tv Former Israeli Ambassador on Iran CSPAN December 22, 2021 1:16pm-2:32pm EST
>> next, a discussion with ron dermer, former israeli ambassador to the united states. he talks about u.s. policy toward iran during a forum hosted by the jewish institute for national security of america. this is about one hour. >> thanks ambassador dermer. many of you know on the call, ambassador dermer joined us in july, distinguished fellow, after having some other equally important roles as ambassador for the united states to israel for about seven and a half
years, before that, or a half years as senior advisor to prime minister benjamin netanyahu. he has really been in the middle of the middle of the arena when it comes to u.s.-israel relations, including on the iran issue, which is the subject of today. as many of you know, iran is -- i wouldn't say it is coming to a head but it is certainly reaching some sort of point that is becoming extremely serious. the iranians are getting very close or about that to what some defined as a nuclear threshold where they have enriched enough uranium to 90% for a bomb. people have different redlines over the years about what they wanted to prevent iran to reach. this was certainly one of them that has been discussed and raised in the past. meanwhile, the talks in vienna have been again, not seeming to
make a lot of progress, not continuing as we speak right now . meanwhile, the israeli defense minister benny gantz was in washington a couple of weeks ago and made certain requests. it was reported one of the requests he made was for -- to be expedited into the united states and that the u.s. declined. this is something that you have been focused on. given where we are, we thought it was important to delve into a lot of detail with ron about these issues. let's go with a little history before we get to today. there has been a lot of reporting and israel, here in the u.s., that given where the
state of iranian nuclear escalation is, a number are claiming that it was a mistake for president trump to withdraw from the jcpoa a few years ago -- and this is something when you were ambassador, this was prime minister netanyahu's priorities, to persuade the u.s. to do that. why don't we address that issue and then we can move up to today. ron: sure. thank you. welcome to everyone on the call. when i was ambassador at the time, i said that president trump's decision to withdraw from the nuclear deal with iran was the single most important decision that any president has made for israel's national security, and i still stand by that. i think it was a critical decision for israel.
it didn't solve the problem, did not end the threat of iran, but it is a critical means to an end. to understand why, you have to understand what the jcpoa does. jcpoa contrary, the nuclear deal with iran, contrary to what was said does not block their path to a bomb. if it did, i would have gone member of congress to member of congress throughout the united states to convince people to support a deal. no country is more threatened by a nuclear armed iran then them. why is israel opposed to this deal blocking iran's path to a bomb? it doesn't do that. the deal put restrictions on iran's nuclear program for a limited number of years. those restrictions would be automatically removed. in those two words, automatically removed, you understand why israel is opposed to it. contrary to what many people believe, the nuclear deal did not freeze iran's program.
people said that we would kick the can down the road. that was not true. under the deal, iran was able to do research and development on more advanced centrifuges. the nuclear deal with iran enabled iran to advance their nuclear program under the implement tour of the international community, essentially gave a kosher stamp to iran moving on a path. in year 12, according to that original deal, 2027, the breakout time for iran is close to zero. that is not what i said, not by the prime minister of israel said, that is what barack obama said. in a moment of candor when he gave an interview, he said the breakout time for iran in 2027 is zero. it's important to understand
terms. when people referred to where iran is, how far away they are, it seems like you have numbers flying around. people say it is a lot, others say a year and a half. it is important to define the terms. traditionally breakout is seen as the fissile material necessary for a single nuclear weapon. that is when they say they have reached that status of breakout, but that doesn't mean they have a nuclear bomb, that has to do with weaponization. they are dissident estimates about how long it would take for iran to weaponize. there are people who could take a range and say about a year, others say about two years, depending on your assessment. when we found a nuclear archive, we found that iran had advanced in their weaponization program. this was the archive that was taken from iran in 2018. to assume that we know everything about where iran's lip program is today, that we have a full view of where they
are in terms of the advancement of their weaponization program, i think is a mistake. when you're talking about breakout time, the fissile material necessary for a device. what i hear a lot is people coming out publicly and saying trump made this big mistake by pulling out of the deal. my first question to them is, i don't understand. in five years from now, iran will be closer than they are today if you stayed in the deal. the great problem of the deal is that iran can get to the bottom not by violating the deal but by keeping the deal. they can get to an entire nuclear arsenal. they will have an industrial sized opacity for nuclear enrichment, where the breakout time for fissile material is effectively at zero. that is if you kept the deal. israel's main concern when they did the deal was contrary to what was set at the time by the obama administration and others
in the international community. this deal did not block iran's path to a bomb. basically, it guarantees that iran is going to become a military nuclear power. so they had not solved the one problem everybody wants to solve, which is the nuclear issue. they have also made the regional issue much worse. with the sanctions relieved, iran goes from facing a essentially a headwind of sanctions to now a tailwind of sanctions relief that allows them to fuel their war of aggression throughout the region, fuel their campaigns by their various different proxies, campaigns against israel, our airbnb neighbors. the nuclear deal was a disaster because it did not solve the problem it was meant to solve, created a false sense of security as if we had solved it, and also made the other problem much worse. what i said at the time in 2015 is that the nuclear deal is to
