I began with the personal questions. You are short-tempered, I hurled at him; you have fits of rage. It's true that I am short-tempered, Uzi Arad replied, but I lose patience because of the importance I attach to things. Because I am not cynical. It is important for me to have a high level of professionalism in the Prime Minister's Office and for high standards to be the criterion. I am not a born elitist, but it is important to me that we have a government that sets criteria of superb achievement.
You are an advocate of brute force, I threw at him. Me? Brute force? He smiled. I thought I was actually sensitive. In national and international issues, force is also a language. But I do not like wars between Jews. I prefer to direct the brute-force energies within me at the goyim.
You are a technocrat, I lashed out. This time I hit the mark. The national security adviser was offended. Maybe so, he replied candidly, reflectively. But there are technocrats and there are technocrats. The political party I supported as a youth was Rafi [a party formed by David Ben-Gurion in 1965 after he broke with Mapai, the precursor of Labor; its members included Moshe Dayan and Shimon Peres]. The Rafi ethos was security activism: to get results. On a number of matters I also did things that were innovative and constituted breakthroughs. In any event, I am a proud technocrat. I always strive to do the best for my country.
Arad was born in 1947 in Kibbutz Zikim, just north of the Gaza Strip, and attended the Tichon Hadash high school in Tel Aviv. An outstanding student, he went to Princeton and the most important American research institutes. He served in the Mossad espionage agency for more than 20 years. Afterward he was the national security adviser to Benjamin Netanyahu during the latter's first stint as prime minister (1996-99). He initiated and managed the annual Herzliya Conference on national policy. He specialized in nuclear strategy, a subject he also taught. He was a pioneer in the realm of risk-management policy. In varied and diverse ways, he has been a player in the Israeli security and intelligence drama. A hundred days ago, Dr. Uzi Arad returned to the center of power, as national security adviser.
Arad holds tremendous power. He holds the Iranian portfolio, he conducts the sensitive dialogue with the United States and he is the closest person to the prime minister. Some observers say that Arad has become the strongman of current Israeli policy.
Arad does not say so explicitly, but he believes that his whole professional life has prepared him for this post. As a control freak, he does not rely on others. As a perfectionist, he is highly critical of the work of others. But, being very loyal to the boss, he finds no flaws in him. According to Arad, Netanyahu is a talented, efficient person; no one is better suited to be prime minister. Imbued with a deep sense of mission, Netanyahu and Arad feel they are the right people in the right place at a tough time. It is incumbent on them to be the salvation of the State of Israel.
Do you see any prospect that the conflict will come to an end in the coming years?
Regrettably, we have not so far been successful in bringing about Arab internalization of our right of existence. The Arab and Muslim refusal to recognize Israel's legitimacy is sometimes suppressed and amorphous, at other times sharp and violent, but it is all-embracing. I have not yet encountered an Arab personage who is capable of saying quietly and clearly that he or she accepts Israel's right of existence in the deep historical and conscious sense. Accordingly, it will be difficult to reach a true Israeli-Palestinian agreement that does away with the bulk of the conflict. I don't see that in the coming years it will be possible to forge that different reality which so many Israelis want.
Will a Palestinian state be established on the watch manned by you and Netanyahu?
That is a different story. I don't see among the Palestinians a process of truly drawing closer to acceptance of Israel and peace with Israel. I also do not see a Palestinian leadership or a Palestinian regime but a disorderly constellation of forces and factions. But possibly someone might come along and say I am an engineer of events; the depth doesn't interest me - I am going to produce an event. And within three years - presto - four Annapolises, two disengagements, global pyrotechnics. And then suddenly, in 2015, there is a Palestinian state. Stamps, parades, carnival. That could happen. A fragile structure, yes; an arrangement resting wholly on wobbly foundations. But it could happen. There could be a Palestinian state.
What you are saying is that there will not be true peace, but there might be an American peace event with Hollywood trappings.
Everyone with eyes to see, sees that there is a failure of Palestinian leadership. There is no Palestinian Sadat. There is no Palestinian Mandela. Abu Mazen is not vulgar like Arafat and not militant and extreme like Hamas. There could be worse than him. But even in him I do not discern the interest or the will to arrive at the end of the conflict with Israel. On the contrary, he is preserving eternal grievances against us and intensifying them.
After Olmert offers him almost everything, he says wide gaps remain. And then you reach the conclusion that there really is a receding horizon here; The more Israel moves toward the Palestinians, the more they move away. And they do that because even the moderates among them do not really want a settlement. At most, they are striving toward a settlement in order to renew the confrontation from a better position.
What you are saying is that there is no Palestinian partner for a true peace.
