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Some in Israel, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have been speaking out about the need to act aggressively against Iran, with or without the support of the U.S. But many Israelis, including some in the military, do not share this view. Please join us to talk about the range of public opinion within Israel over how to respond to Iran’s nuclear program.
- Yoram Peri Abraham S. and Jack Kay Chair in Israel Studies and director of The Joseph B. and Alma Gildenhorn Institute for Israel Studies University of Maryland.
- Danny Danon deputy speaker at Knesset, chair of World Likud and chair Knesset Committe for Immigration.
- Aaron David Miller public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Concern over Iran's nuclear weapons capability is fueling sharp debate within Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been among those pressing for action, but not all Israeli's believe a military strike with our without the support of the U.S. would enhance Israeli security. Joining me to talk about what Israelis think about current tensions with Iran, Danny Danon. He's deputy speaker of the Knesset and author of a new book titled "Israel: The Will to Prevail."
MS. DIANE REHMYoram Peri, he's chair of Israel studies at the University of Maryland, and Aaron David Miller of the Woodrow Wilson Center. I do invite your questions, comments throughout the hour. Join us by phone at 800-433-8850, send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org, join us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning to all of you.
GROUPGood morning, Diane.
REHMGood to have you all here. Aaron David Miller, tell us what we know for certain about Iran's nuclear capabilities, and then address some of the unanswered questions we have.
MR. AARON DAVID MILLERWhat we know, that is to say in this case what the IAEA knows in their latest report, is that that the Iranian effort to develop a capacity to produce a weapon continues. The enrichment process continues in an effort to reach bomb grade levels at 20 percent, the number of centrifuges at Fordow, which is the facility that the Americans and others are worried about. Hardened has increased. Some of those centrifuges are not active.
MR. AARON DAVID MILLERThe degree to which cyber attacks Stuxnet and other programs have retarded or delayed the program is arguable. But I think it's fair to say that the Iranians are continuing their efforts to create the capacity to produce weapons. Now, in the unknown category is where they are in terms of mastering the fuel cycle, number two the weaponization process, how to actually mount a nuclear warhead on a missile, and finally, I guess the strategic political decision, has the Iranian regime made a decision to actually build a weapon?
MR. AARON DAVID MILLERAnd the distinctions between capacity and the actual production of weapon is an important. Therein lies the question and certainty that divide the government of Israel at the moment and the United States.
REHMAnd before we get to that, what about sanctions against Iran. To what extent have they slowed or even affected the process?
MILLERI mean, that's an impossible question to answer. I think the bottom line is that however punitive, punishing, and effective they are, in terms of oil and financial sectors, and the general Iranian economy, that they have not dulled or retarded Iran's desire or determination to continue their efforts. And again, the question in the end is what is the objective of those efforts, to remain a screwdriver away from actually producing a weapon? One screwdriver turn away? Or to actually build a weapon and test it?
REHMAaron David Miller. He's at the Woodrow Wilson International Center. He's author of the forthcoming book "Can America Have Another Great President?" Turning to you, Danny Danon. Explain to us your position within the Israeli government and what it is you believe Israel should be doing -- should be considering as far as Iran is concerned.
MR. DANNY DANONThen officially I am the deputy speaker of the Israeli Knesset, the Israeli parliament, and the chairman of the Committee for Immigration (unintelligible) . Unofficially, I represent a new generation of young leaders in Israeli who come and say very directly we need to speak out. We need to put these things on the table. And what we hear here in the U.S. about Iran, we are afraid because we not America. We love America and Israel. We love the values, we love the democracy, we love to follow the elections in the U.S., but we cannot afford to make mistake like the United States of America.
MR. DANNY DANONWe are being used to change the reality in Israel. If you go back to 1948, 1967, we changed the reality, and today we have only one option. We do not have the option to wait and see whether Iran will build a bomb and use it. We cannot wait. But if we are to decide between waiting and allow Iran to become nuclear, or the second option is to bomb Iran today or in the near future, we would have to choose the second option. It is a hard call. We do not want to have any war, and we do not want to get our people into the position where they would have to suffer as we cannot allow a mad leader that say very clearly, I want to wipe out the Jews in Israel, but then I want to wipe out the people in the U.S. So it's a problem for the American people as well. It's not somewhere else. It's here in the U.S.