put us on cruise control heading over a cliff. when people said the deal was working, that to me was saying the cruise control was working. the question is what do you do about the cliff? in may 2018 when trump withdrew from the deal, he took the car off of cruise control. that doesn't mean there is not a cliff, it doesn't mean that we don't face dangers, it doesn't mean that it did solve the problem i'm a but it was a necessary yet not sufficient condition. what you need to do after that was have a clear and credible military threat, have crippling sanctions, and in my view, also reach out to the iranian people. they are not america's enemy, israel's enemy, and have a three legged strategy. it's important to understand that because there has also been taught -- and maybe we will get to this maximum pressure campaign and whether it was working or not working. the nuclear deal was done in
2015. for about a year and a half, we had the obama administration under the nuclear deal. iran continue this campaign of aggression throughout the region. there was very little pushback by the united states, largely because they were afraid iran would walk out of the deal. the deal was being used as leverage against the u.s. administration. when trump came in in january 2017, he did not walk out of the nuclear deal right away. for 10 months, fast-forward to october, before he refused to recertify the deal. then you had an additional eight months or so, may 2018, where he actually withdrew from the deal. when he withdrew from the deal, iran was still allowed to sell oil, waivers were given for iran to sell about a million barrels of oil a day. it was only in may 2019, when
those waivers were taken away, so you really only have crippling sanctions, that part of the strategy of confronting iran, you only had crippling sanctions from may 2019. within a few months, iran was reduced to about 300,000 barrels a day of oil. that was a huge gap of where they were. they had reached almost 3.8 million barrels a day. they were reduced to 300,000 barrels, and they were under enormous pressure in early 2020. but hope was given to the iranians. unfortunately, what you had in the political debate in the united states, and virtually all the candidates on the other side of the aisle, ultimately the person elected, joe biden, they all said they would go back into the deal. from the iranian point of deal, they had to withstand the pressure for a limited amount of time until a u.s. administration would come back in and reduce
the sanctions. the crippling sanctions happened frankly for two and half years, and there was a perception in iran that a rescue ship was on the way for them and they were not facing six years of massive sanctions, which i don't know if they could withstand. the other thing in terms of the credible military threat, you also did not have that for a very long time. may 2019, as i said, the waivers are taken away. what happened then? iran starts to lash out and they go after the ships, saudi oil facilities, and they start ratcheting up their aggression in the region, largely in my view, to get the united states to change their policy. they are like somebody who is drowning who is lashing out at all of these things. there was the incident of the u.s. drone that was taken down.
trump pulled back from responding to that drone. that undermined u.s. credibility of a threat of force even more. all of that changed at the beginning of 2020 when soleimani was taken out. that was the point where the u.s. also had a credible military threat. now you have two legs of the strategy. i don't think they have a third light, which was reaching out in a significant way to the iranian people. now iran was under serious pressure. that all changed when a new administration, going back to the future or forward to the past, however you want to look at it, where they went back to the old policies regarding iran. i don't think people can look at the decision of whether or not -- president trump decision to withdraw -- of course it was the right decision. it took us off cruise control heading for the cliff, but it was not an end in itself.
it had to be followed with policy for the u.s. and israel, having a policy that would dismantle iran's military and nuclear capability. we have not gotten there and that is why we are still in the danger zone that we have been in for the number of years. but the jcpoa was not a part of the solution, it was a problem. it's a good thing that trump withdrew from it. michael: let me zero in on one of the things that you just talked about, the credible military option, as you mentioned, was not on the u.s. side until the soleimani assassination in january 2020. i went back to read what i wrote before trump withdrew, and -- don't try to fix it, trump should withdraw. providing that the u.s. was prepared for a narrating escalation, which was pretty double.
from your perspective, the term gets used a lot, plan b. did you see on the u.s. side a plan b if the iranians escalate at least on the nuclear side, that the u.s. was repaired to respond? your remarks right now suggesting there was not one, and it was only after soleimani, which was not predicted, when trump withdrew in may 2018, did you see on that side, and then we can get to the israeli side after that. ron: i don't want to get too specific there. as you know, the u.s. has a norm's military capability. there is no question they would have capability, the question is how they do it, when they do it. one thing that israel will always look at, and is the single most important, do we have time to delay this decision? the time israel has to delays
decision is different than america's. it doesn't mean the day after he pulls out that you have to have plans. the pentagon is possibly coming up with different plans for different things. i don't want to get into the specifics, but was there a political will to take action in order to stop it? i assume a president of the united states would also ask themselves this question, do i need to do it today, can i wait? one of the things that happened after soleimani, actually, iran was moving ahead with its nuclear program for several months after that a 2019, which is the date of the beginning of the maximum pressure campaign. do not dated from january 2017. it is from may 2019. from that day, iran, according to the research, every couple of months, was moving the needle in terms of their nuclear program.
when soleimani was taken out, there was only one small thing that has to do with inspectors in march of that year. basically for the 11 months between january 2020 and november 2020, iran did not do new things, violations regarding its nuclear program. of course, they continued to enrich at a low amount but they did not take a lot of the other steps, probably because they were afraid of a potential strike. i think they were surprised that trump did what he did in ordering the operation against soleimani. what i suspect iran was trying to do in lashing out against the emma rowdies, saudi's, they will keep wishing and assume that the u.s. would go one round up the letter. there would be some pushback and they would continue to do that until there is pushback, reassess, try to get another rung.
