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President Obama met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel for two hours yesterday at the White House. Iran was at the top of the agenda. The meeting followed months of speculation that Israel is close to a military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities. The president gave assurances the U.S. would do what is necessary to protect Israel. But he made it clear the U.S. wants to continue using diplomacy to try to prevent Iran from building a nuclear bomb. Later Netanyahu expressed impatience with the U.S. position. He told a conference of pro-Israel Americans that the world cannot afford to wait much longer. Diane and her guests will talk about the U.S., Israel and their differing approaches to Iran.
- Paul Pillar Director, graduate studies at the Center for Peace and Security Studies at Georgetown University and a former CIA National Intelligence officer
- Aaron David Miller A public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center and former adviser to Republican and Democratic secretaries of State; author of the forthcoming book "Can America Have Another Great President?"
- Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi Founder and president, The Israel Project.
- Reza Marashi Research director, National Iranian American Council, former Iran desk officer, U.S. State Department.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets today with members of Congress. The big question on everyone's mind is whether or when the Israel plans to attack Iran's nuclear facilities. Yesterday, President Obama strongly reiterated the U.S. policy of continued sanctions and diplomatic pressure.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining me in the studio to talk about U.S.-Israeli relations and the likelihood of military action against Iran: Aaron David Miller of the Woodrow Wilson International Center, Paul Pillar of Georgetown University, Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi of The Israel Project, and Reza Marashi of the National Iranian American Council. I hope you'll join us, 800-433-8850. Send your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Join us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Good morning to all of you.
MR. PAUL PILLARGood morning, Diane.
MR. REZA MARASHIGood morning, Diane.
MR. AARON DAVID MILLERGood morning, Diane.
MS. JENNIFER LASZLO MIZRAHIGood morning.
REHMAaron David Miller, let me start with you. Give us the highlights of what President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu said after their meeting.
MILLERI mean, I think it was an effort on the part of both men to create a measure of reassurance, that on the U.S.-Israeli relationship both have found -- at least for the time being -- common ground. Prime Minister Netanyahu wanted a green light from the president. He didn't get it. And the president wanted a red light from the prime minister, with respect to military action against Iran. He didn't get it.
MILLERBut for the time being, they found enough ground in a -- in what has proved to be -- this was their ninth meeting -- a pretty dysfunctional relationship over the course of the last three-and-a-half years. They found enough common ground on this issue to allow non-military pressures to build and to avoid war for the time being.
REHMDo you think what they said publicly reflected what they said privately?
MILLERI mean, there's always -- look, they have fundamental personality differences. The prime minister is brash and overly confident. The president is more emotionally detached, and yet that masks a certain measure of confidence, which, I think, the prime minister lacks. So there is always an edge to their public remarks. But I have to say that, in comparison to some of their previous meetings, this one was -- clearly, the tone was much friendlier.
REHMJennifer Mizrahi, talk about Prime Minister Netanyahu's statement to AIPAC yesterday and how that differed from what Aaron has just outlined.
MIZRAHII think, Diane, that the biggest misconception around the world is that Israel wants a nuclear Iran to be struck now. That is not the case. No Israeli leader is advocating for military action at this time. The prime minister, last night at AIPAC, repeated what he has said often, which is that he wants very, very strong sanctions, aggressive diplomacy that can give an opportunity for a policy change.
MIZRAHIHe reminded people that there is not much time and that the worst possible outcome would be a military nuclear Iran, but they are not looking at this point for a military strike.
REHMHe did express some impatience with the U.S. position.
MIZRAHIHe was very celebratory about the conversations that he's had with the president and with the new sanctions that have been passed against the Central Bank of Iran. We're very pleased to see that Catherine Ashton and others from the E.U. and around the world are looking for new diplomacy, and that, with this really heightened awareness about these threats that Iran is going to now, for the first time, allows some inspections of some critical places that they might have nuclear materials where they have not previously allowed inspections.
REHMAnd, indeed, the U.N. nuclear agency has been told that it will be allowed to visit the Parchin complex, southeast of Tehran, which has been off-limits up to now. Paul Pillar, where do you see the red lines between Israel and the United States on Iran separating?
PILLARWell, redlines is one of those areas where there really wasn't a common ground achieved. The president spoke in his speech to AIPAC on Sunday about nuclear weapons capability. What Mr. Netanyahu has spoken of most of the time -- I'm sorry, the president spoke about actually having a nuclear weapon, and Mr. Netanyahu has spoken about nuclear weapons capability. Although I believe in his address to AIPAC last night, he spoke more in terms of a weapon.
