Iran’s Upper Hand – A Press Briefing with Minister Dr. Yuval Steinitz

Iran and Israel’s Future

Israel’s Intelligence Minister Dr. Yuval Steinitz is likely one of the closest people to Prime Minister Netanyahu. It was thus crucial, I decided, to venture to hear him at a press briefing about “the P5+1’s negotiations with Iran and what the consequences mean for Israel.”

We sat for an hour and a half, which included the briefing and a lengthy Q&A.

In retrospect, I know I will feel most privileged, having spent so much time with an integral member of Israel’s top “inner circle.” But at the moment, I feel astounded at what I heard.

Dr. Steinitz does not have charm that attracts one to him. But one must not be fooled by the look of a simple Israeli. It is exactly for that reason that I do not understand the song and dance routine playing before us.

I asked Dr. Steinitz two questions, and one could hear the ticking of everyone of the two dozen or so top reporters present on their keyboards or ipads. First was a theoretical question of deep reasoning: What puts Israel in a position to dictate to Iran what Israel wishes?

My second question was a practical one: Given that the Iranian regime is steadfastly resolute in its insistence to become a nuclear power, the US President is determined to have a deal signed (likely defining his legacy and the fate of the world) and Israel’s Prime Minister is determined to speak to a joint session of Congress on March 24th, there will likely ultimately be what Dr. Steinitz calls “a bad agreement.”

All roads lead to this inevitable eventuality.

What does the Israeli government do on the 25th of March?

We all remember the saying “those who know do not talk, and those who talk do not know.” Dr. Steinitz “knows,” so what is the purpose of him “talking?” That I still do not understand.

Dr. Steinitz insists, “One Iran is Bad Enough.” It is a “terrible, brutal, fanatic, dangerous regime” although, he says, its tone has changed.

“Little Israel” he says is, according to Iran, the “Little Satan.” Israel is covered by several hundred Iranian missiles, so to Israel, the Iranian threat to “wipe it off the map” is real. Moreover, Iran is already at two of its borders – via its proxies Hamas and Hezbollah in Gaza and Lebanon, respectively – and is now building a third front in the Golan Heights.

But America should be worried as well. As a reminder that the US is the Great Satan, just yesterday there were demonstrations and flag burnings in Teheran (pix shown). The hatred toward the West has not subsided or lessened – the substance remains unchanged – although the rhetoric has softened under the Iranian “charm offensive” of the past 18 months.

The Iranian satellite launch test just a few weeks ago was really a test of its intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM), aimed at the eastern heart of the USA. Thus, warns Dr. Steinitz, “Iran is a threat to America and Europe, and they should be seriously concerned.”

Two Options

Dr. Steinitz recaps the two options open to the world.

One: Getting rid of the problem by dismantling the capacity for any nuclear aspiration, so that the world can verify there is nothing to verify (i.e. there will not be any nuclear program).

Two: Living with the status quo and trying to contain it, by putting shackles on Iran, restrictions of one sort or another in time and place, none of which will work in the long run.

Israel advocates the first, while the world has now turned to the latter.

The two choices follow two models – the Libyan circa 2003 (once dismantled, a nuclear program was not developed) and the North Korean circa 2007 (“freezing, stopping, restraining, inspecting”) leading in 2011 to the first successful test by North Korea.

To make the point stronger, Dr. Steinitz emphasizes, reminding all he is speaking for Israel: “Our national security is under threat. We want to prevent a bad deal, not only raise reservations after a bad deal is signed. We will defend ourselves by ourselves. It is all about our future.”

He further clarifies, lest anyone is mistaken: “Iran is part of the problem, not part of the solution.” Iraq, Yemen, Syria – are all part of Iran’s axis of advancement to the Middle East and beyond. Iran aspires increasing influence, determined to establish homogeneity (Islamic rule) and to become a threshold nuclear state with the capability to produce the first nuclear bomb, then many more at once.

Until a year and a half ago, there were six UN Security Council resolutions dictating dismantling Iran’s nuclear capabilities or aspirations thereof, the P5+1 changed their minds, making Iran a legitimate part of the negotiations and legalizing in effect its nuclear basis.

