we can to remove it. I don’t accept the notion that Israel is destructible. But I think that if Iran retains a nuclear capability, life here is going to be very tough for a very long period to come. Israel will not disappear, but Israel will go through a period which I would not like it to go through.”

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Halevy’s comments stand in some contrast to those of his successor as head of the Mossad, Meir Dagan, who said last year that a strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities would be “a stupid idea” and told CBS’s 60 Minutes earlier this month that “An attack on Iran before you are exploring all other approaches is not the right way how to do it.”

Halevy stressed in the interview that Israel “should want a diplomatic solution.” It should be prepared to demonstrate to the international community that it was prepared to made “strategic changes” in policy, “true sacrifices,” in that cause. These changes, he said, could include apologizing to Turkey (over the Mavi Marmara affair) and agreeing to deal with Hamas. If Israel didn’t take such steps, said Halevy, “then it would be said that Israel didn’t really believe in the diplomatic solution, didn’t believe in the sanctions,” and simply “wants to attack Iran.”

Did Halevy believe the Israeli government wants a diplomatic solution? “I’m not sure every Israeli wants a diplomatic solution,” he said. “I’m not sure that the government is entirely behind this support for a diplomatic solution.”

Asked whether Israel should already be readying a military strike, Halevy said: “I have no doubt that for the past few years Israel has been readying its capabilities to meet the Iranians if necessary by force.”

(The full transcript of this interview will appear in The Times of Israel later this week.)


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