PILLARSo there's still a big slush factor there about where a red line is drawn. And I don't think we're getting, really, entirely the same message despite the favorable vibes that Aaron described from this most recent meeting between the United State and Israel.
REHMReza, how do you understand this so-called red line?
MARASHIWell, it's important to consider what the red lines look like from three different perspectives: from the U.S. perspective -- as Paul very eloquently said, the red line is very clearly what President Obama has reiterated time and time again, which is no nuclear weapon for Iran -- the Israelis -- as Paul said -- nuclear-capable Iran, which has a much different interpretation. It has a much different meaning. What's less understood is the Iranian government's perspective.
MARASHIAnd this particular regime in Tehran is pursuing what is largely described as nuclear latency, which is having all of the capabilities and all of the components in place without actually making the political decision to pursue the weapon. If they do make the political decision to pursue the weapon, that will be the straw that breaks the proverbial camel's back and coalesces the international community against the regime in a way that we haven't even seen under President Obama.
MARASHIAnd -- excuse me -- his efforts to isolate the Iranian government had been more successful than any previous U.S. administration. So we have three different governments with three different perspectives, and none of these governments are communicating and talking with another. So these upcoming negotiations between Iran and the P5-plus-1 represent a very important and a very timely opportunity for Israel, Iran and the United States to try and get on the same page.
REHMAnd within Iran, you almost have two different governments.
MARASHIWell, you certainly have a regime that's increasingly unpopular amongst its own people. And you also have an opposition that hasn't been able to coalesce and take advantage of the mass mobilization that we saw a couple years ago with the Iranian people due to its monopoly on violence.
MARASHIThat being said, with these most recent parliamentary elections that took place in Iran, really, what this was was less an election, less a popular vote and more a competition amongst warring conservative factions over political and economic control and the political and economic future of the Islamic republic.
REHMSo what does the outcome, or what could the outcome, of those parliamentary elections mean for moving forward on either nuclear power or nuclear weaponry?
MARASHIGreat question, Diane. I think, until we know the final results, it's going to be hard to say with 100 percent certainty, but there are really only two scenarios that exist today. One is that the Majlis or the Iranian parliament coalesces around the supreme leader, which is a trend that we've been seeing increasingly over the last year or two. And that will cement his role at the helm of policymaking in Iran, and there will be a much less diverse range of voices sitting around the Iranian table when they make decisions.
MARASHIThat may or may not allow the Iranian government to feel less paranoid, to have less fear and to be able to move forward with negotiations. Conversely, if the Iranian Majlis or the Iranian parliament has a more diverse range of conservative voices within the parliament, then, I think, what we're going to end up seeing is more of the same, which is an inability of the Iranian government to get its act together when it comes to negotiations.
REHMWhere does Ahmadinejad stand in all this?
MARASHIWell, the reports we've seen so far is that his faction has actually come out as the loser of these parliamentary elections. That being said, it's important to note that 30 seats in the parliament are going to a run off. And what happens in these parliamentary elections in the run off, if you will, will determine the shape of the Majlis and its trajectory. But, right now, I think it's safe to say that the president's wings have been clipped.
MARASHIBut it's also important to note that he's not the kind of guy to go down without a fight because his power within the Islamic republic has really been predicated on audacity and an unwillingness to be sidelined.
REHMReza Marashi, he is research director at the National Iranian American Council. He is former Iran desk officer at the U.S. Department of State. Do join us, 800-433-8850. Paul Pillar, you don't think that a nuclear-armed would necessarily be a worst-case scenario. Explain.
PILLARDiane, one of the aspects of this debate and discourse has become a kind of widely received conventional wisdom, without being carefully examined or analyzed, is that there is nothing worse than an Iranian nuclear weapon. To the extent that we do get justification for that conventional wisdom, it takes one of two forms: one, the simple one that we hear mainly from the political candidates, is that the regime in Tehran is irrational. It can't be deterred. These are a bunch of crazies who are only interested in an afterlife.
PILLARThat simply doesn't conform with the behavior of the Islamic republic. This regime, like others, is interested above all in maintaining its own existence and power in this life, not a future life. The more sophisticated explanation you often hear -- and we heard some of this from Mr. Netanyahu in his speech to AIPAC last night -- was that, even if a nuclear-armed Iran does not launch a nuke at the first opportunity against Israel, or do something else suicidal and irrational, its mere possession of the weapon would somehow enable Iran to be more aggressive or throw its weight around.