REHMAnd what do you and those who support your view believe is the so-called window of opportunity?
DANONWell, I think we all agree it's not a matter of years. So we can argue about the time or the window will be closed within months, a few months, or six months, but we know we cannot wait forever, and what we're seeing here in the U.S., unfortunately we see lack of leadership, because President Obama speaks a lot about Iran, but we haven't seen real action. In the end of this month, I mean, (word?) will come again to the U.N. and will speak again in New York City, but he will go back to be Iran and he will be continuing to build the fifth bomb today in Iran. So we need to take action. If the U.S. will not be with us, we will do it ourselves. We have the capability to do it.
REHMDanny Danon, deputy speaker of the Knesset. He's also chair of World Likud, and author of a new book titled "Israel: The Will To Prevail." Yoram Peri, clearly this is a topic of major debate in Israel. How fearful do you believe the Israelis are as a population of an Iranian attack?
MR. YORAM PERIYou cannot imagine, Diane, how important it is to the Israelis. They talk about it every day all day long on every dinner table. It's a major issue, and they talk about it in a very existential way unlike this conversation here in the United States which deals with strategy, super strategy, et cetera, there is an -- it is an existential question, and you just heard that position. But we have to analyze it in more detail. First of all, it is really that the majority of the Israelis believe that we are talking about a survival, an issue of existential threat, but not all of them. Not all of them.
MR. YORAM PERIThere is a very interesting school of thought, small one, very small one, that says we can live with nuclear Iran, and the interesting thing is that some people who present that position are not leftist peaceniks, but people who came from the military establishment. Only a week ago, the former head of the Mossad -- the Israeli Mossad, Efraim Halevy, came with a very interesting proposal that it's not either Iran has the bomb or Israel have to attack Iran. There are other ways to solve the problem if we listen carefully to their demands and we negotiate with them.
MR. YORAM PERISo it is that question, whether Irani -- a nuclear Iran means the destruction of Israeli. About 40 percent of the Israelis will tell you yes, it is, but many would not -- do not think so.
REHMSo what do you think is stoking the greater and greater concern about this?
PERISo here indeed where we come to the second question. If we are not going to live with nuclear Iran, what should we do, and this a major debate in Israel. Should we do it on our own, or should we do it together with the United States? So the way the question is phrased today is not so much whether we should attack Iran or not, but whether we should do it now without American support, or later on with American participation. And here you find that the very many people, again, professionals in the military in the defense establishment, are saying, oh, no, don't do it now.
PERIThe relations with the United States are more important to us than to do it today. We can leave for a few more months and be sure that we get the support of the United States. So these are more practical questions, can Israel do it alone? Israel can do the first strike. Can it continue after the first strike? For a second and third and fourth strike, you do need American power, and therefore you have to be in coordinates with the Americans, et cetera.
REHMYoram Peri. He's director of the Institute for Israel Studies at the University of Maryland. Do join us 800-433-8850. Aaron David Miller, how prepared do you believe the U.S. to be go with Israeli now or later to bomb Iran?
MILLERI think the president of the United States, I would call him the not-now president on this issue. There's only one country in the world, and I don't want to trivialize Israeli security concerns on this. I live in Chevy Chase, Md. I don't live -- Chevy Chase Circle, I don't live in downtown Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. I'm not going to argue whether this is a grave threat or an existential threat. It's not up to me. But the reality is, there's only one country in the world right now who believes that a strike on Iran is anything other than a discretionary war, and that is Israel, who believes it's a war of necessity right now.
