Israel has always said that a nuclear Iran poses a threat to its existence. Israel also has believed for some time that Iran is working on creating nuclear weapons and is moving closer to realizing its goal. If, for example, Russia delivers the S-300 antiaircraft system to Iran as it has agreed to do, it would make the possibility of an Israeli air attack on Iran's nuclear facilities difficult, if not impossible. NEWSWEEK's Lally Weymouth sat down with Michael Oren, Israel's ambassador to the U.S., to find out the Israeli reaction to the Obama administration's talks with Iran last week. Excerpts:
WEYMOUTH: How do you view the outcome of last week's talks with Iran?
OREN: Israel supports the president's intention to conduct further contacts with Iranian representatives with the goal of ceasing uranium-enrichment activities on Iranian soil.
The Iranians have lied continuously about their nuclear facilities, and they lied about the existence of the plant that was recently revealed at Qum. Western intelligence agencies have known for some time about Qum, but the Iranians revealed it to the International Atomic Energy Agency only when it was clear that it was going to be revealed. Why would Israel believe that Iran is going to stop enriching uranium?
I will reiterate Israel's position—Israel's goal is an arrangement where Iran no longer has the ability to enrich uranium on its soil. This is a regime that has systematically lied about its nuclear program for a quarter of a century and has managed to dissemble and sidestep any and all international supervision.
Reportedly, Israel believes that Iran is going to get the bomb this year.
There are different estimates, but Israel believes that Iran is approaching the position where it can break out and dash forward to create a nuclear weapon.
Israel is not the kind of country that says the goal is to stop Iran from enriching and then not do anything about it if it doesn't comply. Is Israel going to strike?
Israel supports President Obama's position of [keeping] all options on the table.
That means military options, right?
All options means all options.
Does Israel believe enhanced sanctions would be effective?
I think that we haven't exhausted diplomacy and sanctions yet. If the Iranians in these talks with the United States do not reach some type of agreement—and there is still very good reason to believe they won't—Israel is supportive of efforts to prepare a package of crippling sanctions that may prove more efficacious in bringing about a modification of Iranian behavior.
That means sanctions on insurance companies, on refined petroleum imports, and so on?
These sanctions would seriously inhibit Iran's ability to conduct business in the world. They would impact Iran's ability to import refined petroleum products and would greatly limit the ability of Iranian leaders to travel in the world.
How would this affect the daily life of Iranian citizens?
The chances for the sanctions working have been greatly enhanced by the upheaval surrounding the Iranian elections. Before the elections, the sense was that if a taxi driver in Tehran ran out of gas, he would blame America, the Zionists, and the West. Now, that same taxi driver runs out of gas, he gets out of his cab and starts cursing his government. The internal upheaval in Iran has opened a schism that could be widened by sanctions to further weaken the Iranian government.
Do you see significant cracks in the Iranian leadership?
This is not the same Iran. This is not the same unstoppable Iranian regime. Israel—through its military actions in Lebanon and in Gaza—has delivered major blows to Iranian proxies. Impressions are everything in the Middle East, and the impression is that Iran has had its nose bloodied twice by the Israeli Defense Forces. That, together with the schisms that have opened within the Iranian leadership, provides an opportunity now for international pressure.
Do you believe that the Arab states would make their support of action against Iran contingent on progress in the peace process?
No, there is no linkage whatsoever. The Arab states understand that the peace process is going to take a while, and we don't have a while with Iran. The peace clock and the Iranian nuclear clock are running at completely different speeds.
Can Israel live with a nuclear Iran?
If Iran gets the bomb, not only will Israel be threatened but Iran can then pass on nuclear technology to terrorist groups. A nuclear Iran would trigger an arms race that would transform the entire Middle East into a profoundly unstable nuclear arsenal. No state could be expected to coexist with such threats.