PILLARBut we've got a whole history through the Cold War and doctrine that was developed then that explains why that's not the case. Nuclear weapons are useful in the ultimate case of one's very existence being threatened. They don't function as a shield for other kinds of behavior outside your borders.
REHMPaul Pillar of Georgetown University. He is a former CIA National Intelligence officer. We'll take a short break and be right back.
REHMAnd welcome back. We are talking about Israel, Iran and the United States, Prime Minister Netanyahu's visit, his meeting with President Obama yesterday, his statement to AIPAC. That's the American lobby for Israel. And if you'd like to join us, 800-433-8850. Jennifer, just before the break, you heard Paul Pillar talk about the idea that if Iran does have a nuclear weapon or does develop one, it's not necessarily a bad thing. What's your reaction?
MIZRAHIMy reaction is that that is hope over reality. The fact is that Iran is a theocracy that has been pushing terrorism around the world for decades. It is their systematic policy to destroy, to murder. We saw from the Beirut bombings that killed hundreds of Americans some time ago to the very recent attempts to kill the Saudi ambassador here on U.S. soil only very recently, not far from where we're all sitting right now, and many attacks in between.
MIZRAHIYesterday, when Prime Minister Netanyahu met with the president of the United States, it was on the anniversary of an attack on a school bus in Haifa where there were 17 people that were killed -- Muslims, Christians, Jews -- by an Iran-backed Hamas terrorist. So this is the kind of damage that they do without a nuclear weapon. So to imagine what they will be like with a nuclear weapon -- even a nuclear weapon capacity where they are just within months of getting something -- is an absolutely terrifying concept.
MIZRAHIAnd the world cannot afford to have such a concept. But that's not why we should look at a military action now. Military action should only be the last resort. That's why the Israelis and those who were on AIPAC are strong supporters of sanctions, of more diplomacy, not ploys, but real diplomacy with abiding sanctions to try and end this without any need for military conflict.
REHMAaron David Miller.
MILLERYou know, we're in the very strange position here of listening to Paul's view, which argues it isn't the end of the world, and Jennifer's, which she maintains it is the end of the world. And the reality is, like so many of the policy options we face and the realities in the world, we're going to end up finding a balance in between. I mean, four countries, outside of the five members of the Security Council permanent members, have nuclear weapons.
MILLERThe North Koreans have them. The Indians have them. The Pakistanis have them, and the Israelis have them. We have not been able to stop the acquisitive power of any of these regimes if they deem it within their national interest to acquire a weapon. I would argue to you, without reading the tea leaves of the mullocracy in Tehran, that Iran, writ large, is a country with a profound sense of insecurity on one hand and a profound sense of grandiosity on the other.
MILLERAnd this combination -- the shah, it seems to me, probably would have wanted to join the nuclear club. Now, you could argue that it would've been a more responsible nuclear power, but the reality is, talks or no talks, the Iranians, in my judgment, this regime had made a judgment that they want the capacity to develop a weapon. Whether it's the end of the world or it's not, it's not going to be a good thing.
MILLERPaul's point is correct though. Is war the only end or the best option to try to preclude that possibility? And that, I think, in the end is the decision we may all be faced with, not this year, but certainly next perhaps.
REHMWell, now, that's something I'd like to ask you about, and that is the issue of timing. Many political watchers have said that Prime Minister Netanyahu is pushing President Obama now before the elections in November because he realizes that, once the elections take place, President Obama will not be under pressure if he wins a second term. How do you see that, Reza, the whole timing issue?
MARASHITiming is always of the essence when it comes to politics and diplomacy, particularly when the two mix together. When it comes to Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Israeli government, I can say that during my time in the U.S. government, we never faced a day or a week without facing the kind of pressure that you're describing when it comes to timing. And when you throw in an election season, it heightens the pressure that U.S. politicians feel exponentially. That's not what I think. That's what my friends at the White House and the State Department tell me.
PILLARI think there's no question that the Israeli leadership looks very closely at the U.S. electoral calendar. And the one point that I would add to the logic that you explained, Diane, is that I dare say Mr. Netanyahu, if he had to express an opinion preference about who wins the election here in November, Mr. Obama would not be his man. And so if Israel were to launch an attack between now and the first Tuesday of November and gasoline prices skyrocketed and other things happened that would hurt Mr. Obama's re-election chances, I don't think Mr. Netanyahu would shed any tears over that.