MILLERThe President of the United States does not believe it is a war of necessity. That means at the moment that there is additional time. Now, how that time is going to be used is arguable. Negotiations right now, before an American election aren't going to be productive. Sanctions as we discussed, Diane, are not going to retard or delay Iran's acquisition of a weapon. Sometime in 2013, an American president who is already on record as saying that he will not allow Iran to acquire a weapon is going to have to make a decision.
MILLERThis Israelis would clearly prefer, for any number of reasons, that the United States bring its formidable military power to bear and that's still their main objective right now.
REHMAaron David Miller of the Woodrow Wilson International Center. Short break here. We'll talk more when we come back.
REHMAnd welcome back. We are talking Israel's position regarding bombing of or attacking Iran in the midst of what Israel and the world fears is a growing nuclear power in Iran. Here with me is Danny Danon. He's deputy speaker of the Knesset, author of a new book titled, "Israel: The Will to Prevail." Aaron David Miller, he's author of the forthcoming book, "Can American Have Another Great President?" and Yoram Peri, he is director of Israel Studies at the University of Maryland.
REHMWe're going to open the phones shortly. But first, Danny Danon, putting aside that there would be inevitable retaliation from Iran, is Israel willing to go forward alone? Is Israel hoping that Governor Romney might be elected and therefore, with his help, would go forward with an attack on Iran? How do you see this shaping up?
DANONFirst of all, we are getting ready for the retaliation. It will be hard. It will be hard for Israelis for a few weeks in Israel because it will not be only missiles coming from Iran. There will be missiles coming from the north, from Hezbollah. It will be missiles coming from Gaza. So actually we will have at least three fronts and we are getting ready for this scenario. We hope that that U.S. will do the -- take the moral decision.
DANONI don't know who will be elected. We have a strong relationship with forever with Republicans and Democrats. But it is a moral decision that the U.S. president will have to decide whether he's supporting Israel or he's standing idly by. We hope that the president will take the moral decision that will support Israel, because I want to share with when I wrote the book I found out that today, as we speak, kids in Iran when they're going to their schools they have to march on the Israeli flag and the American flag.
DANONSo the hatred coming from Iran is seriously going after the Saturday people, the Jews who live in Israel by just saying we will go after the Sunday people as well. It is a hatred against the values that we represent today in Israel.
REHMDo you believe that were Israel, with or without the United States, to bomb Iran, that you might set off regional war that could end in a confabulation beyond anything imaginable?
DANONI think it will be a regional conflict because you will have the Hezbollah in Lebanon and you will have the Hamas in Gaza. But in terms of other Arab states, they are very concerned regarding Iran. You need to -- the weaker leagues report and see that the people in Saudi Arabia, in Jordan, in Egypt are concerned about Iran becoming nuclear, not less than the people in Israel. So, I don't think we will get into a conflict with those Arab states. But we will have to face a long fight with the people in Lebanon and Gaza.
PERILet me add something to what Mr. Danon said, and I'm agree with it, but he cannot say that as an official. The position of most Israelis is that we cannot trust anybody else, including our good friends, the United States. And if you ask the Israelis in public opinion polls what will happen next here, after the elections, whether it's Romney or Obama, would the U.S. begin a war because of Iran?
PERIThe majority, the vast majority will tell you no. We cannot trust the others, definitely not the Europeans and also not the Americans. And therefore, it really -- it's our decision when and how to do it. But they want to enter that the other realistic or realist approach, which is the Iraqi case. Israel attacked the Iraq nuclear installation with this infamous operation. And Shlomo Gazit, former general, very respected guy, wrote another article a few days ago in which he represented a position that very many realists in Israel have.
PERIAnd that is that Israeli on the Iraq nuclear plant strengthened the positions of the Iraqis, strengthened the desire of the Iraqis to continue with the process. Saddam Hussein stopped building nuclear capabilities. But because of the Israeli operation, he decided to do so. And then the argument is that if Israel attacks, it will legitimacy to the Iranians to continue.
REHMIf, in fact as you say, some within the military are against this kind of attack now or anytime soon, if a large measure of the Israeli population is against this kind of attack now or anytime soon, where and why is the push coming now?
