Sunday, July 28, 2013

What Netanyahu really meant to say in his open letter

My interpretation:

Hi guys, Iran is our only real concern and I will do anything to stop it going nuclear, even enter into these, at this time, absurd negotiations with the Palestinians and release murderers to start them.    I do not have much of a choice. Obama is breathing down my neck and I need some room to plan our pre-emptive attack on the Iranian nuclear sites. It was really beyond my control that 63 percent of American Jews voted for a President who supports the Muslim Brotherhood, a virulently ant-Semitic and anti-American organization whose motto is:  "Allah is our objective; the Quran is our law, the Prophet is our leader; Jihad is our way; and death for the sake of Allah is the highest of our aspirations " and a President who appeases Iran.

 Most Americans, including their President,  have no clue that the doctrine of mutually assured destruction MAD  will not work with Iran, but I have heard directly from Bernard Lewis his  "for people with this mindset, M.A.D. is not a constraint; it is an inducement..." and I trust his expertise.

So you have to trust that we in the Israeli government know what we are doing.  We are fighting for Israel's very survival and we will prevail.

The actual text:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: Prime ministers are not needed to make the decisions that the public already supports...we must exhaust the possibilities of ending the conflict with the Palestinians.
Prime Minister's Office

The following is the text of an open letter to the citizens of Israel from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ahead of the proposal to resume the peace talks with the Palestinians, which will be submitted to a cabinet vote on Sunday:

From time to time, prime ministers are called on to make decisions that go against public opinion -- when the matter is important for the country's well-being.

Prime ministers are not needed to make the decisions that the public already supports.

At the present time, I believe it is of the utmost importance for the State of Israel to enter a diplomatic process. This is important both to exhaust the possibilities of ending the conflict with the Palestinians and to establish Israel's position in the complex international reality around us.

The major changes in our region -- in Egypt, Syria and in Iran -- not only pose challenges for the State of Israel but they also present significant opportunities for us.

For these reasons, I believe that it is important for the State of Israel to enter a diplomatic process for at least nine months -- to see if it is possible to reach an agreement with the Palestinians during this time.
But despite placing a great deal of importance on the diplomatic process, I was not prepared to accept the Palestinians' demands for withdrawals and [settlement building] freezes as preconditions for entering negotiations.

Neither was I prepared to accept their demand to release Palestinian prisoners before the start of negotiations. I did agree to release 104 Palestinians in stages after the start of the negotiations and in accordance with the circumstances of their progress.

This is an indescribably difficult decision to make, it is painful for the bereaved families, it is painful for the entire nation and it is also very painful for me.

It conflicts with a value of incomparable importance, the value of justice.

It is a clear injustice when depraved people, even if most of them have sat in prison for over 20 years as in this case, are released before they have finished serving their sentences.

The decision is difficult for me seven-fold because my family and I personally know the price of bereavement from terrorism. I know the pain very well. I have lived with it every day for the past 37 years.

The fact that previous Israeli governments have released over 10,000 terrorists does not make it easier for me today, and did not make it easier when I decided to bring back Gilad Schalit.

Gilad Schalit's return home required me to make an incredibly difficult decision -- to release terrorists. But I believed that the value of bringing children back home required me to overcome this difficulty.
People in positions of leadership are forced to make complex choices and sometimes the necessary decision is the most difficult one when the majority of the public opposes it.

Thus I decided to end Operation Pillar of Defense after the elimination of archterrorist Ahmed Jabari and after the severe blows the Israel Defense Forces dealt to Hamas and the other terrorist organizations.

I made the decision to end the operation even though most of the public supported continued action, which would have required entering the Gaza Strip on the ground. As prime minister, I thought that the goal of deterrence had been mostly achieved by the determined actions that we carried out.

Today, almost one year after the end of Operation Pillar of Defense, we are witness to the quietest situation in the south in over a decade. Of course, this quiet can fall apart at any minute but my policy remains clear on all fronts: We will, to the best of our ability, thwart the threats against us in a timely manner. We will react strongly to any attempt to harm our people.