MIZRAHII think that's a ludicrous allegation, that somehow the Israelis have schemed to deal with the Iran issue in a way that it would impact the outcome of the U.S. election. The fact of the matter is that the Israelis have been begging for very strong sanctions for many, many years, not just on President Obama's watch, but actually on President Bush's watch. I personally was involved in working on a petition to try and get strong sanctions back when Bush was president.
MIZRAHIWe had tens of thousands of American sign that petition, including then-Sen. Barack Obama, who was not yet a candidate for office, begging for stronger sanctions before he was even a candidate for president. After he was elected president of the United States, Obama went for negotiations. He went for an outreached hand in hopes that he would see a different outcome. He delayed the stronger sanctions for a period of years.
MIZRAHISo the fact that we're coming up to the election with such little time left after the CBI sanctions have become law is not because the Israelis wanted to create that. It's because the administration didn't pull these tougher sanctions much earlier, which we would've hoped to have seen under the Bush administration.
REHMHow tough are these sanctions, Aaron?
MILLERI think they're very tough, crippling, severe, toughest sanctions ever implemented, but questions whether, in fact, they'll be determinative. Can they alter the acquisitive character of the regime? But one additional point -- and I disagree with this notion that somehow elections serve as a catalyst to war. I don't think that's true at all. I think they serve as a constraint. The last thing any American president wants eight months from an election is the injection of any action that is going to create tremendous uncertainty.
MILLERThis president does not want oil at $200 a barrel. This president does not want a shock to the financial markets. This president does not want additional increase in the price of gasoline. All of these things will accrue should the Israelis strike between now and the election. So I think, in fact, it's, in essence, a constraint. And I think Washington has lost its mind on this particular point.
MILLERThe notion that somehow the president is pandering to the pro-Israeli constituency and to Israel because he somehow needs the votes of American Jews or doesn't want to give his Republican opposition an issue to hammer him, I think, is all subordinated to a much broader reality. What is in the national interest of the United States? And, frankly, what is in Barack Obama's political interest?
REHMBut Prime Minister Netanyahu made it clear that he would do whatever it takes to defend Israel. Does that mean he would go on his own? Paul Pillar.
PILLARI think he would go on his own if he reached the conclusion that that's what he needed to defend Israel. And I just want to clarify I wasn't for a moment suggesting that the main thing driving Israeli policy or Mr. Netanyahu's policy was to try to manipulate the U.S. election. I doubt that something like gasoline prices in the United States figure very high on Mr. Netanyahu's criteria in deciding whether or not to attack Iran. He's got other things to look at in making that decision.
PILLARAnd I'm also not predicting that we will have an attack between now and November. I would say, if I had to place a bet on it, it's probably somewhat less than an even chance. But I was just spinning out some more of the logic that you alluded to earlier, Diane.
MIZRAHIWell, there started to be a conversation here about gas prices, and Prime Minister Netanyahu did address that topic last night when he spoke, saying -- and I think this is a very important point -- that gas prices would be much higher if you have a nuclear Iran because all the trouble that they are making in the region, in the absence of a nuclear weapon, would only get worse if they have that increased umbrella of hegemony where they have nuclear protection around their proxies: Hezbollah, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and others.
REHMReza, how are the sanctions against Iran affecting the people of Iran?
MARASHIWell, I always like to say that -- excuse me. I always like to say that sanctions are making life incredibly and increasingly more difficult for the Iranian government, and they're making life hell for the Iranian people. But, that being said...
MARASHIHow? I mean, it's raising the prices for every possible commodity that you can think of. It's really putting the squeeze on Iran's middle class, but it's not adversely affecting the people who we ostensibly are trying to target, which is the regime. These are the people who are making the decisions when it comes to what to do on Iran's nuclear program, and they're not feeling the brunt of sanctions in the same way that the average Iranian is when it comes to the price of meat, to the price of gas, to the price of homes, the ability to send your kids abroad to go to college -- things of this nature.
MARASHIAnd so putting sanctions in their proper context means, will they change the strategic calculus of the Iranian regime? And we've had sanctions on Iran for the better part of three decades, increasingly stringent sanctions on Iran since 1995. And in 1995, they weren't spinning one centrifuge. But, to date, they have not changed the strategic calculus of the Iranian government. So I understand the political necessity to talk about sanctions, enact sanctions.
MARASHIBut if we're not pursuing diplomacy simultaneously, and if we're not putting more of an emphasis on diplomacy, sustained diplomacy over an extended period of time, then the likelihood of sanctions producing any kind of success is slim to none.