PERIWell, because of that question of what happens if the Iranians continue to develop the program to a stage where it will be very difficult or almost impossible for Israel to attack. This is the famous saying of Barack, defense minister, when he talked about the space, which we still have. And this space is becoming shorter and shorter, smaller and smaller. If the decision -- if the decision is made in Iran to build a bomb, they need about two months.
PERINow if you don't know what happens during this two months, it will be too late. So we have to take much wider margin of error. And therefore the demand by those who advocate to do it now is let's do it, don't wait. Later it will be impossible, it will be too difficult.
REHMAre you in favor of that thinking?
PERIDefinitely not now. We did not utilize all the diplomatic means that are still existing. We did not utilize yet the sanctions. There's still room for negotiations and for diplomacy. Even -- if next year we see the diplomacy fails, and if next year we see they are continuing to build a bomb and they're getting closer, then the military option should be of -- definitely should be discussed seriously.
REHMBut not now?
REHMAaron David Miller, how do you see that?
MILLERWell, there's a risk to award -- risk to return ration here in which, frankly, in my judgment, again, I'm not an Israeli, but from an American perspective, not an entirely favorable one. As one Israeli strategic planner described it to me, it's like mowing the grass. The fact is the Israelis cannot do anything more than retard or delay Iran's nuclear program. And the cost of that retardation and delay could be enormous.
MILLERAnd not just in the region. You're talking fledgling economic recoveries in the United States and in Europe. You're talking about plunging markets and oil prices that are likely to double, triple according to the Iran, so-called Iran premium. The United States is in the process of drawing down its troops from Afghanistan. Believe me, Iranians will do everything they possibly can to turn up the heat against American forces in Afghanistan.
MILLERAnd what we'd seen in these killings among Taliban sympathizers and Afghani security and police were unhappy with their American trainers suggest to me the Iranians have a huge and fertile field to play in there. So, again, I do not want to trivialize Israel's concerns here. But the notion that the state of Israel would strike unilaterally before they were absolutely certain that the United States had made up its mind and it would similarly are going to allow the situation to drift seems to me, frankly, to be somewhat reckless and irresponsible.
MILLERThis is a big roll of the dice, Diane.
REHMSpeaker Danon, a big roll of the dice for Israel?
DANONAbsolutely. But what we see, I think, is deeper. When the United States is very strong, the enemies of Israel and the U.S. are afraid from the United States. And the allies that they can rely on it. Today we see a different process. The enemies are not afraid anymore and Israel is not sure whether it can rely on the United States. And I think that we will have to come and President Obama will meet Prime Minister Netanyahu at the end of this month.
DANONAnd Prime Minister Netanyahu will have to ask him, until when are you going to wait? And if he will get the answer that we'll have to see, we'll have to talk, we have been waiting for too long. Israel would have to take its decision by itself. By the way, we did it in the early '80s where we attacked the nuclear reactor in Iraq, we were condemned by the U.N. We were condemned by the U.S.
DANONBut 10 years later, when the U.S. invaded Iraq, people say thank god Israel took care of this threat coming from Iraq. So we don't have to think about what the people in Washington think today. We have to think about the long run.
REHMWhat about that, Yoram Peri?
PERIIt is true that the U.S. has changed its position vis-à-vis of Iraq. But -- and I'm not taking their extreme opposite position, for example, the Israeli unilateral attack on Syria some years ago was absolutely the correct way to solve the problem and it was, well, it was done in a very well way. Today, on the next issue of the New Republic -- the New Yorker, this long story, the detailed story about the whole -- how the whole thing developed.
PERISo, I'm not ruling out military options. But you have to see the picture in a much wider context. When you can use it, how you can use it, in what conditions. Therefore I believe, and I present the realistic approach that does exist in Israel, though not in the top level of the politicians, the prime minister and defense minister that we can still -- we do still have time.
REHMSpeaker Danon, how much support do you have among the people of Israel for an attack now?