In the next nine months, we will consider whether there is a Palestinian element on other side that, like us, truly wants to end the conflict between us.

Such a conclusion will be possible only under conditions that will ensure the security of Israel's citizens and our vital national interests.

If we succeed in achieving such a peace agreement, I will submit it to a referendum.
Such a fateful decision cannot be made by a close vote in the Knesset.

Every citizen must be allowed to directly influence our future and our fate on such a crucial issue.
The best answer we can give to those murderers that sought to defeat us through terrorism is during the decades that they sat in prison, we built a glorious country and turned it into one of the most prosperous, advanced and strongest countries in the world.

I promise that we will continue as such.


Benjamin Netanyahu

Friday, July 26, 2013

MAD is Dead turns two

I started MAD is Dead on July 27, 2011.   After 84 posts and 29000 pageviiews, what have I learned?  I guess, I have learned that what Churchill said in 1935 is true.  Mankind is unteachable.  
I does not matter that scholars have been warning that the doctrine of mutually assured destruction would not work with Iran.  The mainstream media do not consider it important enough to bring the topic up. It is still a taboo topic. When PM Netanyahu quoted Bernard Lewis in his UN speech, most people asked who this Bernard Lewis was, if they even bothered to read the speech. There was no follow-up discussion on what Lewis actually said.  When Moshe Ya’alon, then strategic affairs minister, gave an interview to  Ha’aretz and said that Israel should   BOMB OR BE BOMBED, he was completely ignored in the US. Not that the Israeli media is much better.  Of all the interviews Ari Shavit conducted on the Iranian threat not one of the people interviewed happened to be a scholar of Islam, let alone a scholar of Shia Islam.

I must admit that I was truly surprised that my links to quotes by Bernard Lewis and other scholars were censored and deleted in The Atlantic, The Washington Post  and  at times even in the Jerusalem Post. Having lived 6 years in the USSR where our apartment, elevator and car had been bugged and the Soviet press had been not free, I always had this, at the time, true belief that the West was more mature and was not afraid of diverse opinions.  Unfortunately, that is not true anymore.  I am convinced that Russians reading Samizdat in the 1970s were better informed about the US than are the readers of The New York Times on Iran today.  For the readers of the New York Times the Iranian threat is, to use Rumsfeld’s terminology, – an unknown unknown. 

Is there hope that this will change?  Not much. At least I am convinced that the Israeli leaders are fully aware of the danger and will act accordingly. 

Here are a few statistics from the blog:

Articles with the most pageviews:

Why are Bernard Lewis's views on MAD ignored?

David Grossman vs. Bernard Lewis. Whom do you trust more on Iran?

Two years on – who was right on the Egyptian crisis?

The cartoon Obama should hang in the Oval Office

I am ashamed of American Jews

 MAD is Dead is read in these countries: 

The number of pageviews is increasing, but not fast enough. ( the graph is rough so it looks as if there is data from before July 2011) . The spike was Mathias Kuntzel's article. 

But I will go on.  Since no one wants to write about the death of MAD, I will. Last time the world ignored warning  signs in May of 1940, the results were catastrophic.   From The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill: Defender of the Realm, 1940-1965, page 47

The timidity of the French high command had exasperated Churchill ever since the war’s outbreak. They had rejected every initiative suggested by him – bombing the Ruhr, for example, or mining the Rhine – on the grounds that it might invite Nazi reprisals. “This idea of not irritating the enemy,” he later wrote, “did not commend itself to me….Good, decent, civilized people, it appeared, must never strike until they have been struck dead”. This Gallic trepidation even ruled out air reconnaissance, which defies understanding because the Luftwaffe was overflying French lines every day. Had Allied planes done the same in early May, they would have been astonished at enemy preparations below. Eight military bridges had been thrown across the Rhine, and three armored columns stretched back from the river one hundred miles.

In fact, one French pilot did see the buildup on the evening of the eight of May. He was over the Ruhr, returning from a propaganda mission, dropping leaflets urging the German people to overthrow Hitler and thus bring peace. Above Dusseldorf he looked down and saw a sixty-mile line of tanks and trucks headed for the Ardennes. They were driving with their lights on. He reported his discovery. It was dismissed as not credible.