REHMDo you believe that Iran is pursuing nuclear weaponry?
MARASHIOh, it's not a matter of what I think. The U.S. intelligence estimate, which is a consensus document of, I believe, 16 intelligence agencies, says they have not made the political decision to pursue a weapon. And, you know, my generals are telling me the same thing at the podium, very publicly. So I'm inclined to believe what my intelligence officials and what my military officials are telling me, and my president.
REHMThat they are not.
MARASHIThat they are not.
MIZRAHII completely disagree with that. What you saw is that the intelligence community is always very conservative in their estimates. Unless they had the proof of a nuclear weapon in their hands, they would always say that. You didn't see them saying that there was going to be a nuclear capability before North Korea did a test. They historically missed these things.
MIZRAHIAnd to see what Iran is going through in terms of the sanctions, the fact that they have lied repeatedly to the international community, hiding their different centrifuges, hiding much of their program. This is a nuclear military weapons program, and if they haven't put together the last pieces of it yet, it's because they want to have it all ready. But the difference between having it all ready and using it is very limiting. And the biggest threat of all is, frankly, their proxies.
MIZRAHICould they give nuclear materials to Hezbollah, to Palestinian Islamic Jihad, to others, some of which are already operating in Latin America on our borders, and we just had an attempt of assassination of the Saudi ambassador here in Washington?
REHMJennifer Laszlo Mizrahi. She's founder and president of The Israel Project. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Paul, you wanted to add to that.
PILLARWell, what we've heard repeatedly are all the many reasons that this Iranian regime gives us to loathe it, from its relations to various proxies, to its absolutely outrageous rhetoric and everything else. The question is what difference a nuclear weapon would make, and what is still missing is any logic that tells us what difference it would make. Nuclear weapons make a difference insofar as the possible use of them becomes credible.
PILLARThat use is credible, given the terrible nature of nuclear war, only when the most dire circumstances -- which basically is survival of one's regime -- come into play. I think the Iranian regime is very much interested in a nuclear weapon precisely because it does see itself, as Aaron mentioned earlier, threatened from all angles, not just the United States and Israel, but they've got other things to worry about as well.
PILLARWe haven't seen any specific indication that a decision has been made to turn the last screws and construct a weapon, and they have every reason to leave their options open.
REHMAaron, we haven't talked about the sentiment here in this country. People here in the United States feel as though they were dealt a bad hand with Iraq and the so-called WMDs that were said to be present. Is there a parallel here that you see between those who are calling for a strike against Iran because it may be developing nuclear weapons and the same people who called for a strike against Iraq because of WMDs?
MILLERI mean, I do believe that even though we persist in making mistakes, that we are getting smarter, and I think we're now coming off the two longest wars in American history, Diane. I mean, it's extraordinary. I mean, these are the two -- Iraq and Afghanistan are the two longest wars in American history. They're being fought by less than 1 percent of the American public. Iraq was a discretionary war. It was not a war of choice, a war of -- it was a war of choice. It was not a war of necessity.
MILLERAnd in a war of discretion, which, in my judgment, an attack on Iran would be right now, even for the Israelis, it is not now a war of necessity, and certainly not a war of necessity for the United States. In a war of discretion, the standards for success and the arguments that need to be marshaled are much higher, and, frankly, that is a huge problem. One of the reasons that foreign policy does not figure prominently in this election campaign is, in large part, because Americans understand that.
MILLERThey're coming off the rollercoaster ride of wars that have not paid dividends, and they're very weary. Even the Republican candidates -- despite the rhetoric, I suspect -- are weary, and certainly this president is weary.
REHMDespite the rhetoric? I mean…
MILLERDespite -- well...
REHM...well, here you have Mitt Romney saying if President Obama is re-elected, Iran will have a nuclear weapon. We will have higher gas prices. I mean, he is bringing that in.
MILLERI read his piece in The Washington Post today, and I looked for something that would be determinative, even in terms of his own intentions with respect to military action. Talk about moving carrier groups into the Eastern Med. He didn't talk about, as president, I will. He essentially fleshed out what this president has said, that it is not in our interest, and I will do everything in my power to stop Iran from acquiring a weapon. I think that politicians on the campaign trail are one thing, particularly in the wake of Iraq and Afghanistan. Politicians who have to govern are another.