but in taking out soleimani, trump jumped up about 10 rounds of the letter. that made them worried that trump could be somebody who could launch a strike to take out their nuclear facilities. i have no doubt the united states has the power to do that. the question is, does an american president have the will? this is where it comes down to a couple of differences between the united states and israel that is important to understand. for the iranian regime, the nuclear program is the queen in this chess game. the king is the regime itself. the only way that you'll get iran to give up its program peacefully is if the king is threatened. they will only sacrifice the queen to save the king. in this lies a big asymmetry between the united states and israel. israel threatens the queen. people argue that israel does
not threaten the king, but let's work on the assumption that israel can threaten the queen. no one will sacrifice the queen to save the queen. they will only sacrifice the queen to save the king. the only way to peacefully resolve this issue is with the united states to put a medical -- credible military threat. an israeli military threat can prevent a breakout. you saw that happen in 2012. go back and look at the history when it comes to iran. two incidents we had, 2003 and 2012. you can argue there was a credible military threat in the iran-iraq war, and they responded to that threat. but if you think about the nuclear program, 2003, there was no diplomacy, there were no serious sanctions, nothing except for a credible military threat. after afghanistan and iraq, they were concerned that president
bush may do an operation against their program of weapons of mass destruction, nuclear program in 2003, and they stopped in their program, according to everything that we know, stop for a year. when they realize that credible threat was not there, they continue to advance the program. in 2003, you also had qaddafi. he got out of the weapons of mass destruction game as well. you can see that that action is something that the iranians understand. they may thanksgiving up this -- and it makes it harder in a sense. having seen what happened to qaddafi when he gave up those weapons, it's going to be harder for you to convince an iranian regime today that they have to do it to ensure their survival because they think giving it up is what they think will affect their survival. in 2003, a credible military threat by the united states stop iran's program for a year. then you have the example of
2012, where prime minister netanyahu went to the united nations and drew his famous redline, and that bomb that he drew a redline on. that redline was that iran, if it moved to enriching a bomb's worth of uranium, 3.5 percent, 20 percent, and a 90% is the fissile material. 3.5% they had already done a bomb. they were moving into a bomb's worth of 20% enriched uranium. the feeling that israel had at the time was once they do the 20% and complete 20% enriched uranium, the difference between there and the breakup time to getting fissile material is so sharp -- short and may be detectable that israel cannot stop it, so we have to to put the redline there. what did iran do when faced with
that redline? they didn't dismantle their nuclear program but they did not cross the line. they were going vertically up the line and then for a few weeks, just to save face, and then they started stockpiling many bombs worth of low enriched uranium. in a certain sense, they were expanding their nuclear program but they were not breaking out. an israeli credible military threat can perhaps prevent a breakout, but it will not get them to dismantle their nuclear capability. they will not sacrifice the queen to save the queen. they maybe will not put the queen out in front of the pond, leavitt exposed, but they will not sacrifice the queen. the only ones who can peacefully resolve this issue is the united states, and it begins with a credible military threat. without the u.s. credible military threat, no diplomacy will achieve a positive outcome. nothing you do will achieve a positive outcome.
unfortunately, i don't see that happening right now. that creates a dangerous situation because it means that without a credible u.s. threat, which is harder today because of what happened in afghanistan, much harder today than to convince people that the united states is really serious, without that, you have a bad option in front of you. they go from bad to worse. the only way we move into an option set that is palatable begins with the u.s. establishing that credible military threat. like i said, it is harder to do today that a few months ago. michael: let me ask you on the israeli side, because you just said a few times, israel may be able to prevent a breakout but cannot threaten the king, cannot dismantle. there have been reports also recently when benjamin netanyahu
was prime minister, the chief of staff of the idf went in a few times and asked for an increase in the defense budget in israel, and that netanyahu declined. i bring that up because on the israeli side you have historically unusual -- israelis highly critical of the israeli government, saying that we are with the israeli plan b for this withdrawal from the jcpoa. shouldn't israel have strengthened itself and prepared better for iranian breakout because now you knew afte withdrawalr from the jcpoa. could you address the idea about the idea that did israel prepare itself militarily, allocate the necessary resources for that? ron: ok, well here, i don't want
to get too specific. i will tell you, in all the years that i was with netanyahu, -- i have been him in what capacity or another for 20 years. for the 12 years that he was prime minister, i never saw one request that would had israel confront iran in any significant way where he denied funding for that request. what happens in israel that may surprise you, there are a lot of budget negotiations, people try to put them in different boxes. you know what, we need all of this extra money to do this issue. that doesn't mean that you cannot actually divert funds from somewhere else in order to deal with it. there are a lot of games that get played in is really bureaucracy, especially the military when it comes to budget negotiations. for several years, every time we got before a round of budget negotiations with the israeli military, i would see a headline in the newspaper that said if
the israeli idf did not get a certain budget, there will be no funding for iron dome. this gain has been played a long time. i have never once seen someone come to netanyahu with an operational plan to confront iran, or resources necessary to confront iran where he denies those resources. i would take those reports with a bolder size grain of salt. i don't know the context of it. i saw netanyahu do everything he could for many years, both out of office and in office in different capacities, to repair israel to deal with this threat. we did have a situation where, since 2019, we did not have a government in israel. we went from elections to elections. trump withdrew in may 2018. may 2019 is when the maximum pressure campaign started. from the end of december, 2018,
israel was in election season, going from one election to another election. then you finally had a government after about 16 months of three elections. that didn't last long and went to another election, which affects the budgetary process. what i don't understand about the criticism, because it seems to be directed to netanyahu. to the best of my recollection, the last three defense ministers of israel, going back to 2018, were benny gantz, naftali bennett, and lieberman. in our system, it is the job of the defense minister to ensure the army is prepared to deal with any other challenges. what is hard for me to understand if this is what they are saying, criticism is coming from the people who were netanyahu's defense minister. netanyahu is not the commander-in-chief, he is not the president, he is the prime