DANONOh, this is something which is not popular, it doesn't matter. In Israel, we are a democracy. We elected a government. We elected a prime minister and a defense minister. So with all due respect to the polls and with all due respect to the former Army people and to all the experts and to all the think-tanks, the responsibility stops at the government. So the government must take the decision. They will have to use all the experts, but I wouldn't make the decision according to the polls in Israel.
DANONI will not ask the people in Israel what you think is better for you, because they are not aware for about all the intelligence that we can see. And I think we elected Prime Minister Netanyahu because we know that he will take the right decision.
REHMThe right decision, Yoram Peri?
PERIOne really has to admire the Israeli democracy when we look into the last year and the discussion about this operation. If you compare it to the public debate in the United States before the war in Iraq, you cannot compare the two cases. There's a very hot debate in Israel, people are debating. Everybody is presenting its position. The Cabinet, the inner Cabinet, the eight ministers are divided in the middle, half and half, four and four, and everybody gets into the public arena and tells his mind.
PERISo you really see a wonderful, open public debate which is very, should be appreciated. I don't know of many other cases where such a story, such a case was debated publicly in the way it is debated in Israel. But the weakness is that the prime minister and the defense minister are trying to get people to support them, and therefore hit the level of the debate.
REHMYoram Peri of the University of Maryland, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Are you implying that the prime minister, the defense minister are attempting to make the threat seem greater than it is at this moment?
PERII wouldn't say that. Maybe they do believe in what they say. But what I don't like is the fact that the rhetoric went up so high that it will make it more difficult for them to retreat tomorrow.
REHMAaron David Miller.
MILLERLook, I'm going on record, I'll say it again. Israel is in an extremely position. There are three constraints, however, which in my judgment will prevent the Israelis from taking a unilateral decision this year. Number one, the capacity constraint. The fact is, every Israeli decision maker knows that at the end of the day, the risks they're courting for the reward may not be consistent.
MILLERNumber two, the political constraint. And there is a political constraint. These internal Cabinet, security cabinet, there needs to be consensus. Prime minister will be the ultimate decision maker. But going to war, above the objections of enough members of his own Cabinet and his inner Cabinet is a risk. And finally, there is the American constraint. And in my judgment, the Israelis have built in additional time.
MILLERThat is to say, they can wait until they are unmistakably clear that whoever the president of the United States is by mid-November that that president will not strike Iran. If that is the case by the end of the year or early next, then I would argue that regardless of what we say, they are going to act. But they have an additional period of time. And to short-circuit that period of time, it seems to me, not only undermines American interest but in the end will undermine Israeli interests too.
REHMSpeaker Danon, the risks versus rewards?
DANONFirst of all, we don't talk according to the timeline of the American politics. We have pushed the process here and we follow it. But we do not work according to the political arena in the United States. And even people in Iran, they have their own agenda. It is a very risky decision, but you have to ask yourself, what is more risky, to wait and allow Iran to become nuclear and to hear Ahmadinejad saying, I will wipe out the Jewish people.
DANONAnd history have told us that you cannot ignore when you have a leader who says he wants to wipe out the Jewish people or to take the risk to attack Iran, to deal with the consequences. And the main issue is not what will happen here in Washington. And with all due respect, if President Obama would condemn us or not condemn us, it is important. But the consequences which are more important to us would be the missiles flying into our cities.
REHMBut what about your own consensus within the government?
DANONI think that they -- if you look at the history of Israel, even the creation. And in my book I write about it. To declare Israel as a Jewish state in 1948, it took a majority of one person that we've able to convince one member to take this historical decision. So I believe if the prime minister will decide if he wants to move ahead, he will be able to get the support within the government and within the public.
REHMLet's go back to the question of risk versus reward if in fact retaliation is so great, not only from Iran but as you suggest from Hezbollah. What about that risk to the Israeli people themselves?
DANONI think it is manageable. It will not be pleasant, but it is manageable. And we are getting ready for that. And, unfortunately, when you look at the history of modern Israel, every few years we have to engage in a conflict unfortunately. And I think it will be the next conflict that we'll have to engage with. We don't like to do it, but if you look at that every 10 to 15 years, we have a conflict with our neighbors.