At the moment, there is no one on the map. There are no true peace leaders among the Palestinians. But I am not deterministic. I do not think this is part of the Palestinians' genetic makeup. I want to believe that in the future a different type of leadership will arise. I hope that a Palestinian - woman or man - will emerge who is able to recognize that there is some justice on the Israeli side, too. Because, you know, in Israel there are so many who see the justice of the Palestinians' cause and write about it and make a living from it. Read the paper you work for, for example. But true peace will come when Palestinians emerge who recognize there is also Israeli justice - that there is also a little Israeli justice. At the moment there are none.
Can peace with Syria be achieved during the Netanyahu government?
Here we have a different problem. The majority of Israel's governments insisted that Israel would stay on the Golan Heights. That is also the position of the majority of the public and most MKs. The position is that, if there is a territorial compromise, it is one that still leaves Israel on the Golan Heights and deep into the Golan Heights.
From your point of view, is that the right position to take? That this must be the essence of a settlement - a compromise deep into the Golan Heights? That even in peace we must ensure that a large part of the Golan Heights remain in our hands?
For strategic, military and land-settlement reasons. Needs of water, wine and view.
So you say unequivocally: Peace yes, Golan no?
What about the "deposit" of Yitzhak Rabin, in which he undertook to leave the Golan Heights?
There is no such thing. In 1996, Netanyahu asked [Secretary of State] Warren Christopher to have the deposit returned to Israel, and so it was. In his letter, Christopher pledged that the deposit was not valid.
What about the concessions made by Netanyahu himself in the negotiations he held with the first President Assad at the end of the 1990s?
Netanyahu's position was that Israel should remain on the Golan Heights at a depth of a few miles. A few miles translates into a lot more kilometers. If you draw a line from Mount Hermon to Al Hama at a depth of a few miles, you will see this leaves a great deal of the Golan Heights, from the south to the north.
Is this still the position of the government today?
The government's position is readiness to resume the negotiations with no prior conditions and with each side aware of the other's position. The Syrians are certainly aware that the Netanyahu government and the majority of the public will not leave the Golan Heights.
Will the Americans accept that? Won't they try to impose a different approach?
The impression is that there are deep differences between Israel and the United States. Israel is saying, first Iran, then Palestine, whereas the United States is saying, first Palestine, then Iran.
Both cases need treatment. We cannot bury our heads in the sand and freeze one issue in order to deal with the other. From the Americans' viewpoint, the achievement that is required in the Israeli-Arab dimension is the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. The achievement required in the Iranian dimension is not to allow Iran nuclear capability that will enable it to produce nuclear weapons. When Israel says that it feels a more acute need to deal with the Iranian problem, it is right on three counts. First, because the urgency there is overriding; second, because if we succeed there, it will be easier here; and third, because if we do not succeed there, we will not succeed here. If Iran goes nuclear, everything that might be achieved with the Palestinians will be swept away in a tidal wave and go down the tubes overnight.
You have not been able to persuade the Americans of this. On the Palestinian question they have appointed a high-profile senior envoy who is engaging in intensive activity. But in regard to Iran, nothing is happening. As Washington sees it, Ramallah is more urgent than Tehran; the settlements are more dangerous than the centrifuges.
Dov Weisglass [former adviser to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon] built the first stage of the Road Map well, but created catastrophes in the second and third stages. He did so because he was certain that the first stage was a dam in the face of the coming stages. But then came the disengagement which undermined the Road Map on the ground. And then Annapolis undermined the Road Map politically. Olmert and Livni acted contrary to Weisglass's logic and jumped straight to the third stage. So what we had was a series of typical Israeli makeshift exercises. Every two years they came up with a move that completely contradicted the previous move. The result, of course, was the policy debacle that Netanyahu and I had warned against. The Netanyahu government inherited scorched earth from its predecessors.
Do you feel that as a result of Israeli mistakes, the international attitude toward Israel today is extremely unfair?
Completely unfair. I say this in English openly: "extremely unfair." If you want to enforce the clauses of the Road Map, you have to enforce all of them. And security violations are more serious than building violations: Qassam rockets kill people, settlements do not. But I am a formalist. I am in favor of formalism. The thing is, that if they come to us and count every settlement, they have to apply the same indices and the same principles to the Palestinians. Anyone who does not do this is behaving unfairly, but he is also behaving unwisely. He is not advancing the Israeli-Palestinian peace that he would like to see.
Maybe the real problem is the settlements have made Washington fed up with us. Maybe the problem is that Obama and Clinton have lingering issues concerning Netanyahu, hence their chilly behavior toward him.
Isn't the alliance between Rome and Jerusalem wobbly? Don't you have the feeling that just as de Gaulle terminated a 15-year French alliance with Israel after the war in Algeria, Obama will terminate a 40-year American alliance with Israel after the war in Iraq?