minister. it is the job of everyone else there, including the military, to make sure they have the means available. i do not believe netanyahu ever denied the means to have a confrontational policy vis-a-vis iran and to be prepared for any possible scenario. it is against everything that i saw with my own eyes all the years i was by his side. michael: i appreciate your comments on that. let's turn to today. i think that background was important because these issues, a lot of media attention on those issues. where we stand today, how you see u.s. policy given the impasse that we see in vienna, frankly, what we've been seeing the whole year. aside from the withdraw from afghanistan, working with the iranians to get back to the
jcpoa has probably been the biden administration's highest foreign policy and that has not happened yet. things seem to be going in the other direction. ron: we have to recognize what the u.s. policy is. it was true in the obama administration, i think it is true in the biden administration. it is not a policy of prevention. it is a policy of contain. israel's policy from netanyahu and bennett today is to prevent iran from developing nuclear capability. i'm not saying that obama or biden wants iran to have nuclear weapons. of course they don't want iran to have nuclear weapons. but their policy is containment. why do i say that? if you would ask senior members of the administration, and if you asked european countries and russia and china, as well. if you are left with only two choices, military confrontation
with iran or nuclear confrontation with iran, which of those scenarios is worse? for israel, it is clear which is worse. both are bad. a military confrontation with iran is bad, particularly with hezbollah in the north, and the danger that that could lead to a larger conflict. in the case of u.s. and europe, in the case of the european powers, china and russia, the answer is a military confrontation is worse from their point of view. they will rationalize and say this will only set iran's program back two or three years. i heard that many times. i would tell people in the administration, to the best of my knowledge -- it is a different situation with all those caveats. but i understand the intelligence estimate that was given to him by israeli intelligence was two to three years. now we are 40 years and counting.
they have this belief that the worst possible scenario that you could have is a military confrontation with iran. because of that, that led to the jcpoa. that is what the jcpoa says it did. if your policy is containment to delay this for 15 years in the hope that something will happen in interim, it is not such a bad deal if your policy is containment. if your policy is prevention, it's a disaster. you just basically said, ok, maybe we will prevent them from having a bomb in this decade, but we will guarantee them having a nuclear arsenal in the next decade. you have decided that prevention is not your policy so you moved to containment. what is happening with iran does not surprise me at all. all they are trying to do is avoid a potential military confrontation. i don't see a plan b at all. for them, a military
confrontation is a bad outcome. what you saw in the new york times, the reports that came out that suggested that all of israel's actions, alleged actions, didn't really stop the program and were actually counterproductive -- the governing idea that the military conversation with iran does not achieve our outcomes, does not achieve the up and we are looking for. it is the same mindset that lead you to believe that all of this selected activity that israel did actually was counterproductive, which is absurd. had israel and the united states not done actions over the last 20 years, sometimes separately, sometimes together, sometimes despite u.s. policy, iran would have had nuclear capability a long time ago. while those actions did not solve the problem, it didn't dismantle the capability, it did postpone it.
it did work to postpone it. the u.s. does not think that a military confrontation with iran is a better outcome than a nuclear armed iran. that is why we are in this loop that we are in. no good scenarios coming out of this. either you return to a bad deal that is a glide path to new their weapons, or you do nothing and you allow them to get closer and closer to potential breakout. here is something that you concern everybody. you have to ask yourself the question, if what i said is true, that the deal is good for iran, allows them the glide path to a nuclear arsenal, a glide path that we are closer today than 2015. now we are seven years, almost half the time has already passed. if it is such a good deal for iran, why did they not rush back into the deal? i see one of two possibilities,
and it goes from bad to worse. the bad possibility is that iran figure they can squeeze the p5 plus one for more. they are not facing crippling sanctions because the economic sanctions are not being enforced thoroughly by the united states. the chinese are coming into give them an economic safety net at the same time. they are not facing the awesome economic pressures they face for about 18 months with the trump administration. they don't see a credible military threat, so why rush into a deal? they figure they can squeeze out more concessions, they will advance their program and continue to do the research and development today do, continue to do different things because they are not facing a potential strike, so they will wait longer and ultimately if there is a turning point, they will go back into the deal. you see this happen with the iaea. they threw a bone into let
people live under the illusion that this was going into positive territory. they said the iranians are very good at this stuff, but they don't see any kind of credible threat. they are waiting to squeeze as much as they can from the united states. since there is no cause for not being in the deal, they are biding their time until maybe they decide to come in. or there is a worse possibility. that is that iran had decided to break now under the biden administration because they think there is no credible military threat from the united states. maybe they think there is no credible military threat coming from israel, which is a different discussion. they think now is the time they can do it. that means they would float around, get closer and closer, not cross what they perceive to be the redline because there are no red lines, but not do anything dramatic. almost like they are going up a cylinder, getting closer, ho
vering at higher levels closer to that breakout time, and then they break up before 2024. maybe they see an opportunity when the u.s. is bogged down in another issue with russia or china, or something else's happening, and they decide there is no will to confront them. so we breakout as they are advancing weaponization programs and other things. that are the two possibilities you have, squeezing more out of the united states, or making a decision that they will breakout to a bomb. they don't have to make that decision now, they can wait and see and respond to the different pressures. with the u.s. administration is doing is exactly what they should be doing. instead of adding more leverage, instead of putting a clear military threat, instead of providing israel, giving them all the tools they need to do their independent, refueling planes, instead of doing all of
these things, increasing their leverage at the negotiating table, they believe good faith and atmospherics will get them far. i believe in good faith among friends, not enemies. they have not put themselves in a position to reach any positive outcome. the one thing they want to avoid is a military confrontation. once that is your policy, there will be no good outcomes to these discussions. there is no outcome that will get iran to peacefully dismantle its military new capability. michael: i need to respond to one thing you said about the delay. israel, it seems, to wait until the last moment before it sets a certain line that could not be crossed.