DANONWe're in a beautiful land, beautiful country but we live in a very tough neighborhood. And the hatred, the incitement continues when you incite and you educate the new generation of kids against Israel, it means there will be more conflicts.
REHMDanny Danon, he's deputy speaker at Knesset, chair of World Likud and author of the new book, "Israel: The Will to Prevail." We'll take a short break. And when we come back, it'll be time for your calls. I look forward to your questions and comments.
REHMAnd we're back talking about the current threat that Israel perceives Iran to be because it believes that Iran is in the midst of developing a nuclear weapon. Here is an email from Bob in Sullivan, N.H. I'll direct it to you Speaker Danon. It says, "It's common knowledge Israel has nuclear weapons and no international inspection has taken place and yet they want not to allow Iran to have any nuclear capability. Why the double standard?"
DANONWell, you need to listen to what's coming from Iran and to understand why Iranian wants nuclear weapon, why they need it so much. And we have showed for the last 60 years that we like to be peaceful in our region. But we are not peaceful because of we are democracy and that some countries do not like to see a democracy in the Middle East.
DANONBut we don't really hear from Iran saying that we want to get nuclear weapon and to promote peace in the region. We are a nation that is full of hatred that is saying we want to have the capability to rule the region. It's complete different and I will not reveal whether Israel has nuclear weapon or not, but they -- we have seen with the difference and with the aggressor in the last 60 years.
REHMIf Israel did have nuclear weapons, would Israel consider using those nuclear weapons against Iran?
DANONI think that if Israel have nuclear weapon, the very fact that they can sweat the people in the region or you have some kind of balance of power it's important. If Iran would become nuclear it do not stop there. You hear the Egyptians saying we want to have nuclear weapon as well. And the Saudis the same, so it will start a race in the Middle East and then who knows where those bombs will come to.
DANONAnd I want to tell you that today the connection between Iran and Venezuela and the flights flying from Iran to Venezuela on a weekly base. And you just need to ask yourself this technology and weapons would it stop in Iran or would it get to the shores of Venezuela, South America, United States?
PERIThe question of the caller is very important one because there's a basic difference between the Israeli position and the Irani position. The nuclear capability of Israel was devised and will be used only as a last resort, only when Israel is going to be alienated, minutes before that and not even hours before that. Why the purpose of the nuclear program in Iran is to make Iran stronger, not necessarily to destroy Israel but to change the balance of power, to change the regimes in the region, to be in an active position to put much more force in shaping the future of events in the Middle East.
PERISo we are talking about two different perspective. One defense and the other one is not necessarily offensive but for changing the status quo.
MILLERI mean, I think the Israelis would, as a last resort, use nuclear weapons, and they do have them, enough clearly to make life in Iran non-livable. Which is one calculation that needs to be factored into the Iranian regime's calculation as to whether under what circumstances they would consider using nuclear weapons against the Israelis. But I think the Israelis would preempt with nonconventional weapons. If the Iranian nuclear program continues they will strike not with nuclear weapons but with unconventional weapons in an effort to...
REHMWhat does that mean?
MILLERWell, in other words...
REHMWhat kind of weapons?
MILLERI mean, weapons that don't carry nuclear chemical warheads is what I mean.
PERISo you mean conventional not unconventional.
MILLERI'm sorry, conventional weapons, yes.
REHMAll right, thank you. All right. You confused me there.
REHMAll right. To Flint, Mich. Good morning, Robert.
REHMGo right ahead, please.
ROBERTYes. Well, first of all, I'm a Republican usually, but I don't think that I'm going to vote for anybody that I believe is going to get us into another war in the Middle East. And I think Romney's pretty much committed to that. I'm not sure that Obama is. We spend an awful lot of time, treasure and life over there and I don't see it's done us much good. But I'd like to make another point. At one time, the main threat to Iran came from Iraq and we were telling the world, and I think the world believed that Iraq was again getting weapons of mass destruction, probably nuclear.