REHMAaron David Miller. He's a public policy scholar at the Wilson Center, former adviser to Republican and Democratic secretaries of state. When we come back, we'll open the phones. I look forward to hearing from you.
REHMAnd it's time to open the phones. We'll go first to Cliff in Reston, Va. Good morning. You're on the air.
CLIFFGood morning, Diane. Thank you for having me on. Hear me?
REHMCertainly. Sure can.
CLIFFI would like to ask the guest, please, if he could explain Operation Ajax and whether he thinks that our involvement with Iran with episodes like that have anything to do with the kind of monster that we've created in Iran today.
REHMI'd like to have some explanation of Operation Ajax, Reza.
MARASHIOperation Ajax was a CIA and MI6-inspired 1953 coup overthrowing Iran's prime minister. And, you know, I think it's safe to say that Iranians inside Iran don't particularly appreciate that bit of history, but there's also bits of history that we in the United States don't appreciate, most notably, this Iranian government taking our embassy officials hostage after the Iranian Revolution in 1979.
MARASHISo I think what the caller is speaking to as a larger problem that exists in U.S.-Iran relations or the lack thereof, which is the ghost of history constantly tripping us up, and hardliners, both in Washington and Tehran, making careers out of proving how nasty they can be to the other side and poisoning the well because they thrive in isolation from one another.
REHMAll right. To Cincinnati, Ohio, Scott, you're on the air.
SCOTTHi. Thanks for taking my call.
SCOTTI'm interested in your guests' opinion on what impact Supreme Leader Khamenei's statement that nuclear weapons are un-Islamic will have on the conversation.
REHMWhat's your reaction, Jennifer?
MIZRAHIWell, we're talking about a regime that's also called for wiping Israel off the map and that repeatedly calls for death to America and that recently attempted an assassination attempt on U.S. soil, that is operating in Venezuela to collect uranium, that recently tried assassination attempts of Israeli diplomats in three different countries around the world.
MIZRAHISo I think taking one isolated statement and thinking you can find comfort in it, given that there's so much evidence for active hostility, not from back when there was hostage taking at the U.S. Embassy in Iran but from things that are going on in recent weeks, months and days, that we have much reason to be very, very concerned.
PILLARWe should not take comfort by this or any other single statement from the supreme leader. It's -- but that statement is simply consistent with what we were discussing before, which is to say that the Iranians have not yet made a decision as to whether or not to build a bomb.
REHMHere's an email from Emmanuel, who says, "I congratulate the president for stressing diplomacy at the expense of war. He goes on to say the U.S. should not be the errand boy of Israel. Netanyahu shows disrespect to the president in their earlier meetings and now wants to tell him how to run his foreign policy. We are not Israel. Please tell Israel to make mature choices." How do you respond to that, Jennifer? Do you believe that the broader American public is in favor of the kind of rhetoric that Prime Minister Netanyahu has used?
MIZRAHIWell, first of all, Diane, there is a very strong U.S.-Israel relationship that is based on shared values, like openness of religion, freedom of speech, right to vote, et cetera. We are very close allies in the war on terror. But the rhetoric of the prime minister, I think, has been really mischaracterized in the media because the prime minister does want strong sanctions and diplomacy and is not asking for any military action now. He is only saying that, as a last resort, if he needs to do something to protect his people, he will.
MIZRAHIBut let us not forget that, twice, Israel has been called upon, once with Iraq and once with Syria, to destroy nuclear sites that were dangerous and that were against America's national security interest. They were very much criticized for what they did in Iraq in taking away that nuclear military capacity in Iraq, and it turned out to be for the good that it was done. It should not be a situation where Israel is asked to do things at great risk, great cost that are in America's national security interest either.
PILLARIt is very useful to recall that 1981 bombing of the Iraqi reactor because the Iraqi response was to redouble their efforts to build a nuclear weapon, to switch to a uranium enrichment path. And we saw what the result was 10 years later when Iraq was on the verge of having a nuclear weapon. It was totally counterproductive.
MILLERJust a brief comment about the U.S.-Israeli relationship. You know, where you stand in life has a lot to do with where you sit. And the reality is Israel may be a regional superpower, but it's still a small country with a dark past living on the knife's edge. And we have a fundamental commitment to Israel's security. But, that said, America has its own national interest. And to expect that the interest of Israel and the United States, a tiny country and a large country, are going to coincide 100 percent of the time on every conceivable issue is simply defy logic.