this problem with the iranian nuclear program has been going on for over two decades. delays, sabotage supposedly from israel. maximum pressure. even the jcpoa delayed things. but look at what else has happened with the delay. i will get to something you brought up before. look at the region around israel where you have today, versus when the iranian program was first discovered in 1990's, which was a bigger problem. you have 130,000 or more rockets into syria. growing threat, hamas in the south. yemen is increasing. as you brought up before, it is like a situation where you can deal with the nuclear facilities
but look what happens to the country nearby. north korea -- south korea. does delay have value in foreign policy that has the challenges outgrown the benefits of delay given where we are today? ron: are you talking about for a potential strike? michael: if there is a potential strike, if israel struck iranian facilities, then has below would unleash their arsenal, hamas, other iranian backed forces would unleash their arsenal on israel. israel have to decide whether it is worth the cost. that has only grown, certainly since the 2006 lebanon war and before that. ron: i think such a decision to launch a strike is a very serious decision intricately taken lightly. it is not the operation in syria
2007. a lot of people in one facility, you have several facilities underground, at least one of them. it is a more complicated operation. the bigger difference is frankly , these forward positions they have with hezbollah. you mentioned seoul. i said i see the iranian military strategy of which the nuclear is part of that strategy, is essentially to turn tel aviv into seoul. they will put a noose around israel's neck. this deal gave them the ability to do it. the nuclear deal allows them to build that noose while they work on their nuclear capability as they advance their program, as they do the r&d on those centrifuges, as they are
building ballistic missiles, as everything else goes by the wayside. what they can do is patiently pushed it noose onto israel, yemen, gaza. contrary to what was said when the nuclear deal was signed, one of the major arguments was, in 10 years, we will have all the options that you have today. that is not true because the iran you'll be fighting 10 years from now after the sanctions relief, after hundreds of billions of dollars, maybe close to a trillion dollars when you factor in the oil sales, the iran you'll be facing is a complete different order of magnitude threat, and they will surround us. when it comes to north korea, it is not that the united states does not have the capability to take out the north korean nuclear threat, it is the cost of doing so, could be the conventional threat on seoul,
but also on tokyo. they want to put us in a situation where no one will take action against them because that noose will be around israel's neck. it's important to understand that a military operation is a very big decision that can have serious consequences. something else i should say about those consequences beyond the operation itself. when we talk about the potential for escalation, here, again the united states becomes critical. only the united states threatens the king. only the united states threatens the regime. the way you would de-escalate the conflict in the wake of an operation that israel would make, is if the united states, through actions and words, makes clear that it supports israel, and that it delivers a clear message --and think about how to deliver that message.
and then showed a unleash these proxies against israel, start firing thousands of missiles into downtown tel aviv, that the iranian regime itself would be in jeopardy. that would de-escalate the conflict. if the united states decides they would distance themselves from israel in the wake of such a decision, they may think they are calling the situation but it will lead to a greater escalation. this dynamic of the king and queen is important. the only way to peacefully resolve and get the iranians to dismantle their program is a credible military threat by the united states, or i did not mention before, if the iranian people rise up and take out the regime. everyone would agree that that is the best of all possible outcomes. the critical question for israeli decision-makers a's can we afford to wait? can we afford another month, another three months? or as others have said, my
former next-door neighbor, when is later too late? that is the question israel has to ask itself. you always hope positive things will happen. i would hope that the senior decision-makers in carefully aby will reach a point where they can no longer take that action. and if they are going to reach that point, they have to act before. the have to act before and they will have no, in my view, you cannot allow a regime that openly calls and actively works for israel's destruction to develop nuclear weapons. we cannot allow that to happen and it does not matter who is sitting in the prime minister's chair. i would hope the current prime minister sees it the same way and despite all the coalition issues he has that they would do what they have to do in order to secure the state of israel.
there is a complication which i think is important for your listeners, especially military officials, to understand. i casually mentioned he is not a commander-in-chief. people have to understand what that means. when the president of the united states gives an order, assuming it is legal, that is to be carried out by the military. that is not how it works in israel. the prime minister does not give orders to the military. the body that would make such a decision is the security cabinet. usually, and there have been cases and i will not get into specifics but even in the 12 year tenure, where one of the intelligence agencies would want to do x and the military would want to do y. but what if one wants to do something and the other doesn't? what happens then?