This was not the first time such intelligence has been dismissed, but it would be the last. Five months earlier, as Europe slept away the winter a German airplane carrying two staff officers was blown off course and forced to land in Belgium. The officers tried, and failed, to burn the papers they carried, which happened to contain OKW’s revised operation orders for the invasion of the Low Countries, including a thrust through the Ardennes. British intelligence perused the captured papers. The high arts of deception and double-cross being well practiced by bot the Germans and the British, it was concluded that the papers were a plant, a ruse, and therefore unbelievable. 

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Wishing for an Iranian Moderate

Hassan Rouhani is not the mullah many American politicians would like him to be 

Clifford D. May
25th July 2013 - Scripps Howard News Service

There’s nothing wrong with wishful thinking — unless it gets confused with serious thinking. Policy makers and legislators have a professional responsibility to resist that temptation.

Yes, I have something in mind: a letter sent last week by 131 House members urging President Obama to “pursue the potential opportunity presented by Iran’s recent presidential election.” What “potential opportunity” is that? Hassan Rouhani, the new president-elect, they say, “campaigned on the promise to ‘pursue a policy of reconciliation and peace’ and has since promised ‘constructive interaction with the outside world.’”

Should we not expect American politicians (of all people!) to demonstrate a little skepticism when it comes to “promises” made by an Iranian politician? And how much research is required to figure out that Rouhani has said nothing even to suggest that he opposes Iran’s support for terrorism abroad (including its past attempts to blow up airplanes and restaurants in the U.S), gross violations of human rights domestically, threats of genocide against Israelis, and, of course, illegal nuclear-weapons program?

There is a lot we don’t know about Rouhani, but this much ought to be obvious: He is a political clergyman and a loyal acolyte of Ali Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader and self-proclaimed “shadow of God upon Earth.” Were that not so, Khamenei would not permit Rouhani to become Iran’s president. Remember: There were 686 registered candidates for the last election. Only eight were allowed to run. Loyalty to the Supreme Leader and adherence to his ideology/theology were required. Khamenei also made clear to the lucky finalists that under no circumstances are they to “make concessions to the enemies.”

There are ways in which Rouhani is different from your run-of-the-mill Iranian jihadist apparatchik: He speaks our language. He studied in Scotland. He certainly has insights into the peculiar psychology of the Westerner, which may explain why, when he served as Iran’s lead nuclear negotiator a decade ago, he consistently ate the lunch of those on the other side of the table.

Ali Alfoneh, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, has taken the trouble to read what Rouhani has written over the years. He tells me that Rouhani has candidly stressed that “one of the goals of his nuclear diplomacy was to create a wedge” between the United States and its European allies so that Iran could import nuclear technology without incurring Western penalties. By contrast, the antagonistic approach of Rouhani’s predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and his nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, raised Western hackles and brought painful sanctions upon Iran.

In other words, Rouhani’s “moderation” has been stylistic, not substantive. The evidence indicates that to him “constructive interaction” means persuading the enemy to let down his guard.

Which is essentially what the congressmen are proposing — right after telling the president that Rouhani has “publicly expressed the view that obtaining a nuclear weapon would run counter to Iran’s strategic interests.”

No, actually, Rouhani has expressed the view that Iran’s strategic interests are best served not by obtaining “a” nuclear weapon but by developing an industrial-size nuclear capability to manufacture dozens of them. Achieving that requires spinning centrifuges and stocking up on enriched uranium until there is enough for “undetectable breakout” — the ability to make weapons-grade uranium (or sufficiently reprocessed plutonium) so quickly that neither U.N. inspectors nor foreign intelligence agencies are aware it’s happening.

This approach is not new. Alfoneh tells me it was spelled out by Abdollah Ramezanzadeh, a spokesman for Mohammad Khatami, Iran’s president from 1997 to 2005. Defending Khatami’s record on the nuclear portfolio in 2008, Ramezanzadeh said, “We had one overt policy, which was one of negotiation and confidence building, and a covert policy, which was continuation of the activities.” — meaning advancing toward a nuclear-weapons capability.

