Israel’s Defense Minister: Not responsible on life expectancy of Iran’s scientists

In this Der Spiegel interview, Israel’s Defense Minister called the P5+1 nuclear treaty with Iran ‘a historic mistake’ adding, ‘Israel can in no way tolerate a nuclear armed Iran.’

Interview By Ronen Bergman & Holger Stark


Moshe Yaalon, 65, has now served for more than two years as Israel’s defense minister. He previously served as deputy prime minister under Benjamin Netanyahu. Earlier, Yaalon had a career in the military, where he led an elite commando unit and later became the chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces. Yaalon is a member of the right wing of the Likud party. In his office, he has a picture of Israeli fighter jets flying over Auschwitz with the promise, “never again”.

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon – Ynet news screenshot

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon recently sat down with SPIEGEL to discuss his opposition to the deal with Tehran:


SPIEGEL: Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee recently said that the nuclear deal with Iran would send the Israelis to the “door of the oven” again. Do you agree with that kind of drastic language?

Yaalon: We have quite a dispute with the White House regarding the deal with Iran. It’s bad enough without resorting to such expressions.

SPIEGEL: You are among the harshest critics of the deal. Why?

Yaalon: From the very beginning, we supported a strategy which might have put the Iranian regime in a very clear dilemma: to have a nuclear bomb or to survive as a regime. This strategy consists of political isolation of the regime and crippling economic sanctions, which actually started to work seriously in 2012. We believe that putting this economic pressure upon this regime might generate an internal resistance to it. The final element of the strategy is a credible military option: If you don’t obey the United Nations resolution, then you are going to be attacked. In 2013, Supreme Leader Ali Khameini met this kind of dilemma. He decided to survive and to reengage with the “Great Satan” America. He called it drinking from the poison glass.

SPIEGEL: If it was the sanctions that ultimately brought Iran to the negotiating table, then wasn’t it a positive thing to use this opportunity?

Yaalon: The way the negotiations had been managed by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany was a historic mistake. Now we have a deal which is going to allow Iran to become a military nuclear threshold state. In a decade or so, they’ll be allowed to enrich uranium without any restrictions. In a couple of months, when the deal is implemented, Iran will have access to $100 billion (in frozen funds), and in addition to having money to rehabilitate the economy, they will also have money to “export the revolution”. The Iranians will provide financial support to organizations like Hezbollah, Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad as well as the Houthis in Yemen and the Shiites in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. They are going to intensify their activities and improve their terror infrastructure. And what about the missiles that can reach all of Israel and parts of Europe? They’re not part of the deal.

SPIEGEL: But as a consequence of the deal, it’s also possible Iran may play a constructive role in the fight against the Islamic State.

Yaalon: That might be the only constructive role regarding Iran. In all other conflicts in the region, you will find the Iranians on the wrong side — whether it is in Syria, in Yemen or in the Gaza Strip. It’s an apocalyptic, messianic regime with the aim of creating a Shiite empire.

SPIEGEL: By your assessment, were the Western negotiators naïve or were the Iranians just clever?

Yaalon: I believe that many historic researchers will deal with it. My gut feeling is that political leaders in the West prefer to postpone the problem, for the next day, for the next year, for the next term. There have been certain points in history in which people believed that reconciliation might bring a solution, but in the end we paid a high price. This is the case with Iran now.

SPIEGEL: But the deal could also increase chances of a process of political reforms in Tehran.

Yaalon: Without pressure, this regime knows very well how to oppress those elements. They still use cranes to hang people in the marketplaces. There is not going to be any Iranian spring. And you can forget about McDonald’s in Tehran.

SPIEGEL: Do you expect that a nuclear arms race will happen in the region?

Yaalon: Following the deal with Iran, countries like Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey claim they are going to do it. But we hope that the international community will deal with that as well.

SPIEGEL: Do you consider the countries that negotiated the deal to be responsible for the consequences it will have?

Yaalon: Sure. If they are responsible for the deal, they will also have to consider and take into account its outcome.

SPIEGEL: If your army or military chiefs were to inform you next week or next year that Iran has violated the terms of the deal and reactivated its military nuclear program, would you recommend air strikes against the nuclear facilities?

Yaalon: In such a case, we will have to discuss it. At the end, it is very clear. One way or another, the Iranian military nuclear ambitions should be stopped. We can in no way tolerate an Iran with nuclear weapons. We prefer for this to be done through a deal or sanctions, but in the end, Israel should be able to defend itself.

SPIEGEL: So will we see further deaths of Iranian nuclear scientists through attacks or malware compromising Iranian computer networks?

Yaalon: We should be ready to defend ourselves. I’m not responsible for the lives of Iranian scientists.


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