it is not the prime minister that makes the decision himself. a lot of times what you would have to do is you would have to bring it to the security cabinet. and then the prime minister would have to get his position through. maybe he has the support of the relevant officials, maybe he doesn't, but it is usually one of two things. he has the majority in the cabinet. i think almost all israeli prime minister's have had majority in their own court and it is hard to defy a prime mr. when he is your coalition partner. -- prime minister when he is your coalition partner. they will defer to him and the ministers will vote for something. the second way is you have broad populace support because the broad populace support means the other coalition partners know if they defy the prime minister, that could lead to election and that could create a problem. a strong and powerful prime minister with majority in the cabinet and popular support and
get decisions through. the problem you have with the current prime minister may have nothing to do with what he wants to do. it may have nothing to do with his will and his willingness to act, but it may have to do with the fact he does not have popular support and he does not have majority in his cabinet from his own party. i think he has two ministers. he has to cobble together this coalition and for such a weighty decision, this will be much more important. they are always important and they always play a huge role in decision-making, the security establishment, but with this government and having to cobble together majority without the military being on board is very hard to do. when the military are on board you are talking about the politics in israel and getting them to make the decision they need to make. it is a very complicated playing field and that may be, as i said
before, one of the calculations. i don't know how much iran understands the political decision and i am not willing to give them tips, but i don't know if they see what is happening here and there is not credible military threat coming from jerusalem and not credible threat from washington. that concerns me because it may make them believe that they can get away with breaking out the bomb in the next two or three years. they just have to keep working, keep pushing the envelope, keep monitoring the situation, they don't see pushback, any pushback, even when they are attacking u.s. forces which is also a signal. as i said before, it is interesting the strike did not affect iran's regional behavior but it did affect iran's nuclear behavior. when you pushback on one front it has an impact across the board. if they don't see pushback anywhere, they are going to keep
getting closer and closer to the point where we have to take a it very seriously. >> i always say credibility is the currency of foreign policy. piecing together something let me ask you where we are today. we have this impasse and you mentioned the ways the iranians could be thinking, hoping for a better deal. is it just finding the right time? given where we are now what would you like to see on u.s. policy and israeli? i am going to suggest -- i recognize, and you said this repeatedly and i agree, you need to establish a credible military option. if i may, i don't see that
happening right now on the u.s. side. certainly after afghanistan the non-retaliation to the iranian-backed attack on u.s. forces in october, what the russians are doing on the ukrainian border, it does not seem like countries are fearing us right now. given that if you agree, and that is my sense when i was in israel last month, given that do you think u.s. policy should be focused on giving israel the tools? signs of withdrawing from the talks and not cutting a bad deal in vienna, what would you like to see? mr. demer: when you talk about the u.s. of administration in powering israel or giving it greater tools, independent capabilities to act, they are complicit in that policy. it is a view when it comes to a military strike versus a nuclear
armed iran, the military strike is better. what i am telling you is the u.s. administration does not see the military strike as being a better option. it thinks it is worse than allowing iran to cross the nuclear threshold. the rationalization will be, it will only set back two or three years and then they will have it anyway. it reminds me also with the cable that came from berlin, i think to london, before world war ii and it is infamous. i think the british diplomat said, you better go easy on this hitler guy because the next guy could be worse. there is a view that is set that the policy to avoid military confrontation at all cost. from an american point of view i
don't see them doing that. i have little expectations from the united states. i have not seen any evidence that they have shifted from a policy of containment to prevention and i think as a tactic they are simply appeasing the iranians and hoping to avoid potential confrontation. i think what israel has to do is to upgrade and update constantly its independent capability to act and i think israel has to make something clear to the united states. we understand in this relationship the united states is the superpower and israel the small party. but a redline in terms of the relationship has to be the united states taking action to prevent israel from defending itself. that is something i think has to be said in private to u.s. officials. we saw in the past administration during obama there were selected leaks that came out of digital.
that type of thing between two allies cannot happen. if the u.s. is going to decide appeasement, that is a decision they are going to have to make. israel is an independent country. we are threatened by a regime that openly calls and actively works to destroy us. we have to take whatever means necessary and use whatever means necessary in order to prevent iran from developing nuclear weapons. and the one thing i think we can expect from the united states, even understanding the asymmetry of the power of the two countries, the one thing we should expect from our ally is to not undermine our ability to defend ourselves. you're talking about enhance israel's ability to defend itself what should be obvious. again, implicit is you believe a military confrontation is better than a nuclear armed iran.
i think that is with the policy has to be, to develop the capability and make clear to the united states this would create a crisis and relation between the countries if they decided to inhibit our ability to defend ourselves. michael: do you think, i mean, experts differ. you mentioned the redline of 2012. as you noted in early 2013 the iranians made a conscious effort. they briefly crossed it if i recall and then they had to uncross it. mr. demer: what they did was they had less than, i think, half a bomb. they enriched it 20% but the redline was a bomb's worth. they did not get the quantity of 20%. they continued to enrich 20% for a little bit and then they moved the stockpiling.