MILLERIt doesn't mean we can't maintain our special relationship with the Israelis and respect their needs and security requirements, but there's a measure of reciprocity as well that we need to insist on in our own policy. And that issue is absolutely critical because it gets to the issue of respect for one another's interest, and it gets the issue of trust. And rarely have I seen a more dysfunctional relationship. And I've watched half a dozen presidents and half a dozen Israeli prime ministers.
MILLERRarely have I seen a more dysfunctional relationship than exists between these two. The president thinks that Netanyahu is a conman, and the prime minister believes that the president is bloodless on Israel and completely emotionally detached and dysfunctional. That relationship -- they don't have to love one another, but they have to find a way to figure a way around that because, more than likely, this president is going to be there for another four years, and this prime minister, who is an authentic representation of where Israel is at the moment, is going to be there for another four years, too.
REHMPaul Pillar, can Israel attack Iran without the United States?
PILLARIt can. Militarily, it would be less extensive and less effective, even with the United States. We're talking about, at most setting back an Iranian program by some short to, at most, you know, a few years and not killing the program altogether, while, at the same time, the effective other type of attack would be to push the Iranians across that decision line, becoming determined more than ever to build a bomb.
PILLARThe hardliners who have been arguing in that direction would win the argument. And I think the same kind of thing that we saw happen in Iraq in the 1980s, we would see it happen in Iran.
MARASHII'll be inclined to agree. You know, this Iranian government is not only increasingly paranoid, but it also has a demonstrated history of being risk averse when it comes to doing things that it think could invite a kind of retaliation or retribution that it itself could not handle. Paul's points are correct, and I think the Iranian government actually perceives them in the way that Paul has articulated. There's one other point that I wanted to go back to that Aaron touched upon which is -- it's connected a little bit to the U.S.-Israel relationship.
MARASHIAnd it's the way that Israel and Iran actually have similarities when most people think that there are none. I think both the Israeli government and the Iranian government are both paranoid. They both have fear of trusting others, particularly this Netanyahu government. But they also have, you know, this desire to be the regional preeminent power. They also have these desires of grandeur. So on the one hand, you feel like you're the victim, but, on the other hand, you also feel like you're the power.
MIZRAHIWell, Reza's made that case just now that somehow Iran is risk averse, and Paul has made a case that somehow they're logical. I don't see how that squares with the facts that they recently were involved with a Mexican drug cartel to try and assassinate diplomats here in Washington, or how it is that they were involved just recently weeks ago in trying to kill Israeli diplomats in three different places. One of these incidents is they were attacking the wife of a diplomat who was simply dropping her kids off at day care.
MIZRAHIHad they hit just moments before, her kids would've been in the car. She luckily saw the bomber and was able to jump out of the car to keep from being killed herself but was significantly injured. That is not an activity that suggests that they're risk averse or that they are logical.
MARASHIWell, I think it's important to unpack this and put it in its proper context. You know, the Iranian government does have a demonstrated track record of doing things that, I think, all of us would appreciate them to stop doing, but, that being said, we have look at ourselves. And we have to look at the actions of the Israeli government and see how this cycle of violence has become self-perpetuating. On the one hand, the United States and Iran have been locked in a cold war for the better part for three decades.
MARASHIThe Israeli government has been sponsoring two organizations that are designated foreign terrorist organizations by the United States in an effort to assassinate Iranian nuclear scientist. Whether or not you think that's right or wrong, it doesn't make any of these acts as irrational or illogical. It means that they're looking up for their own interest. But at the end of the day, they're not trying to solve the problem. They're not engaged in conflict resolution. They're engaged in conflict management at best or conflict escalation at worst.
REHMAll right. To Athens, Ohio, good morning, John.
JOHNHi, Diane. Thanks for taking my call.
JOHNI wanted to say that I understand that Iran feels threatened. I mean, they're surrounded by our military bases and things like that. And, surely, somewhat, they must listen to the rhetoric here that's been going on lately. And at least four years ago, John McCain was singing bomb Iran to his supporters. So I view them as a sovereign power with the right to pursue nuclear weapons. Certainly, I don't want them to have nuclear weapons, but I think it's their right.
JOHNAnd I support defending Israel if they're attacked. And I support the U.S. supporting pro-democratic movements, but, otherwise, I think we should stay home.
MIZRAHILook, there are so many different agendas. There is no clean and neat solution here. You basically have bad and worse are your choices, and it's an uncomfortable position to be in. Again, I just want to reiterate. We need the strong sanctions. I hope this P5-plus-1 talks can bring something. I hope this new hope of inspections can bring something good. This is something that we're all working for.