Each of them has an interesting potential from our point of view. We must also strive to join NATO and to conclude a defense alliance with the United States. If there is an Israeli-Palestinian settlement that will lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state, membership in NATO and a defense alliance with the United States should be part of the quid pro quo that Israel will receive.
There are some in Israel who fear such developments.
They fear the loss of Israeli freedom of action and that essential elements of [Israel] will be put at risk. But I think that just as France and Britain possess capabilities even within the NATO framework, the same can be true in regard to Israel. Membership in NATO is a logical step and can provide us with a guarantee of mutual security and even add a layer to our deterrence if the Middle East goes nuclear. It is possible that membership in NATO or a defense alliance with the United States will be a condition of a regional settlement.
Point of no return
Your main front as national security adviser will be the danger of a nuclear Iran and a nuclear Middle East. But as far as we know, Iran has already crossed the point of nuclear no-return and has enough fissionable material to assemble a first nuclear bomb.
The point of nuclear no-return was defined as the point at which Iran has the ability to complete the cycle of nuclear fuel production on its own; the point at which it has all the elements to produce fissionable material without depending on outsiders. Iran is now there. I don't know if it has mastered all the technologies, but it is more or less there. However, the term "no-return" is misleading. Even if Iran has fissionable material for one bomb, it is still at a low grade of enrichment. And if it wants to conduct a test, it will not have even one bomb. It follows that Iran is not yet nuclear and not yet operational. Serious obstacles still lie in the way. The international community still has enough time to make it stop of its own volition.
Still, looking back, we see a dramatic failure here. A red line was defined and Iran crossed it.
I told you that the Netanyahu government inherited scorched earth. That is true in any number of spheres. The tragic and heartbreaking story of Gilad Shalit is one example. It was not resolved in any way, shape or form. The same holds true for the Second Lebanon War and for Operation Cast Lead [in Gaza], which caused a great decline in our political status, particularly in Europe. Annapolis got us nowhere, nor did the disengagement. But most serious of all, by far most serious, is Iran's progress toward nuclear capability. I am not saying that nothing was done. Things were done. But if at the end of the day it turns out that Iran is drawing closer to its goal, obviously not enough was done. And what was done was too late, too little and too feeble.
What you are actually saying is that the national leadership in Israel over the past six or seven years understood about Iran and talked about Iran but did not address the Iranian issue with the prioritization, intensiveness and concentration of forces needed?
That is exactly what I am saying. In one case, because the leadership scattered its efforts and resources instead of concentrating them. It preoccupied itself with other issues, such as the disengagement and Annapolis. In a second case, because it did not home in on the main issue - Iran. I will give you an example. Look at how many speeches were delivered here about a democratic Jewish state, democratic and Jewish. The subject was discussed until it was coming out of people's ears. In contrast, look at how many moves were made to curb nuclear Iran by political and diplomatic means. There is no comparison between what the previous government devoted to the two issues. I want to tell you that Javier Solana [the European Union official in charge of foreign policy] racked up more kilometers traveling around the world to address the Iranian issue than the Israeli foreign minister did. Western statesmen did more to prevent Iran from going nuclear than their Israeli counterparts.
Are you contending that there was a monumental political failure here?
A gross failure. Between 2003 and 2007, it was far easier to contain Iran. The Iranian program was lagging behind. American power was more blatant. Various big powers were inclined to cooperate. Iran was more cautious and more vulnerable. But what preoccupied us in 2005? The disengagement. And what preoccupied us in 2007? Annapolis. We mobilized our national resources for empty moves. We wasted political assets on nothing. We talked about the red line of the point of nuclear no-return in Iran, but in practice we were committed only to the artificial red line that stipulated arbitrarily that there would be no more Jews in Gaza by the end of 2005. I tell you that if those mental resources and the determination and tenacity that were displayed in regard to the disengagement had been devoted to preventing Iran from reaching the point of nuclear no-return, Iran would not have got there.
And now that point is behind us?
Yes - in the technological sense, it has been crossed. I believe that in practice we will be able to block Iran. But the line that was termed a "red line" has been crossed.
Was there a policy eclipse here?
Certainly. The Winograd Committee exposed the functional eclipses in the Second Lebanon War. But even though it was a painful and costly event, the limited war of 2006 bore no historic significance. In regard to Iran, if history develops badly, the failure is liable to turn out to be of historic proportions.
I am confident that Netanyahu will know how to cope with the harsh reality he inherited. He is the first Israeli leader to identify and understand in depth the Iranian threat. He is the first who did not talk about a publicity campaign or about military action but about applying levers of economic pressure. Contrary to others, he did not talk about moves involving force and did not issue threats. Netanyahu understands that Iran is the great challenge of this period. He is dealing with the challenge intelligently, responsibly and with the state's interests uppermost.
Isn't it too late? Isn't it time to accept that Iran will be a nuclear power?