Ramezanzadeh concluded, “Today, in the field of confidence building, Japan is the most advanced country in the world, but Japan can produce a nuclear bomb in less than a week.” Exactly: the minute politicians give the command.

The congressmen advise the White House that “it would be a mistake not to test whether Dr. Rouhani’s election represents a real opportunity for progress toward a verifiable, enforceable agreement on Iran’s nuclear program that ensures the country does not acquire a nuclear weapon.” Quite right, but, perversely, no test of Rouhani is then proposed. What they recommend instead is more like a test of the United States. Washington, they say, must be “careful not to preempt this potential opportunity by engaging in actions that delegitimize the newly elected president and weaken his standing relative to hardliners within the regime.”

How in heaven’s name would it “delegitimize” Rouhani if American negotiators were to make clear that he’ll be judged by his actions, not his rhetoric, and that the offers we’ve put on the table — most recently during negotiations in Kazakhstan in the spring — will remain on the table, but will be neither weakened nor sweetened in exchange for his smile?

Is it so difficult to comprehend that if we backpedal now, signaling our eagerness to appease, Rouhani will say to the hardliners: “You see how simple this can be? Do you finally understand why it is more effective to attract flies with baklava than with vinegar? And do you further grasp that, when you do it my way, the flies become calm and easier to swat at a time of our choosing?”

If last week’s letter is bad advice, what should the congressmen be telling Obama instead? To stay on track — as they should be, too. Of the 131 signers of the letter, 86 also are cosponsors of legislation authored by Ed Royce and Eliot Engel, the top Republican and Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, establishing a de facto oil embargo against Iran as well as a significant reduction in non-humanitarian commercial trade.

The impact of sanctions is hard to gauge with precision because Tehran conceals basic economic facts. For example: If the current level of Iran’s accessible foreign-exchange reserves is north of $100 billion, the regime can soldier on for a long time. If, however, as some analysts believe, the Iranians have only $20–30 billion in their coffers with a rapid rate of depletion, they could be facing imminent economic collapse.

Rouhani will have more influence on the Supreme Leader — not less — if he can warn that an oil embargo is coming and will hit Iran hard. After that, as economist Nouriel Roubini and FDD analyst John Hannah recently wrote, “Time is running out on peaceful options to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.”

Rouhani needs to be convinced that force is a credible option. Remember that in 2004, he did persuade the Supreme Leader to temporarily suspend uranium enrichment in response to American soldiers’ pulling Saddam Hussein out of a spider hole in neighboring Iraq.

In the coming months (not years), American leaders will have to decide whether on their watch the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism, a self-proclaimed revolutionary jihadist regime that calls America “Satan incarnate,” will be permitted to acquire the nuclear weapons it needs to dominate the Middle East and reshape the world order.

How wonderful it would be if, within Iran’s ruling elite, there were a moderate eager to avoid this confrontation and establish amicable relations. But that is not reality. If wishes were horses, 131 members of Congress would be galloping down Pennsylvania Avenue this week. It’s their job to dismount and plant their feet firmly on the ground.

— Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on national security.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Netanyahu: All the problems that we have, however important, will be dwarfed by this messianic, apocalyptic, extreme regime … I won’t wait until it’s too late

SCHIEFFER: And now to the big story overseas, the Middle East, where instability in Cairo, the still raging civil war in Syria, and the continued push for nuclear weapons in Iran has left Israel right in the middle. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu joins us this morning from Jerusalem. Prime Minister, thank you so much. We'll get to Egypt and Syria in a minute. But I want to start with Iran this morning because you said last September that Iran would have the capability to build a nuclear weapon by this summer. It is summer, are they there yet?

