Thursday, March 21, 2019

Mike Pompeo’s Interview With Yonit Levi of Channel 12

Michael R. Pompeo
Secretary of State
David Citadel Hotel, Jerusalem

March 21, 2019

QUESTION: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, thank you so much for finding the time to talk to us in this whirlwind of a tour of yours, sir.

SECRETARY POMPEO: It’s great to be with you. Thank you.

QUESTION: This is an important visit to Kuwait, to Israel, and to Lebanon. Here in Israel, however, sir, we’re in the final stages of a very intense election race, and Netanyahu’s detractors are saying that the Trump administration is doing all in its power – and undoubtedly, it has power – to ensure that Netanyahu gets re-elected. How do you respond to that?

SECRETARY POMPEO: So my trip and, frankly, the prime minister’s visit to Washington next week, are about really – real pressing issues, things that matter to the world. They are time-sensitive, whether it’s the challenges that are presented by the Islamic Republic of Iran or the issues in Syria. These are issues that can’t wait, and they don’t work on election clocks. Our mission is to work the power of the United States and Israel together against these common threats, and it’s why I’m here today and I know it’s what the President and prime minister will talk about next week as well.

QUESTION: President Trump said in Hanoi three weeks ago that Netanyahu was a strong leader, and then you said he’ll be accepted in Washington with all the pomp and circumstance that he – that will happen next week. You’re here with all the images that generates. This does add some inordinate amount of political cache for Netanyahu at a critical time obviously here.

SECRETARY POMPEO: Qasem Soleimani doesn’t care about your election. Qasem Soleimani is continuing to press the case. Hizballah’s continuing to press its case. Each and every day, the Islamic Republic of Iran is continuing to – its efforts to wipe Israel off the face of the planet. There’s no time like the present to make sure and address this issue. It’s why I’m here today. It’s why I’ll be in Lebanon tomorrow and the next day to talk about these issues that are truly of the moment.

QUESTION: Can you ensure the Israeli public that the warm relationship between the American leadership and the Israeli leadership will continue even if Netanyahu loses on April 9th?

SECRETARY POMPEO: Oh, I fully expect that’s the case. The history of the relationship between our two countries is deep. It is strong. It survives presidents and prime ministers. It is truly between the two nations where its peoples have shared common value sets, two democracies, two nations that care deeply about the well-being of their people, and two nations that share a set of common threats as well.

QUESTION: It is obviously a common practice upon diplomatic visits to a democratic ally to also meet leaders of the opposition. Have you met, spoken with Benny Gantz or any other leaders of the opposition?

SECRETARY POMPEO: I haven’t on this trip, but Mr. Gantz has met with other American leaders. The Israeli people will speak in a handful of days. They’ll make their decision, and America and Israel will move forward together.

QUESTION: So let’s move from the political quagmire in Israel to a very simple task of bringing peace to the Middle East. And every – the architects of the deal, it’s coined “the deal of the century,” whether if it’s Kushner or Ambassador Friedman or Greenblatt, are keeping the cards quite close to the chest. It’s very frustrating for us journalists. But can I ask you to divulge anything about the plan? President Trump said famously, I’m happy if it’s one state, I’m happy if it’s two state, if the parties themselves are happy with it. Can you tell us if the term “two-state solution” will appear in the final plan?

SECRETARY POMPEO: So I can’t share much about it. We’re still working our way through it. In due course, we’ll present the plan. The whole world will get a chance to see the vision that we have for how we might bring peace to solve this intractable problem.

QUESTION: Due course is weeks, months? When should we expect it?

SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, soon. I appreciate you asking, but soon enough, when the time is most appropriate. Remember the mission set. We want a better life for the Palestinian people. I know the Israeli people want that, too. We want peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis. These are commonly held objectives. A broadly shared vision for how to achieve it is something that we’re hoping that the ideas that we’ll be bringing forth will achieve.

QUESTION: But is it – obviously, if you say something like autonomy, which is what Ambassador Friedman said to The Washington Examiner, Palestinians, for them, it’s a nonstarter. They’re not going to be in the table, they’re not even going to be in the same universe, if that’s what the plan is going to say.

SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, I’m hopeful. I’ve seen the plan. I have a pretty good understanding of its details, although there are a handful still to be worked out. I’m very hopeful that all nations – the Israelis, the Palestinian people, the Arab states, European countries, people from all around the world – will stare at this plan and say this has got merit, this has legs, this is a reason that we can begin to build and move forward. I expect that that will be the case.

We hope that when we present it, everyone will take this seriously, they’ll give it good thought. There may be things they don’t like, there may be things they love about the ideas that we put forth, but they’ll use it as a platform that we can build on to achieve what, frankly, administrations before us have tried to help achieve but have been unsuccessful.

QUESTION: But again, is this going to be in that vision of the historic U.S. policy of two states, or it’s going to be something completely different?

SECRETARY POMPEO: We’ll just have to wait and see.

QUESTION: (Laughter.) You’re good at building the tension on this, sir. Is it true that the United States had to wait until after the election to publish it, to not – to foil Netanyahu’s situation here?

SECRETARY POMPEO: No, look, we’ve been waiting for the right time until we had the plan fully developed, that we’d had input from lots of different people with lots of different thoughts about how to achieve the right outcome. So it’s taken some time for us to get ready, and when the moment is right we’ll share that vision.

QUESTION: You mentioned the Iranian threat, and obviously it’s been – Israel has hailed the President Trump’s decision to basically withdraw from the nuclear agreement with Iran. What is the endgame, sir? Is the endgame to put pressure on Iran and to get a better deal? Or would the endgame, in your opinion, be regime change or anything of that sort?

SECRETARY POMPEO: So the way we think about this is in a broader context, right. The objective is stability in the Middle East and peace and less violence in the Middle East and fewer times where there are crises here in the Middle East. That’s the objective.

Today, the primary mover for malign influence in the Middle East is the Islamic Republic of Iran, whether that’s the assassination campaign in Europe, the funding of the Houthis, the money that goes to Hamas and Hizballah, the support for the PMCs in Iraq, the malfeasance in Syria. The list of Iranian aggression and threats to the world is long. What we’re asking Iran to do is simply stop those things, to behave like a normal nation, like we ask every other country to behave. If they do those things, we’ll all move forward together.

As for the JCPOA, look, it was a disastrous deal. It guaranteed that Iran would have a path to a nuclear weapon. It was unacceptable. It was unacceptable for America, it was unacceptable for Israel, in our judgment an unacceptable risk to the world. So we withdrew from that. Today, we’re engaged in a pressure campaign to convince the Iranian regime to stay away from the nuclear weapons program, to stay away from developing that nuclear capability, and to engage in the world in a way that normal nations do.

QUESTION: By the way, you were CIA director. Do you see any sort of work by Iranians to relentlessly break into Israeli officials’ phones? Do you know of any of that kind of attempt?

SECRETARY POMPEO: So I don’t want to talk about specifics, but suffice it to say we’ve made clear that the Iranian efforts – their cyber campaigns, their efforts to break into technology all across the world – are real. They are sophisticated and require attention from the best counter-cyber teams in the world, among those the United States and Israel.

QUESTION: Are you planning on changing or saying that the U.S. will recognize Israeli sovereignty in the Golan Heights?

SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, I don’t have anything to add for you today.

QUESTION: Sir, my final question, if that’s okay. You jokingly said that the President might one day end your job with a tweet. You’re very close to the President. I wonder if what we’re seeing is sort of the era of diplomacy on Twitter or decision making on Twitter or governance on Twitter, actually.

SECRETARY POMPEO: No, I was just talking about something that cabinet officials say all the time. They serve at the pleasure of the President. At any moment the President decides that he doesn’t want us to do that anymore, we will graciously move on with our lives. We serve at his pleasure. That was my point that I said in a kidding fashion.

No, I don’t think we’re seeing diplomacy by Twitter. It still requires thoughtfulness, it requires resources, it requires capability and determination. But the ability to communicate, the ability to rapidly spread messages around the world through social media, including Twitter, is absolutely important. It allows leaders around the world to share their views instantaneously with millions of people, something that was more difficult before. And that’s our real power; it’s another element to the capacity to shape the world.

QUESTION: Yeah, and obviously there’s the importance of personal conversation. Secretary Mike Pompeo, again, thank you so much for talking with us.

SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you very much.