ROBERTAnd in 1993, we went in and it turned out that Iraq did not have those weapons. I think the CIA at that point -- well, also made a later determination that the desire or the active attempt to secure nuclear weapons in Iran ended. And it seems to me that that makes a certain amount of sense. Once their main threat was terminated, the man who had invaded Iran and killed hundreds of thousands of Iranians and his weapons program was determined not to be viable, it seems to me at that point they could terminate their active pursuit of nuclear weapons.
REHMAll right, sir. Aaron.
MILLERYou know, the reality is we're coming off the two longest wars in American history, wars that took the lives of thousands of Americans, diminished our credibility and left scores of thousands with grievous injuries. I don't think there is much of a will or stomach in this country to go off on another American military adventure. At the same time, both the President of the United States and Governor Romney have committed themselves to preventing Iran from acquiring a weapon.
MILLERAnd again, I'll return to what I said earlier, if in 2013 negotiations and sanctions have not answered the mail on this one, both men will confront a decision.
PERII agree with what you've said. I think that we still have time for negotiations. We still have time for sanctions. And I think that these steps will be taken. If they will fail then I wouldn't bet that the U.S. will start a war. And in that case I do bet that Israel will start a war on its own.
REHMAnd that's where our next caller goes. Good morning, Arel (sp?) , you're on the air.
ARELGood morning, Diane and guests and thank you for taking my call.
ARELI just want to express my opinion on this and see what you think about that. I believe that if Israel is determined that there is an existential threat from Iran on its borders to its country then they should go and act unilaterally to protect their country. I don't understand why there is such delay or maybe even equivocation or debate within Israel when it didn't seem to be the case back when they bombed Iran -- I'm sorry, Iraq and also bombed Syria, when they thought that there was a threat coming from those two countries.
ARELAnd also, I don't think that it would be appropriate for the United States to step in to assist Israel in this. I think that it would have dire economic consequences for our country. And not only that, it would divide our country even greater because we have been so committed to the war in Iraq and Afghanistan...
REHMAll right. Speaker Danon.
DANONFirst of all, the scale of the operation is different than attacking in Iraq. It's much longer, much more complex. They have been building the reactors in many operational places. But I think it is the problem of the United States as well. Some people here say, well it's not in my backyard. Why should we even care about it? But it is in your backyard so maybe we would be the first one to suffer or be threatened from Iran becoming nuclear. But eventually it will come to the shore of the United States.
DANONAnd we thought in 9/11, we mark ten years for 9/11, but al-Qaida decided to attack the United States of America and other towers in Tel Aviv. So if Iran become nuclear, it's putting the people in America in a sweat and it's not understood yet. People think it's a problem of Israel and let them deal with that. So let me break the news, it's not a problem of only for Jews against Iran. It's a problem of our values (unintelligible) societies against the values of Iran.
REHMHere's an email from Mary in Farmington Hills, Mich. who says, "An attack by Israel with or without the U.S. is an attack on the entire earth. The belligerence is over the top and endangers all of us, nuclear weapons that could obliterate the whole region and beyond. Please stop allowing this to go on without saner voices prevailing over this madness." Saner voices are trying, isn't that correct?
MILLERSure. Sanctions is the voice of sanity. Punitive negotiations are the voice of sanity. The threat of military force is the voice of sanity. But at some point nations act in what they perceive to be their own self interest. And I suspect that in the end again all the things being equal, if we don't act the Israelis will.
REHMTo Little Rock, Ark. Good morning, Kevin.
KEVINGood morning, Diane. Very quickly, to revisit the same issue, Israel has had an existential threat against the people of Israel and against the state of Israel. Iran has said, we want it gone, period. We will end it. Would Israel use low yield tactical -- tactical nuclear weapons to destroy Iran's ability to retaliate against Israel?