NETANYAHU: I said if they continue to enrich at the same rate they will get there. They have taken heed of the red line that I sketched out at the U.N. They're still approaching it and they're approach after the Iranian elections. They're building ICBMs to reach American -- the American mainland within a few years. They're pursuing an alternate route of plutonium, that is enriched uranium to build a nuclear bomb. One route, plutonium. Another route, ICBMs, intercontinental ballistic missiles to reach you. They don't need these missiles to reach us, they already have missiles that can reach us. They're doing that after the election. So they haven't yet reached it but they're getting closer to it. And they have to be stopped.

SCHIEFFER: There are reports in Israel, and our sources confirm, Prime Minister, that you want the United States to harden its position on Iran immediately and convey to the new government there that if Iran does not halt the nuclear program, its regime will not survive. NETANYAHU: I think the important thing is what the U.S. has said. They said the words won't influence us, what really counts is what the Iranians do. And what they have to do is stop their nuclear program. They have to stop all enrichment of nuclear material, to take out enriched uranium, to dismantle the illegal -- and shut down the illegal nuclear facility in Qom. These are the right demands and those should be back up with ratcheted sanctions. You should ratchet up the sanctions and make it clear to Iran that they won't get away with it. And if sanctions don't work then they have to know that you'll be prepared to take military action. That's the only thing that will get their attention.

SCHIEFFER: Well, do you believe that the United States, there are reports that you feel the United States has been too patient, a little too tolerant in dealing with the Iranians. Are you asking the United States to take a harder line?

NETANYAHU: I think we've spoken many times, President Obama and I, about the need to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons. I know that is the U.S. policy. What is important is to convey to them, especially after the elections, that that policy will not change and that it will be backed up by increasingly forceful sanctions and military action. Now mind you, there is a new president in Iran, he believes -- he's criticizing his predecessor for being a wolf in wolf's clothing. His strategy is, be a wolf in sheep's clothing. Smile and build a bomb. He brags about the fact that he talked to the Europeans while completing a nuclear conversion plan in Isfahan. So I think they can't be allowed to get away with it. They're getting closer and closer to the bomb and they have to be told in no uncertain terms that that will not be allowed to happen. I think it's important to understand that we cannot allow it to happen. You know, our clocks are ticking in a different pace. We're closer than the United States. We're more vulnerable. And therefore we'll have to address this question of how to stop Iran, perhaps before the United States does. But as the prime minister of Israel, I'm determined to do whatever is necessary to defend my country, the one and only Jewish state, from a regime that threatens us with renewed annihilation.

SCHIEFFER: Well, the United States has said that we won't tolerate a nuclear Iran. What else can we say?

NETANYAHU: I think it's very important to make clear to them that you won't allow them to have this weapon and to demonstrate that by action. That is, you can also make clear that the nuclear option which is -- the military option which is on the table is truly on the table. The Iranians take note of that. Right now my sense is in the international community as a whole that because so many things are happening in the Middle East, things are happening, as you say, in Syria, in Egypt, with the Palestinians, there are many important issues that we have to deal with. And I have a sense that there's no sense of urgency. And yet on Iran -- and yet Iran is the most important, the most urgent matter of all. You should just talk to many of the leaders in this region and they will tell you that. Because all the problems that we have, however important, will be dwarfed by this messianic, apocalyptic, extreme regime that would have atomic bombs. It would make a terrible -- a catastrophic change for the world and for the United States, of course, for my country as well. So I think we have our eyes fixed on Iran. They have to know that we're serious. They have to know that there won't be an alternative route that they could reach the bomb if they think that, and they think we'll let them do it, if they think that Israel will let them do it, they're sorely mistaken.

SCHIEFFER: Well, what -- how close are they right now? Are they within a month? Are they within six months of having the capability? How close do you think they are?

NETANYAHU: They're closer. The most difficult thing in making a bomb is making the fissile nuclear material that is at the heart of the bomb. That is really the 90 percent of the effort, if I have to just put a thumb's rule on it. And they're getting closer. They have now about 190 kilos out of the 250 kilos of 20 percent enriched uranium. They had six, seven months -- eight months ago about 110 kilos. So they're edging up to the red line. They haven't closed -- they haven't crossed it yet. They're also building faster centrifuges that will enable them to jump the line, so to speak, at a much faster rate, that is within a few weeks, once they get to that critical mass of 250 kilos.


