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Danny Ayalon
Image: DW/K. Shuttleworth

Unshakeable bond

Interview: Kate Shuttleworth, Jerusalem
January 9, 2014

Israel’s former deputy foreign minister and Israeli Ambassador to the US Danny Ayalon spoke to DW this week about whether the Iranian nuclear deal has been a game changer in the relations between the US and Israel.


Danny Ayalon has served as Israel's deputy foreign minister and was Ambassador to the US from 2002-2006.

DW: Have US-Israeli relations been damaged in light of the Geneva agreement?

Danny Ayalon: Israel-US relations will not be affected by the agreement in Geneva with Iran. Yes, we do have our apprehensions; we do have our criticisms; but this is something that is legitimate between allies just as we have our different points of view about settlements, or about what should be the content of agreement with the Palestinians.

The unshakeable bond between Israel and US is going to last on the natural alliance and political-strategical value of this alliance. Israel has proven again to be the only dependable ally for the US in the region in terms of American interests; in terms of countering and fighting proliferation of nuclear weapons - which is one of the most important things for American stability.

How would you characterize relations at the moment between the US and Iran?

I think it's very important to note that under President Obama the military cooperation and relationship between Israel and the US has reached an all time high and this continues.

It's not just the administration though, it's also Congress, it's the people and the nationwide support that Israel enjoys in the US. This will not change although Israel has criticized and will continue to criticize the agreement with Iran.

What do you think is behind the thinking of the Iranian leadership?

The Iranians see two models - in terms of non-proliferation or in terms of dismantling the nuclear capabilities. They see Libya under the Gadhafi model and they see the North Korean model. Libya under Gadhafi voluntarily dismantled their capabilities and where is Libya now, where is Gadhafi now? On the other hand a decade ago the North Koreans went through what seemed like a consensual route and, boom, after a few years they detonated a nuclear device.

For the Ayatollahs the nuclear capability is not just an objective in itself, it's a means for two things - to become the hegemony and the dominant force in the Middle East; secondly to put down the Sunii countries like Saudi Arabia and lastly their own internal stability.

By becoming nuclear they believe it will be an insurance policy for them. The six parties involved in talks in Geneva should not be fooled by the charm offense of the Iranians because the Iranians came to Geneva not as a consequence of a policy change but as a consequence of their being on the brink economically.

The main goal of Iran is to lift the sanctions and they have managed to do that without giving up any of their potential.

Why does Israel's leadership think the Geneva agreement is bad?

I believe that this agreement is bad on all accounts. It's not going to stop a nuclear Iran. Because of the message, it's going to make stabilizing the region much more difficult. It's going to induce more negative energy into the region in terms of terrorism, in terms of the Sunni-Shia clashes and it's quite obvious to foes and friends alike of the West that Iran has the upper hand.

The danger is that Iran keeps the nuclear potential, the capabilities and the initiative in the hands of Ayatollahs. Any time in the future they can resume, they can actually accelerate their nuclear programme.

The fact that Iran was on brink was not used well diplomatically by the six parties in the talks, because they could have gotten much more out of Iran. Iran played a brilliant game when they made the P5+1 blink first.

The message to the region is that the belligerency of Iran pays off and that strengthens Assad, Hezbollah and all the very extreme radical forces. It also creates the counter offensive by the Sunni extremists.

Where does this leave Israel?

I think Israel's hands are now tied and there is no option at this point but the diplomatic option. Now it's just a matter of keeping Iran committed and answerable to the letter of the Geneva agreement. I don't think that this will be very simple to do. If a country is determined they can really overcome any monitoring regime, even the most robust. The last opportunity the international community has will be when the terms of the agreement are up in six months. When the P5+1 comes to the table for the final status agreement with Iran, this is the time to make all the demands with Iran. I don't think Middle East and the world can tolerate, or survive a nuclear Iran.

Unfortunately it's been painted as if the duel in the Middle East is between Tehran and Jerusalem. It's not the case. The the threat of Tehran is first and foremost to the Gulf countries, to the Sunni countries, then to Israel and then to Europe. If you look at their delivery systems and their ideology it does not stop only in the Middle East.

Are there influential, important political voices in Israel that would advocate military action?

I would say nobody would advocate military action, this is not our preferred way to solve the Iranian threat. I believe that we still have a few months before we see the development especially on the comprehensive agreement with Iran. But to say that this is not an option, I think is a mistake. Israel does have the capabilities if they needed to. I am not advocating this, but it should not be ruled out.

Has Israel made any mistakes in the past in dealing with Iran and what would you suggest Israel does in the future?

I don't think Israel made any mistakes, I think it was not in Israel's interest to make it look like it's a duel between Jerusalem and Tehran. Israel represents the entire international community's interest. In terms of raising the awareness internationally about a threat from Iran, I think that we did a pretty good job. It was Israel who was the first in 1996 to realize and analyze the ambitions of Iran. At that time it was very difficult to mobilize international interest on Iran and people were looking at it in a skeptical way, but we were proven right.

What we could do we have already done. Of course we now have to consider our own national security. I think we have to reserve all the options. I have no doubt that it would be much better for an international coalition to take care, if need be, to militarily dismantle Iran. It's much better than if Israel did it. The option should be kept on the table if we want to see peaceful diplomatic results. As for the future, aside from conservation and back door diplomacy, I don't think there is much more we can do.

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