QUESTION: Thank you.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Deterring Hamas vs. deterring a nuclear Iran

While Gantz has a point regarding Israel losing deterrence to Hamas, should we not be discussing whether Gantz understands that Israel’s nuclear deterrence would not work with a nuclear Iran? 

The main story should not be whether Iran hacked into Gantz’s phone, but whether Gantz understands that the Mutually Assured Destruction doctrine is most probably dead when Iran is concerned. As former CIA Director James Woolsey put it: “We were, in a way, lucky with our opponent in the Cold War because they were thugs with a cover story.  They were not, on the whole, sociopaths. Unfortunately, the Castro model, the Hitler model, the model of the sociopath is one we may well need to deal with in Iran.  And it should not provide any kind of relief to hear from either the former head of Israeli intelligence, or anybody else, that they are rational. They may well be quite tactically quite shrewd and rational. The Persians invented chess, they are quite good at it. But rational in that sense doesn’t mean that you are not a sociopath, after the model of Castro and others.”

Scholars Bernard Lewis, Raphael Israeli and Mathias Kuntzel, along with former CIA director James Woolsey and former Pentagon official Harold Rhode all believe that a nuclear Iran cannot be deterred. Unless our political leadership, including Gantz, find out the truth for themselves, they will, to quote Churchill, ‘have committed an act of abdication of duty without parallel.’   

Saturday, March 9, 2019

The Brexit vote flowchart

This blog is predominantly about Iran, but occasionally other topics get included.   This Brexit vote flowchart from The Guardian  clarifies what will happen next week and demonstrates the importance of infographics, pioneered by  Charles Joseph Minard with his map of Napoleaon’s disastrous Russian campaign in 1812.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Antisemitism, or any hate, become dangerous when three things happen (Rabbi Sacks speaks in the House of Lords)

On 13th September 2018, Rabbi Lord Sacks spoke in a House of Lords debate on antisemitism in Britain.
My Lords I am grateful to Lord Popat for initiating this debate, and I want to explain why. The greatest danger any civilisation faces is when it suffers from collective amnesia. We forget how small beginnings lead to truly terrible endings. A thousand years of Jewish history in Europe added certain words to the human vocabulary: forced conversion, inquisition, expulsion, ghetto, pogrom, Holocaust. They happened because  hate went  unchecked. No one said stop.  
My Lords, it pains me to speak about antisemitism, the world’s oldest hatred. But I cannot keep silent. One of the enduring facts of history is that most antisemites do not think of themselves as antisemites. We don’t hate Jews, they said in the Middle Ages, just their religion. We don’t hate Jews, they said in the nineteenth century, just their race. We don’t hate Jews, they say now, just their nation state.
Antisemitism is the hardest of all hatreds to defeat because, like a virus, it mutates, but one thing stays the same. Jews, whether as a religion or a race or as the State of Israel, are made the scapegoat for problems for which all sides are responsible. That is how the road to tragedy begins.
Antisemitism, or any hate, become dangerous when three things happen. First: when it moves from the fringes of politics to a mainstream party and its leadership. Second: when the party sees that its popularity with the general public is not harmed thereby. And three: when those who stand up and protest are vilified and abused for doing so. All three factors exist in Britain now. I never thought I would see this in my lifetime. That is why I cannot stay silent. For it is not only Jews who are at risk. So too is our humanity.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

The consequences of the Netanyahu indictment on countering the nuclear threat from Iran

I am worried that if the Blue and White party wins we will be less prepared to counter the existential nuclear threat from Iran.  Why? Because it is essential for a prime minster of Israel to understand that Iran cannot be deterred and that the Mutually Assured Destruction doctrine will not work with Iran.    

The fanaticism of Islam which young Winston Churchill saw up close in the Sudan at the end of the 19th century was not unlike the political fanaticism he was to encounter forty years later and consequently he was aware of the danger of Nazi ideology much earlier than other UK politicians. (From Churchill: Walking with Destiny by Andrew Roberts).

Similarly, Netanyhu had held an in-depth discussion with Middle East expert Bernard Lewis which convinced him that if the ayatollahs obtained nuclear weapons, they would use them.  

No other Israeli leader has gone through this education. Will he preempt in time?

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Whom do you trust on Iran? Bibi, or the Blue and White party?

