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Ex-Mossad Chief Supports Iran Nuclear Deal
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Ex-Mossad Chief Supports Iran Nuclear Deal

Middle East

Ex-Mossad Chief Supports Iran Nuclear Deal

Ex-Mossad Chief Supports Iran Nuclear Deal
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Israel is among the critics of the Iran nuclear agreement. Steve Inskeep talks to Efraim Halevy, ex-head of Israel's national intelligence agency, who sees the deal as a step in the right direction.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We'll hear a rare point of view next. It's the view of an Israeli who thinks the nuclear deal with Iran is good. Polls show heavy majorities of Israelis doubt the deal with world powers. Sympathy for Israel has added to skepticism in this country. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claims the deal designed to block Iran's path to nuclear weapons would eventually open it. Some veteran Israeli security officials think differently, and one of them is Efraim Halevy. Years ago he ran the Mossad, Israel's intelligence service, a job to which he was named by Benjamin Netanyahu. Now in retirement, he views Iran differently than his former boss.

EFRAIM HALEVY: I believe that Iran is a very, very serious threat to Israel. I do not adopt the term existential threat to Israel. I believe that the existence of Israel is assured. I think there is no way that Israel can be destroyed by anybody in the world today.

INSKEEP: Are you referring to the widespread understanding that Israel has nuclear weapons?

HALEVY: No, I am referring to the fact that Israel has a wide range of means at its disposal.

INSKEEP: Halevy does agree with Netanyahu that Iran should be prevented from acquiring nuclear weapons of its own. But he believes that international diplomacy is the best option and that Iran negotiated on issues it said it never would.

HALEVY: I think the United States scored a great success in creating this international coalition to face down the nuclear threat which threatens the world at large. The president put together a coalition of the five-plus-one, of all the permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany. And despite a variety of other issues which the world is seized with, including grave differences between the United States and Russia in the last few years, the president has kept the coalition on the issue, the nuclear threat, together.

INSKEEP: What do you think about when you hear Israeli government officials question details of this agreement? For example, there would not be immediate inspections. There would be a demand for inspection that would have to be dealt with within 24 days or so. The argument is made that there may be opportunities for Iran still to hide elements of their program.

HALEVY: Look, this is not a perfect agreement. The agreement has weaknesses, no doubt. But when you negotiate, you win some; you lose some. And the question is not whether on one specific issue the Iranians have not come up with the ultimate in terms of what is desirous for the five-plus-one and for Israel. But they have come up with a host of other methods in which they have, if you like, caved in almost. And on the issue of inspections which you raised, inspections are going to be handled by the U.N. agency in Vienna. They're going to extend the scope of their inspections, which will necessitate recruiting manpower in the numbers the like of which are without precedent. And how exactly these inspections are going to be carried out on military matters, on what is called the PMD, the previous military dimension - in other words, what it is Iran has done up to now - this has been a sticking point for years. And the Iranians have now worked out a model in which they would address this problem. And I think one has to reserve judgment on that and see how this pans out.

INSKEEP: You get an impression from listening to Prime Minister Netanyahu that he has far, far broader concerns than Iran's nuclear program. Netanyahu has pointed out many times Iran's support for terrorism, that Iran still does not recognize Israel. You could make a case, I would think, that it's better for Israel just to keep Iran under sanctions no matter what they might agree to on the nuclear program, that it's better to just keep them under pressure in every possible way. Is there any wisdom in that approach?

HALEVY: When the issue of the nuclear threat became centerpiece in the international diplomacy field, it was agreed and understood that the nuclear issue would be separated from every other issue on the agenda because it was built as a threat which is different in nature and in character from any other threats which Israel is facing vis-a-vis Iran. And therefore, this matter in itself, alone, would be negotiated without any other issues attached. And I think there was a logic in this because if you want to negotiate terrorism, if you want to negotiate efforts of Iran to obtain hegemony in the Middle East, this is going to take years and years. And the international community is not going to stand by and wait for this to happen. Russia and China, who are part of the coalition, are close friends of Iran and have been major supporters of their military capabilities. Russia and China were not going to sit idly by and just wait until ultimately these negotiations are consummated, by which time the Iranians would already have built a nuclear arsenal.

INSKEEP: Do you believe that Iran is simply going to bide its time for the 10 or 15 years that most of the provisions in this agreement last and then will simply pursue a nuclear weapon at a later date?

HALEVY: The answer to the question is simply, I do not know. Don't forget that the caption for the agreement with Iran is not trust and verify, but mistrust and verify. And there is a very, very deep well of mistrust towards Iran and justifiably so. So I will not tell you that the Iranians will not try to cheat on the agreement. They might well do that.

INSKEEP: What I'm even describing is following the agreement but just waiting until it ends and ramping up nuclear production again.

HALEVY: In international relations, a decade is like eternity. What'll happen in 10 years from now, I have no idea. Nobody has any idea. And I think therefore, the question of what would happen after 10 years or after 15 years is a moot point. Will the Iranians move internally so that the interests of Iran will change over the years? That's possible. I don't say it is probable. I don't say that it is necessarily going to be so. It's a matter which has to be followed. And in the meantime, there's going to be a rigorous monitoring system in place. And there will be contacts which will grow between Iran and the world at large. And there will be other interests which will be very important for Iran to protect if the Iranian economy is able to recover and to raise the standards of living of the people in Iran. This is going to be a very important factor, an extremely important factor. We don't know what the future will look like. And therefore, we will mistrust and verify.

INSKEEP: Thank you very much for taking the time.

HALEVY: Thank you.

INSKEEP: Efraim Halevy, former chief of Mossad, Israel's foreign intelligence agency.

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