NETANYAHU: They're not there yet. They're getting closer. They should be -- they should understand that they are not going to be allowed to cross it.

SCHIEFFER: When will you make a decision on whether to attack Iran, because you have said, this will not stand?

NETANYAHU: Well, I can tell you I won't wait until it's too late.

SCHIEFFER: All right. I guess we'll leave it there. Let's talk a little bit about Egypt. You were worried when the Muslim Brotherhood came to power in Egypt and installed Morsi as president. He's now gone. Are you happy about that?

NETANYAHU: Well, look, we've been concerned with one thing. That is the maintenance of the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty. It's been -- it's been the cornerstone of peace between us and our neighbors, and it's also been the cornerstone of stability in the Middle East. And our concern, through changing administrations -- first Mubarak changed; Morsi came; now Morsi went, and we will see what develops in Egypt. Our concern throughout has been maintain the peace treaty. That was and remains my principal concern.

SCHIEFFER: The United States -- some here are saying we ought to cut off military aid to this interim government now until they have a democracy there. Do you think we should?

NETANYAHU: Look, that's an internal American decision. But, again, our concern is the peace treaty with Egypt. One of the foundations of that peace treaty was the U.S. aid given to Egypt.

SCHIEFFER: Had you talked to people in this interim government? Can you deal with them? Do you trust them?

NETANYAHU: We maintain contacts with -- formal contacts with the Egyptian government throughout the last two years, and including now. And the important thing from our point of view is not merely to maintain the peace but also stabilize the Sinai peninsula, which is Egyptian territory that is adjacent to our southern border, the Negev. It's been fraying there. There are a lot of terrorists. There are jihadists. There's Al Qaida, Hamas, you name it. They're all over the place. And our -- our concern is to prevent attacks against our territory and against our city, our southern city of Eilat. We've been doing that and will continue to do that. So our main concern in our contacts with the Egyptian government is to make sure that the peace is preserved and that terror is prevented. And this remains uppermost in my mind.

SCHIEFFER: Reports this morning that...

NETANYAHU: Well, not uppermost, Bob; uppermost in my mind -- uppermost in my mind -- uppermost in my mind is preventing the greatest terror of all. And that is that the radical Islamist regime in Iran gets the weapons of ultimate terror, nuclear weapons. That has to be prevented for the sake of peace, world peace, not only our survival but your vital interests. And I think the flow of history will judge us if we're able or unable to prevent this catastrophe.

SCHIEFFER: Let me ask you just one question on the Syrian civil war. Reports this morning that Israel carried out an attack in Syria this month that targeted advanced anti-ship cruise missiles sold to the Syrian government by Russia -- can you tell us anything about that?

NETANYAHU: Oh, God, every time something happens in the Middle East, Israel is accused. Most often, it's accused -- and I'm not in the habit of saying what we did or we didn't do. I'll tell you what my policy is. My policy is to prevent the transfer of dangerous weapons to Hezbollah and other terror groups, Hezbollah in Lebanon and other terror groups as well. And we stand by that policy.

SCHIEFFER: All right. Well, Mr. Prime Minister, thank you so much for joining us this morning. Wish you the best, and I'll be back in a minute with some thoughts on Washington and why it can't seem to get anything done.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Michael Oren: 'Obama is a true friend, Israelis misunderstood his outreach to Arab world'

Michael Oren’s four and a half years as Israel’s ambassador in Washington have not been easy. Every few months, the American president and Israeli prime minister would set off some widely publicized fire that the ambassador would try to extinguish. Every few months religious-nationalist Israel would come up with some embarrassing event that the ambassador would have to smooth over.

Oren, who grew up in New Jersey and made aliyah to Gan Shmuel, had to continually defend an Israel that progressive America had ceased to understand. The man who studied at Columbia and Princeton had to explain Israel on campuses where the Jewish state’s very legitimacy was being called into question.

Bibi’s man in America reached out to those Americas [Hispanic, black, gay] that Bibi didn’t know, while simultaneously representing Bibi in a hostile White House and before a hostile media.

