Washington, DC – “I don’t think that we will benefit from bringing Iran publicly to its knees,” said Efraim Halevy, former Mossad Director. “I think we need to find a way in which we can obtain the desired result and enable them also to feel that they have in certain areas gained something beyond the simple removal of sanctions.”
Speaking at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars on Friday, Mr. Halevy emphasized that much of the rhetoric surrounding the issue has exacerbated the tension between Iran and the international community.
“Generally speaking, [Israel] has a very bad experience with redlines. Israel has drawn redlines on almost any issue you can imagine over the years,” he said, “I think the use of redlines creates clarity on the one hand, it also creates commitments that not always can be met.”
Instead, Halevy called for increased cultural communication and a mutual respect for the dignity of each party. “You have to dialogue, you have to talk to people, you have to speak to their minds, speak to their thoughts, speak to their feelings. And not just hammer them on the head.”
The United States and Israel both have large experience bringing about this kind of communication. The United States, Halevy pointed out, communicates extensively with other cultures, while Israel has shown its ability to deal with other actors by negotiating peace treaties with traditional enemies Jordan, Egypt and the Palestinians.
Halevy did say that Iran “will have to come to terms with a) the absence of nuclear military capability, and b) they will have to come to terms with the existence of the state of Israel.” In return, he says that the rest of the world must show that it “is willing to address some of the concerns of Iran in one way or another.” Pointing to the ambiguity about the deal that resolved the Cuban Missile Crisis, however, he said, “I don’t believe that whatever is going to happen in the end will be a clear-cut situation. It will be a blurred situation for a little while.”
Asked about whether Iran poses an existential threat to Israel’s existence, Halevy said Iran “is not suicidal” and warned that claiming Iran did pose such a threat was harmful. “If tomorrow morning the Iranians were to have a nuclear capability, you begin the countdown to the end of the state of Israel? This will never be the case,” said Halevy. By claiming otherwise, he said, some leaders encourage Iran to pursue weaponization by implying that “the Iranians have it in their capacity to destroy Israel if they have a nuclear capability.” Instead, he said, Iran needs to be convinced that “from their point of view, the situation of their getting a nuclear capacity is a threat to them[selves].”
On the question of war, Halevy said a strike would be the last resort, but only after every option is tried by “people that are solution-orientated, not war-orientated.” But, he repeated, the standoff with Iran would be best resolved by diplomatic efforts backed “with immense investment of goodwill.”