MIZRAHIThere's also a role for India and China who are still buying some supplies, some energy supplies from Iran to play an even greater role in averting war. I think one of the biggest reasons that you see Prime Minister Netanyahu speaking out so forcefully at this time about the need to defend his people isn't because he wants war. It's because he wants China and India and the P5-plus-1 and others to step it up on the sanctions so that no war needs to happen.
PILLARJohn's call is useful and elaborating on why Iran sees itself as threatened. All they have to do is listen to the rhetoric. Let us put ourselves in their shoes. If we heard two other countries, two allies, corresponding to the U.S. and Israel discussing whether to bomb us now or later, I think we would start to look a little paranoid as well. And if we were thinking about building a nuclear weapon, we would think real hard about it.
REHMPaul Pillar of Georgetown University. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Aaron, how might Iran respond to an attack by Israel?
MILLERI mean, it's unpredictable. They have to find a way to respond. The question is whether or not they could a find a way to respond without courting a massive military counter response by the United States. Direct missile launches against Israel attacking the oil platforms and Straits of Hormuz without closing the straits, allowing the impact of the "Iran premium" to jack oil prices up over $200 a barrel, as well as gas prices, shocks to the financial markets, terrorist attacks.
MILLERI doubt, frankly, whether Hezbollah would want to sacrifice itself in the service of Iran. It would be a manageable response. It won't be the end of the world, but it will set into motion a prolong period of tensions and violence and instability that essentially ultimately will draw the United States.
REHMHow might the other Arab countries become involved, Paul?
PILLARIf they became involved, they would be dragged in inadvertently because of, you know, naval escalation in the Persian Gulf, that sort of thing. But on that question, Diane, it's -- one should make clear that there's been a misconception about what the Arab countries really want. Now, we had this quote in one of the lead cables about the Saudis supposedly talking about cutting off the head of a snake. The Saudis and other Gulf Arabs are concerned about Iran.
PILLARThey do want the U.S. to take a lead in figuring out some way to deal with the problem, but they don't want a war. In fact, Prince Turki, the former ambassador here, the longtime Saudi intelligence chief, said just a couple of months ago that a war with Iran would be catastrophic for us as well as for others.
REHMAs you hear everyone, not only here in this room, Jennifer, discussing all of this, do you believe that Prime Minister Netanyahu has come here to the United States to push the calendar forward?
MIZRAHIAbsolutely. He's trying to push the calendar to focus the mind on these sanctions that need to be crippling and on the urgency to do diplomacy now that is meaningful because the clock is ticking.
REHMBut what more sanctions can be imposed?
MIZRAHIThere are currently a series of bills before the U.S. Congress, one with Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Howard Berman and another one with Congressman Brad Sherman. There are many, many more sanctions that can be imposed. The administration is not supporting all of them yet, but many people would like to see, and I know that there are people asking the administration to jump on board them. There is more the Europeans can do and the Chinese and the Indians can do, and the Russians also have a role to play here. There is a lot more that the world can do to avert any need for military action.
MARASHII'll make two quick points on sanctions: one, the Obama administration isn't moving forward with a lot of the bills that are circulating in Congress that were just described largely because they understand that it will close off their ability to conduct sustainable and meaningful diplomacy with the Iranian government. The Iranian government sees sanctions being put on them irrespective of whether or not diplomacy is taking place. It disincentivizes the process for them to negotiate in good faith. So that's one.
MARASHITwo, I would say, we need to put sanctions in their proper context. If we're talking about sanctions stopping the regime from moving forward as nuclear program, there's no evidence to date that demonstrates that that's case. Two, if we're talking about sanctions and the regime and democratization, there have been 10 countries that had face the kind of sanctions Iran faces. Only one has become a democracy. In the -- since 1955, there have been 35 countries that are democratized. Only one has faced that kind of sanction.
REHMAaron, last word.
MILLERI question the need for military action because I think it's hugely consequential, but there's a reality. And I don't believe in counterfactuals, but had -- had we not had sanctions on Iran by now, the Iranians would've had the capacity for weapon and perhaps even a weapon itself.
REHMAaron David Miller, Paul Pillar, Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, and Reza Marashi, thank you all so much. Thank you.
REHMAnd thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Denise Couture, Monique Nazareth, Nikki Jecks, Susan Nabors and Lisa Dunn, and the engineer is Tobey Schreiner. A.C. Valdez answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales. Call 202-885-1200 for more information.
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