The historian of the Six-Day War found himself waging a critical diplomatic struggle during a period of equal significance, in his view, to the period preceding that fateful war. As he nears the end of his term as ambassador, soon to be succeeded by Ron Dermer, Oren shares some of his insights with Haaretz readers. His words of farewell indicate that no matter what has happened already, the biggest drama still lies ahead. Fasten your seatbelts.

Haaretz: Ambassador Oren, Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu are an odd, inscrutable and dysfunctional political pair. You lived among them and mediated between them. What was the basic problem in their relationship and has it been

“President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu are very intelligent, very strong and pragmatic people. Both wanted to achieve the same aims a solution of two statesfor two peoples, and preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. So their disagreements were not strategic but tactical. They met 11 times. Obama says that he met with Bibi more than he met with any other world leader. They’ve spent hours talking on the phone. I can attest that the conversations were open, candid and friendly. There were laughs, too. Obama is a very funny guy with a sharp, quick and witty sense of humor. I’m not trying to whitewash anything here. There were disagreements and there were some difficult moments. But we did not experience any genuine crises in the past four and a half years.

“In the past there were such crises: during the siege of Beirut, at the time of the Pollard affair, over the sale of the AWACS planes to Saudi Arabia and over the Israeli arms sale to China. The crisis that arose from the arms sale to China was a very deep and serious crisis that is still having an unsettling effect on our ties with Washington. But that crisis was hidden from view. In contrast, during the Obama-Netanyahu era there was a whole series of supposed crises, none of which was a genuine crisis. The public atmosphere was one of tension but behind the scenes we worked together as allies on the Iron Dome, on the Marmara affair, on the Palestinians’ unilateral moves in the United Nations and on Iran as well. The intelligence cooperation between our two countries is unlike the cooperation the U.S. has with any other country.”

‘Obama is a true friend’

Would you agree that the right deal was an obvious deal: Palestine for Iran. But this deal was not brought to fruition. Obama did not stop Iran and Netanyahu did not take historic action on Palestine.

“That’s correct. And it is disappointing. But we haven’t reached the end of the story yet. Look where we were in the spring of 2009 and look where we are now. Today there’s no talk of containment of a nuclear Iran and they’re not demanding a settlement freeze from us. There’s been a dynamic in U.S. policy and the dynamic was in our direction.”

If everything’s so great, then why is it so bad? Why was the first-term President Obama perceived as a president hostile to Israel and why was Netanyahu perceived as trying to replace the president of the United States with the Republican candidate?

“The Bush administration left behind the legacy of Iraq and Afghanistan and the alienation between the United States and the Arab and Muslim world. Obama wanted to act differently and to try a different approach. He reached out to the Arab-Muslim world, he reached out to the Iranians and the Syrians and he gave the Cairo speech. His message was very refreshing. He tried to make peace with the Arab world. This was misunderstood in Israel because in Israel everything is measured on the basis of the sense of security and insecurity. And when an American president goes to Egypt and goes to Turkey and doesn’t come to visit us, it causes a sense of insecurity.

“The Cairo speech and the demand for a construction freeze throughout the West Bank and in Jerusalem created a feeling in the summer of 2009 that the  president is not sufficiently committed to Israel’s security. But even though relations seemingly got off on the wrong foot, I can tell you with certainty that this feeling is mistaken. What has happened in the security realm in the past four years and Obama’s visit to Jerusalem earlier this year prove it. Obama is a true friend and he is a most serious person and one shouldn’t underestimate him and his determination.”

Netanyahu didn’t err in doing things that were perceived as interfering in the U.S. presidential election, and as an attempt to work together with Sheldon Adelson to oust Obama and replace him with Romney?

“What happened in the spring and summer of 2012 was that some administration officials said certain things on the Iranian issue to which the prime minister felt compelled to respond. In the United States Netanyahu’s response was perceived as interference in the election campaign. It was a tough time.