A bad agreement on March 24th will be irreversible, warns Steinitz, and the world will have to live with its consequences for decades. It is better to have no deal than a bad one, reminds Dr. Steinitz of an approach the US President once took but has since abandoned.

It is a very gloomy picture indeed for March 24th, since there is no significant progress on any of the eight elements of negotiation that are of crucial importance.

How can the status quo change in the short time of a few weeks between now and March 24th?

It will undoubtedly and inevitably lead to an agreement full of loopholes; what Dr. Steinitz calls “a bad agreement.”

Thus, while Dr. Steinitz delineates the various points of contention, on which Iran has not the slightest intention to compromise or capitulate (I know I would not), it becomes obvious that this press briefing was called for some other purpose altogether.

Possibly the real intention in this briefing is to support the “vital importance” (in some people’s eyes) of Netanyahu’s speech to Congress? But even that supposition fails, as Dr. Steinitz knows – and states – that Israel needs to do what she needs to do on her own. The USA is not Israel’s pawn nor is it her go-doer. Thus, talking to those who do not want to listen – i.e. the President – and doing so publicly will achieve no goal.

What Next on March 25, 2015?

So we are back to my initial question:

Given that (1) Iran does not recognize Israel’s right to dictate its actions (and why should they, it is an insult to their very being and sovereignty), (2) the US President is intent on signing a deal (good, bad or mediocre, he cares not, as long as there is a signed deal on the table, the details of which we can all learn later, to quote Nancy Pelosi’s famous teachings about ObamaCare) and (3) Netanyahu is still trying to convince everyone (including himself) of the vital importance of yet another appearance before a joint session of Congress (the fourth), what will Israel do on the 25th of March 2015?

It is clear Dr. Steinitz did not intend to answer this question. He spent an hour and a half telling the members of the foreign press who chose to spend the morning in Jerusalem about centrifuges (9,500 operational/active ones and another ten thousand connected but not operational yet) that can be replaced by more advanced ones that are six and eight times faster. He explained the difference between being a threshold nuclear state that can produce a single bomb within a year and the ability to produce many bombs, say 100, within a few months.

We became semi-experts in technology, all in the scope of one lecture, but the race is one of shaping the opinion of the top global decision makers.

Iran Has The Upper Hand

It seems at the moment Iran has the upper hand. It is becoming accepted as part of the solution, especially when IS keeps beheading and setting captives on fire. Iran suddenly is the “moderate” and “partner” of the West, and Dr. Steinitz tried to remind us again and again, albeit unsuccessfully, Iran is the problem, not the solution. Did Mussolini’s presence make Hitler any less dangerous a threat to mankind?

It will all remain for Israel to act on her own, for her own survivability and for the long-term benefit and wellbeing of the world as a whole. Thus, public talks and briefings such as the one today are meaningless if they are the only action being taken. It is not a remedy by any standard. However, if the talk is for the outside, while Israel devises smart ways of penetrating and debilitating the Iranian race to nuclear capabilities, it was time well spent.

I left the briefing room knowing that Dr. Steinitz did not succeed in persuading any of the readers, viewers or listeners in Israel or abroad. Why? Because I remained unconvinced myself.

If I were Iran, I would react on the spot, asking teasingly “who do you think you are, dear Minister, to tell us what we can or cannot do?”

Alas, the Iranians are experts at manipulating public opinion, so I will not even start to list all the things they can say. They do so very craftily themselves.

I left more worried than I arrived. For I remembered the presenter is one of the closest, most crucial members of Israel’s inner circle. And that was frightening.

Ari Bussel
In the series "Postcards from Israel," Ari Bussel and Norma Zager invite readers throughout the world to join them as they present reports from Israel as seen by two sets of eyes: Bussel's on the ground, Zager's counter-point from home. Israel and the United States are inter-related - the two countries we hold dearest to our hearts - and so is this "point - counter-point" presentation that has, since 2008, become part of our lives.