I am not at liberty to say what the government of Israel thinks. Nor will I tell you what the U.S. administration thinks. But I will tell you the opinion of professionals from serious research institutes in the United States and Europe. The major fear among professional circles is that a nuclear Iran will burst the dams and cause nuclear proliferation in the region. According to these experts, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey have certain capabilities. Syria, Libya and Algeria have already tried. Therefore, if Iran goes nuclear, those countries will consider following suit. There is already evidence of this. Those who understand are aware how baseless is the argument that one can extrapolate from the reality of the Cold War to the reality in the Middle East. It is wrong to say that just as we lived with a nuclear Soviet Union and with a nuclear China, we will also be able to live with a nuclear Iran. The subject is not just a nuclear Iran; the subject is a multi-nuclear Middle East. A Middle East in which there are quite a few countries that resemble Pakistan.
Serious experts who are not Israelis look at the Middle East and say that if Iran is nuclear in 2015, the Middle East will be nuclear in 2020. And a multi-nuclear Middle East is a nightmare. Five or six nuclear states in a jumpy and unstable region where the world's energy resources are located will not create nuclear quiet but nuclear disquiet. A nuclear Middle East will be exactly like a pyramid that stands upside down.
It's unlikely that the Iranians will stop after the dialogue that the Americans will perhaps hold with them in the months ahead. The probability of containment without pressure is low.
If so, three possibilities remain: them with the bomb, them getting bombed or a maritime blockade.
I hear about a maritime blockade from unofficial American analysts - no one enters or leaves. Iran is very much dependent on the importation of oil distillates and on the export of unrefined oil. So an effective blockade could threaten Iran with bankruptcy within months. In that case, Iran might yield. But it might also decide to challenge those who are cutting it off. From there the road to escalation is short.
So this scenario says that the only way to prevent Iran from getting the bomb is to impose a closure on the country.
Again I want to introduce a cautionary note: what I am saying here does not reflect official Israeli policy or American policy. But there are those in the West who believe that this is the way. The prospect is to confront the Iranian government with a dilemma: Going nuclear or flourishing, going nuclear or survival of the regime. If that will be the dilemma, Tehran might conclude that regime survival is more important than the nuclear project.
What will the West do if there is no maritime blockade or if there is one that fails? In that case, will there be any choice but to prevent the bomb by bombing Iran?
Balance of terror
I was fascinated by Robert Oppenheimer, the Jew who created the first atomic bomb at Los Alamos. Another figure who riveted me was Henry Kissinger, one of the first nuclear strategists. But above all I was drawn to Herman Kahn, with whom I worked at the Hudson Institute.
Kahn is the original Dr. Strangelove. He was a Jewish-American genius who was a salient nuclear hawk and dealt with the planning and feasibility of nuclear wars. Kahn was a towering figure. He was a beacon of intelligence, knowledge and pioneering thought. He combined conceptual productivity, humor and informality. He attracted a group of devotees of whom I was one in the 1970s. But he also had bitter rivals who criticized him for even conceiving of the idea of a nuclear war. In the Cold War it was precisely those who talked about defense and survival who were considered nuclear hawks. The doves talked about "mutual assured destruction," which blocks any possibility of thinking about nuclear weapons. Like Kahn, I was one of the hawks. One of my projects was a paper for the Pentagon on planning a limited nuclear war in Central Europe.
On the face of it, what is the point of this? Why execute the enemy after deterrence has failed? But according to Dror, it is important to ascertain that the deterrence will work, even if you yourself have been destroyed. He sees this as a contribution to the repair of the world [tikkun olam]. When we say "never again," this entails three imperatives: never again will we be felled in mass numbers, never again will we be defenseless and never again will there be a situation in which those who harm us go unpunished.
Is the Holocaust relevant to our strategic thought in an era of a nuclear Middle East?
Look at the way memory guides people like Netanyahu, who refers time and again to the 1930s. Bernard Lewis also said a few years ago that he feels like he is in the late 1930s. What did he mean? On the one hand, an imminent threat, rapidly approaching, and on the other, complacency and conciliation and a cowering coveting of peace. When I visited Yad Vashem [the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem] not long ago, I could not bear the psychological overload and left halfway through. I don't think there is an Israeli or a Jew who can be insensitive to the Holocaust. It is a painful black hole in our consciousness.
When you look around today, what is your feeling? Are we alone?
We are always alone. Sometimes we have partners and lovers and donors of money, but no one is in our shoes.
I still remember Roosevelt and all the wise and enlightened types of the American security hierarchy in the period of Auschwitz, and I have retained the lesson. In Jewish history and fate there is a dimension of unfairness toward us. We have already been alone once, and even the good and the enlightened did not protect us. Accordingly, we must not be militant, but we must entrench our defense and security prowess and act with wisdom and restraint and caution and sangfroid. Never again.