‘The Iran Deal Was a Mistake. Withdrawing From It Was Even Worse’

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Former Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon at the Haaretz-UCLA Israeli National Security Conference.
Former Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon at the Haaretz-UCLA Israeli National Security Conference.Credit: Haaretz

The Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal, with encouragement by former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was a major mistake, said former Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon. Speaking at the Haaretz-UCLA national security conference, Ya’alon explained that although he opposed the Iran deal at the time of its signing, during the Obama administration, the withdrawal from it was an even greater error.

Former Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon interview at Haaretz-UCLA conferenceCredit: Haaretz

“Looking at the policy on Iran in the last decade, the main mistake was the withdrawal from the agreement,” Ya’alon told Haaretz senior analyst Anshel Pfeffer. “The agreement itself was a historic mistake, but withdrawing from it gave them an excuse to go ahead [with enrichment],” he explained. U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the agreement in 2018 was encouraged and praised by Netanyahu. Ya’alon was defense minister from 2013 to 2016 under Netanyahu, and previously served as chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces.

“It is still possible to stop Iran” from getting nuclear weapons capability, Ya’alon said in the interview. “It’s up to the American administration.” He advised the current Israeli government led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid to work closely and quietly with U.S. President Joe Biden, and avoid public confrontations like the speech Netanyahu gave before Congress in 2015.

WATCH the full conference here.

“I wasn’t happy about it at the time,” he said. “We can argue, but we should not fight the Americans. We need to discuss disagreements with them, not attack them.” Ya’alon said, however, that he disagreed with the view that the U.S. can withdraw and disengage from the Middle East – “If you run away from terror, the terror will reach you.”

Ya’alon said that Iran was the main source of instability in the region, and that it was hoping to get a “nuclear umbrella” in order to intensify its aggressive intervention in other countries in the region. Cooperation between Israel and Arab countries, he added, was an important way to restrain Iran’s regional activities. “They have not yet passed the point of no return,” the former defense minister said. Ya’alon also stated that “there is no more Israeli-Arab conflict in the Middle East. There is an Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and it’s a marginal issue in the region.”

The conference on Israeli national security is a joint project of Haaretz English Edition and the UCLA Y&S Nazarian Center for Israel Studies. The full conference can be viewed online here.