michael: let's say, some people think -- experts differ -- the iranians are reaching a certain redline of 90% enrichment. are you suggesting that that redline may be to slide a little bit? israel needs to prepare more? there have been reports israel -- and i have written about this -- that israel might need to prepare more. should the redline be weaponization which might be a year or two years away? or should it be 90% enrichment? mr. demer: by the way, it is not a question for me to answer and i will explain why. the redline to me has to be a line where israel would no longer be able to destroy that program. and to set it back sufficiently in order to, like i said, set it back to whatever time period it
is going to be. when israel cannot access that line -- it actually depends on what they have, where they have it, with the capabilities are, what we can do. the line is a function of israel's operational point of capability. it should be. for the united states it is interesting of what that redline should be and where they should put it because they have different capabilities then we have. from an israeli point of view the question of u.s. redline is immaterial. it came up all the time between them, don't you trust obama to take action? i think the mistake was because the u.s. would have a different redline then israel because it has greater capability, ultimately there will be a point where an israeli prime minister could not act
anymore but an american president could. if a prime minister would make the decision, i cannot act anymore if i wait another month or whatever it is, i am going to see that decision to the president of the united states because they can act. at that point i think the premised or should resign because he or she would not be worthy of sitting in that chair. the whole question of the u.s., exactly where the u.s. redline is, is not relevant for israeli decision-making in my view because it will be later in the scenario i gave in israeli redline. that is different than giving a clear and credible military threat. i am not saying they have to spell out exactly what that redline is the united states, but they have to make clear they are not going to allow them to break the bomb and that they will use military means to destroy that program. what we know from the past is
that the iranians have responded when they believed it. when they believed it had an impact. there is no reason for them to put that aside unless your policies contain and avoid confrontation. the way most people in this administration will think about it is this will make it harder to reach a deal, this will change the atmosphere of the talks, will go down around belligerency, and it works the exact opposite. it is hard for people to get rid of this old habit. the way you are going to get iran to change its policy -- and they should understand the shift from appeasement to confrontation but they don't understand that. what led to the deal, as i said before, is not only the feeling a military strike was the worst thing that could happen. it was something else. it was the view that said, this is what iran will agree to today. we are going to have to accommodate deposition. instead of saying, it may be
true they will agree today. that means we have to ratchet up the pressure to get iran to agree to tomorrow. what they are willing to agree to today is not acceptable. we have to ratchet up the pressure. the really was not a consistent effort. i want to remind you there was not consistent effort to put pressure on iran. it certainly wasn't the case in the obama administration. they opposed the sanction. later they used the sanction to rally other parties around the world, but they opposed when congress wanted to -- every single step of the way they opposed sanctions until they were actually past objections. the whole idea of using pressure in order to achieve a good outcome and if the outcome is not good enough, you have to ratchet the pressure to achieve a better outcome. that was foreign to the administration. they dismissed it out of hand and their reading of the situation was that pressure did
not work. i don't know why they believed that. it proved not to be true. just to say how wrong they were i remember at the time -- it is an important point -- because the argument made to bring the deal in 2015 was the way we got buy in from the international community was we offer the prospect of diplomatic outcomes. they were literally saying in 2015 and agreeing to this terrible deal if we walk away now, we are going to have the worst of all worlds. iran is going to rush ahead and the national sanctions regime will collapse. we argued at the time, publicly and privately, it's not true. the u.s. had a $20 trillion economy. you have to put companies, you have to put them facing a choice, make them facing between doing business between a u.s. economy or a $400 billion irani and economy. if they face that choice, they
will not do business with iran. you had trump come in and basically everybody except for israel and the arab states opposed to the decision to withdraw from the nuclear deal, and yet, trump's sanctions were much more tough and crippling. he reduced of them not to one million barrels a day but 300,000 barrels a day just in the united states alone because he enforced the sanctions. there are tools the administration has but it has to change its hold bit and i don't really see that happening now and that's why i think you really have, right now the options are israel is going to be forced to take military action, israel will accept the nuclear deal with iran -- which i hope never happens -- or some miracle happens and the iranian people take to the streets and topple the regime. those are the scenarios you are looking at now.
two of them are awful, one of them is miraculous, but you cannot rely on it. michael: i should end but i have to ask one last question. if israel is forced to military action, let's say, the next few years, i wonder whether the israeli leaders will regret not having done so last year when trump was president. lately as you refer when there are leaks again from the pentagon and elsewhere making clear they think israeli sabotage against nuclear facilities are counterproductive. we are outing the cyber attacks on iran. do you have a sense this administration will have israel's back if israel does choose to decide it will signal
to the iranians as you said? we will stand behind israel. you got a sense of that in the trump administration whatever you think about trump in different policies, but you got the sense he would've backed israel on such a thing. despite some of his recent comments. . reported in a book. mr. demer: lesson, all israel's activity during the trump years were extremely supportive of the administration. my guess is in an unprecedented way in terms of the security cooperation, and we have the same policy. the trump administration had a policy of prevention, not containment. therefore we worked very well together to do whatever we could in our own way in different sectors and pushing back against iran and it was a remarkable thing when the pressure got put together.