DANONI don't think it's being considered, but we do have other means to operate in Iran. We have advantage of technology, either an innovation a country we have the level of startup almost like Silicon Valley. And I think that if we will have to engage in a conflict the people in Iran will be surprised to see the technology that will be used in this conflict.
REHMHere's an email from Dev who says, "since when did enrichment to 20 percent become weapons' grade capability? It may be a step but your guests need to mention that 20 percent is needed for a reactor that produces isotopes for cancer cure, something the West refused to provide Iran when they requested it and said they would not enrich to 20 percent." (unintelligible) .
MILLERThat's true. The caller's point is dead-on accurate. There's no question about that. But crossing the 20 percent threshold allows you the capacity to continue to enrich. And, if in fact, the enrichment is used for military purpose not for civilian, there's a problem. Look if there were a deal on the table right now that would permit reactors for medical purposes, enhance the principle for enrichment at lower levels, the Iranians would export the material they've enriched out of the country to a neutral or third party.
MILLERMaybe there would be the project for a deal. And, in fact, maybe there will. I don't know the answer to that question.
REHMAnd isn't that also a question for you, Speaker Danon, is if Israel were to attack Iran what could you actually accomplish alone with a military strike? Wouldn't they begin to rebuild? Wouldn't they retaliate to you and then rebuilt in any case?
DANONWell, one thing we can know for sure that it will delay the process in the race -- the actual race. You look at the amount of picture that has been taken with Ahmadinejad visiting the reactors. He's not visiting hospitals, schools. Every two weeks he's sending another picture of himself and his top ministers visiting the reactors. So it will stop -- I don't know if it will stop completely the race but it will delay it for many years.
REHMDo you believe that?
PERIThere's a major difference in the culture here and in the Middle East and one should take it into account. You discuss international relations in a very rational way between gentlemen. Israelis do not believe in that conversation, that such a conversation exists in the Middle East. They believe that the Iranis will tell you one thing and do some other thing. They will tell you, all right, let's negotiate. Let's do that but in the meantime they will continue to develop their option.
PERIIndeed today the IAEA spoke about it, came out with a publication about arguing that the Iranians are not revealing what they do in spite of the fact that they were asked to do so. So that lack of trust is so deep that the conversation takes a different pattern altogether.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Aaron, to what extent is this issue playing a role in this presidential election?
MILLERI think it's interesting to note that this is one of the few elections, at least in my lifetime, in which foreign policy has not been an acute issue of concern.
MILLERIn fact, I don't believe -- I also don't believe in the Mitt Romney unchanged school of interpretation. Should he become president, he'll be bound by many of the same constraints, financial constraints, economical constraints and the exhaustion of the American people for military adventures. So I think frankly Romney in Obama's position on Iran as a practical matter is going to be quite close. Both of them, regardless who gets to be president, will confront the same problem in January, what to do about Iran's advanced nuclear program.
MILLERAnd both, it seems to me, are going to have to wrestle with this issue because if they don't then I am absolutely persuaded if the Israelis, whether it's wise, whether it's responsible, will strike.
REHMAnd Yoram, you have said you believe that Prime Minister Netanyahu has overplayed his hand.
PERIYes, and this will be a real constraint on his decision in the future. About two months ago, the level of rhetoric was so high that many observers and pundits in Israel thought that within the next short period of time, Israel will attack. Indeed only a few days ago, one of Netanyahu's closest allies, friends, (unintelligible) said that the next 50 days are going to be the most crucial to Israel's history. So rhetoric does play here, but because of the pronouncements of the presidential (word?) and some others, I believe that the climate went down a little.
REHMAnd Speaker Danon, I'll give you the last word.
DANONWe do not interfere in the American politics but the people in Iran also do not interfere and they continue to build the bomb. So whoever will be elected will have to decide whether they stand with Israel or watching what's happening and leaving us by ourselves.
REHMDanny Danon, Deputy Speaker of the Knesset, Aaron David Miller of the Woodrow Wilson International Center and Yoram Peri. He directs the Institute for Israel Studies at the University of Maryland. Thank you all. And thank for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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