Regarding “Gantz, Lapid vow to beat Netanyahu together” (February 22), I find it rather odd that Israelis do not seem to care where the Blue and White Party stands on Iran

Benny Gantz would wait until Iran attacks; Moshe Ya’alon now believes that at this point, and in the foreseeable future there is no existential threat facing Israel; Gabi Ashkenazi, along with Meir Dagan prevented Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from attacking the Iranian nuclear sites in 2010; Yair Lapid – there is no evidence that he understands that Iran  cannot be deterred and he supported US president Barack Obama’s Iran Deal.

So from the above, it is obvious that if we do not want to be nuked by Iran, Netanyahu would be a better choice, but he has a problem. The “anyone but Bibi” mentality has taken its toll. A colleague’s reaction upon hearing my arguments: “ I get it, but I’ll be damned if I vote for him. I’d rather suffer a nuclear winter.”


Saturday, February 23, 2019

TV report: MI6 spy chief makes secret Israel trip amid new Iran nuclear activity

                                                    MI6 chief Alexander Younger

Channel 13: Alex Younger holds talks with Mossad chief as Iran renews centrifuge production; Israeli assessment: Regime has not yet made political decision to break out to bomb


Britain’s MI6 intelligence chief secretly visited Israel this week for talks with his Israeli counterparts about concerns that Iran may be considering breaching the 2015 nuclear deal and attempting to break out to a nuclear weapons capability, Israeli television reported on Friday night.
Channel 13 news said MI6 chief Alex Younger arrived in Israel on Monday and met with the head of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency, Yossi Cohen, and other Israeli intelligence chiefs.
Israel’s assessment is that Iran is “making preparations” within the provisions of the 2015 deal, and “getting ready,” but has not yet made the political decision to break out to the bomb, the TV report said.
Citing Western intelligence sources, it said the issue was also discussed by participants at last week’s Munich international security conference.
Iran, the report noted, has recently renewed its production of centrifuges, “and is gearing up for the renewal of uranium enrichment” within the provisions of the deal.
The report described Iran’s current activity as “preparing the infrastructure… in an accelerated fashion” should the regime take the political decision to breach the accord.
Hours before the TV report, the UN’s nuclear watchdog in Vienna said Iran was continuing to comply with the 2015 nuclear deal, despite the United States withdrawing from the pact and re-imposing sanctions.
In a confidential quarterly report distributed to its member states, the International Atomic Energy Agency said Iran has been abiding with key limitations set in the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA. The US pulled out of the deal in May and has been pressuring remaining signatories to abandon it as well.
In its report, the Vienna-based agency said its inspectors still have access to all sites and locations in Iran they needed to visit.
“Timely and proactive cooperation by Iran in providing such access facilitates implementation of the Additional Protocol and enhances confidence,” the report stated, referring to the procedure detailing safeguards and tools for verification.
It noted that Iran’s stock of heavy water and low-enriched uranium continues to be under the limits set under the 2015 pact.
Last June, Iran’s nuclear chief inaugurated a new nuclear enrichment facility at Natanz, which Iran said was geared toward producing centrifuges to operate within the limits of the nuclear deal.

Iranian state television broadcast an interview with Ali Akbar Salehi showcasing the facility at Natanz’s uranium enrichment center. In the interview, Salehi said its construction began even before the 2015 deal was signed.
Last month, Salehi bragged in another interview that Iran quietly purchased replacement parts for its Arak nuclear reactor while it was conducting negotiations for the deal under which it knew it would be required to destroy the original components.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warns constantly that Iran has never abandoned its ambition to achieve a nuclear weapons capability. Last year, the Mossad spirited a huge haul of documents from what it said was Iran’s nuclear weapons archive, which Netanyahu said proved conclusively that Iran has lied to the world when claiming it has not been seeking to produce nuclear weapons.

Netanyahu said at the UN General Assembly in September that “The reason Iran didn’t destroy its atomic archive and its atomic warehouse is because it hasn’t abandoned its goal to develop nuclear weapons. In fact, it planned to use both of these sites in a few years when the time would be right to break out to the atom bomb.

“That won’t happen,” he vowed. “It won’t happen because what Iran hides, Israel will find.”

My comment:

Israel better have someone at the helm who understands the magnitude of the Iranian threat.