the thing in the trump administration is it did not happen right away contrary to thought. it was not a four campaign, it was an 18 month pressure campaign. that is not a lot of time when you have people believing salvation is on the way because the policy of the united states is going to change. this is a critical element and that is not an assessment. the intel knew the iranians were thinking the policy would change november 2020. it is not because they had special spy keep abilities they could watch the debate happening -- spy capabilities and they can watch the debate happening. had there been a policy, a bipartisan policy that we are going to hold the line, i think you are in a very different set of outcomes. and maybe iran would have rushed back because they would be taking the pressure.
when the administration got in they started to unravel the sanctions. they started to take -- remember the decision with the hutsis. they were going to get a stronger agreement after going back to the jcpoa and it is an absurdity. that is like coming with a full house to poker, saying give me a pair of fours, and i'm going to win the hand. you're giving up all your leverage to go back to the jcpoa and then you're going to use it. what the administration should have done even if they wanted a diplomatic agreement was to have credible threat to keep the sanctions, but say you are open for this negotiation. all of their action has led to
iran thinking there is no consequences whatsoever for their behavior. i think that is a very bad situation to be in and as for the question of regret, if iran gets nuclear weapons, the least of my concern is going to be could've, would've, should've. we are going to be facing a completely different strategic situation for israel, a completely different security envelope for israel. and that is of grave danger to all of us. great danger to the united states and it will verse the progress we have made like with the abraham accords. may we'll save that for another resume. one of the things -- another zoom. one of the things that opens up the way for the abraham accords is the space to move under u.s. leadership to push israel and the emirates and the saudi's
from behind the scenes. israel and bahrain together because the u.s. administration was confronting iran. i get asked, who is next on the abraham accords? you have a u.s. administration appeasing iran. you shrunk the entire state. instead of moving toward israel and standing up to iran they are going to go to iran. that is what you see happening in the region. this weak policy has negative consequences across the board. it is not stopping iran. is making the prospects of war more likely because they are not actually showing they are prepared to confront them. and it is damaging the peace process we have with the arab states. all of those are being undermined. underneath the surface the arabs will move out of fear but the developing of the accords is being undermined by a u.s.
policy that is appeasing iran rather than confronting it. michael:michael: i am glad you brought up our next zoom. i think it is on the abraham accords. i will save it for then. ron, my four-year-old sneaking in behind me reminds me we have gone past time. it also reminds us what is at stake here what we are talking about. not just about us but our children and others. i want to thank you very much for joining us. i appreciate your extremely candid remarks on this extremely serious matter. those on this call should note this is been our most long-standing issue. certainly since i joined the
organization in 2013 and i suspect next year in 2022 we are going to be focusing even more than we have before. on a positive note, you are joining us as a distinguished fellow. certainly been my biggest highlight and it has been tremendous working with you so far. we look forward to working with you more and having you more on zoom. thank you very much. mr. demer: i appreciate that. first of all, i love seeing your four-year-old -- across the dash across the screen. that has been the highlight. i understand many members of the board are on the call and i have met you the last few months. i look forward to meeting more of you. i cannot say how appreciative i am that you took a clear stand
on this issue. i think it is the single -- certainly the single most important national security issue for israel. i believe it is as important as any other national security issue for the u.s. china represents real challenges, russia represents real challenges, but the danger of a militant islamic regime, radical islamic regime developing nuclear weapons, is the hinge of history. we cannot allow that to happen. unfortunately, we don't see a policy of confrontation today which i think in dangers israel, endangers the u.s. and everyone else and make the chances of war greater, not less. hopefully -- what did churchill say? after we have tried all the wrong ideas in the wrong policy eventually they get to the right policy. i hope it is not going to take a jarring donk to wake us up. hopefully we'll get there before
we get woken up. iran is on the margin. we have to work to get it. michael: i appreciate it. i am not even sure we are in -- i am worried we are in a stanley baldwin moment in u.s. foreign policy where we are drifting. i agree. he did say that. i think the united states always does the right thing after trying everything else. i think he said something like that about democracy. mr. demer: right. michael: it is the worst system. he made that comment about a few things. anyway, good note to end on. we look forward to having you on zoom. mr. demer: i see the sunny upland. we have been through worse and we are going to get through this but we should do it at a smaller price. when we came back to israel to restore sovereignty we did not come back to see that destroyed.
i would say to many people over the years i was ambassador i met 150 and i think there are 195 in washington. there is no ambassador of babylon, no ambassador of imperial rome. those who tried to destroy and uproot israel are no more. i would caution those leaders of iran that are so determined to destroy israel that they may be signing their own death warrants . michael: i hope you are right about that and i hope the united states will do the right thing, at least back israel. thank you very much and i appreciate everyone listening. i could listen to ron for another hour and a quarter but we want to save his voice. we have been putting out a number of things over the past year. this year in recent years on the iran issue.
we will be doing more in 2022 so stay tuned. i wish everybody a happy holiday season and i look forward to an interesting 2022. thank you and thank you, ron. thank you for joining and thank you to my daughter, sophia, in the background. mr. demer: take care. michael: bye-bye. announcer: this afternoon what has covid-19 response team officials provide an update on the administration's efforts to combat omicron. we will hear from dr. anthony found she and the cdc director dr. rochelle walensky. live coverage at 3:00 p.m. eastern on c-span and online at c-span.org or full coverage on c-span now, our new video app. announcer: earlier today the biden administration extended the student loan moratorium by 90 days through may 1. the pause on federal student
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