“Israel has been, and should be, operating under the assumption that Iran is going for and will probably acquire nuclear weaponry; there’s no doubt in my mind that this is what is happening,” former Israeli defense minister Moshe Arens told The Algemeiner on Wednesday, following the Obama administration’s securing of the support it needed to prevent a veto override in Congress over the nuclear deal.
“Whether the Iranians actually use this weaponry — or when — is a different question,” said Arens, who served several years as a Knesset member, three terms as defense minister, once as foreign minister and a stint as Israel’s ambassador to the United States. “The probability is small, but not zero.”
“We do know that the increased funds flowing to these organizations will have serious consequences and a pernicious influence across the Middle East,” he said, adding, “There will be bloodshed, but Israel is a strong country.”
As to whether the Jewish state is strong enough to withstand the souring of relations with the United States — which have deteriorated even more where the Iran deal is concerned – Arens, considered a political hard-liner, was dismissive.
Contrary to what most commentators have been reiterating for years, the state of the U.S.-Israel relationship is good. It could be that President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu don’t like each other personally – who knows? But the ties between the two countries are not fully described by this personal thing. The bond between the U.S. and Israel is multifaceted and multidimensional; it is one of shared values and interests, among them business and technology.
This has not really been affected, even by the Iran deal.
Some people are surprised to hear me say this, but let’s look at the facts. When I came to the U.S. as ambassador, the Reagan administration suspended the sale and delivery of F-16 fighter jets to Israel, yet sold AWAC surveillance planes to Saudi Arabia. This was to signal displeasure over Israel’s bombing of the Iraqi reactor and extending Israeli law to the Golan Heights and Israel’s presence in Lebanon, following the war.
It was a big fight at the time. U.S.-Israel relations were extremely strained when Reagan was president, and he was considered pro-Israel.
Today, the Obama administration is selling and delivering to Israel the F-35, the most advanced military aircraft. Nor is there any sign that U.S. aid to Israel will be cut back.
Yet Arens was not surprised by the Iran deal or by Obama’s ability to block a veto override by Congress.
“It’s been pretty obvious for some time now that the administration was going to come out victorious on this one,” he said.
While on the subject of victory, Arens ridiculed the notion that the signing of the nuclear deal, and the inability of its detractors to prevent its ultimate passage, can be considered a defeat for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“A nuclear Iran is America’s problem – the world’s problem – and the majority of Americans oppose the deal for this reason,” he argued. “Most Israelis oppose the deal for this reason, as well, but to view any of this as connected to Netanyahu’s behavior is absurd,” he said.
He also called claims on the part of many pundits in Israel and abroad that the prime minister’s anti-Iran speech before Congress in March was responsible for the decline in Democratic support for Israel’s position on the nuclear deal “delusional.”
This was not the only manner in which Arens defended the Israeli prime minister, both in his regular columns inHaaretz and to The Algemeiner.
“There is no one – including myself — who could have conducted such a valiant fight, or done it as well, as Netanyahu,” he said. “Hats off to him.”
Though Arens has been politically affiliated with the Likud Party that Netanyahu heads, his praise is neither a given nor to be taken lightly. It is true that Netanyahu was Arens’s protégé in the early years of the former’s political career. Indeed, it was through the more senior statesman’s influence that Netanyahu was appointed ambassador to the United Nations in 1984. Arens was also responsible for the 1988 appointment of Netanyahu as his deputy foreign minister. During those years, Arens – today going on 90 – saw Netanyahu, 24 years his junior, as a son.
But there have been rifts, most notably when Arens challenged Netanyahu for the Likud leadership in 1999. Arens lost; Netanyahu appointed him as defense minister.
Asked what he would be doing if he held that post today, in the wake of the nuclear deal with Iran, Arens was evasive, yet confident.
“Without going into detail – which, for obvious reasons I’m not at liberty to disclose – I am confident that Defense Minister Moshe (“Bogie”) Ya’alon is doing exactly what he should be doing. I can’t think of anything I would be doing differently,” he said.