“There was a lack of understanding between the two sides. My job as ambassador was to explain America in Israel and to explain Israel in America. Eventually, the comments stopped and after Netanyahu’s speech at the UN there was a warm conversation between him and the president. American support for Israel is bipartisan and we absolutely must not do anything to endanger that.”
‘We cannot outsource our national security.’

The Israel of the settlements, exclusion of women from the public sphere and keeping the Women of the Wall away from the Western Wall isn’t distancing itself from the American left? We’re not making ourselves unpopular with the new and progressive America, including liberal Jews?

“In recent years and especially in the past few months, I find myself explaining to Israeli leaders that what’s happening at the Western Wall could have strategic implications. In Israel, [what’s been happening at] the Western Wall is perceived as a marginal question of law and order. When the Women of the Wall were arrested a few months ago, there was only the briefest mention of it in Yedioth Ahronoth. Meanwhile, the New York Times covered the story on the front page, because Americans see it as an issue of human rights and women’s status and freedom of worship. These are extremely sensitive issues for Americans, and Israelis need to understand this. We mustn’t be perceived as harming basic human rights.”

At center-stage is the issue of the Iranian nukes. For Netanyahu, Ali Khamenei’s Iran is Adolph Hitler’s Germany. He is Winston Churchill and Barack Obama is Franklin Roosevelt. His historic challenge is to get the U.S. to join the battle against evil and to defeat this evil. Has Netanyahu succeeded? If Iran makes a nuclear breakthrough the U.S. stop it?

“In the campaign against Iran, there is a historic achievement: the sanctions. The prime minister deserves a huge amount of credit for this. A hundred years from now they’ll write about how the leader of a tiny country in the Middle East managed to spearhead a vast worldwide move. He was like the drop of water that moves the iceberg. His success here is tremendous. But this success is not sufficient. There can be no resting on laurels. The Iranian nuclear program is progressing, growing stronger and expanding. The Iranians are currently installing 3,000 advanced centrifuges that can increase their enrichment capacity five times over. Consequently, the Iranians’ breakthrough to a nuclear weapon will be a matter of weeks and not months, and as Prime Minister Netanyahu said at the UN, the question is not when Iran will obtain a nuclear weapon but when it will no longer be possible to prevent it from obtaining nuclear weapons. That moment is quickly approaching.”

So that just underscores my question. Bottom line, have we convinced the Americans or not? If the Iranians make the breakthrough – will Obama attack or not?

“The question isn’t whether or not we believe Obama. The question is what our responsibility is as a sovereign nation. We cannot outsource our national security. The American clock is big and slow, and the Israeli clock is small and fast. We are a small country with certain capabilities that is facing existential threats on a daily basis, and the United States is a far-off country with great capabilities that is not threatened with destruction. I’m in the midst of the discussion between the two countries, and I’m telling you that it’s a serious and meaningful discussion between allies. But we returned to Israel after 2,000 years of exile so as not to be in the situation we were in during the Holocaust; so that we could defend ourselves; so that we won’t be dependent upon others. That is our raison d’etre. All diplomatic options must be exhausted – but we cannot flee from this responsibility.”

And is Netanyahu capable of handling such a mission? Is he the right person in the right place at the right time?

“Certainly. I see this person from up close. He has a lot on his plate: Egypt, Jordan, Syria. Not to mention all the challenging domestic issues. But he’s the man who understood the magnitude of the threat 20 years ago. He was the one who succeeded in drawing the world’s attention to the threat. He jumpstarted an unprecedented process of imposing sanctions, one that goes beyond anything that was done with North Korea or Pakistan. Netanyahu truly managed to budge the world. But this success is not enough. Therefore Netanyahu now faces a [first Israeli Prime Minister David] Ben-Gurion-type dilemma. The question he faces is similar to the question that faced Ben-Gurion in May 1948 and the question that Levi Eshkol faced in May 1967.”

Do you really see a similarity between the Ben-Gurion of 1948 and the Eshkol of 1967, and the Netanyahu of 2013?

“Yes. These comparisons are constantly on my mind.

“In 1948, the Haganah and Palmach [pre-state Zionist paramilitary organizations] commanders told Ben-Gurion that they only had enough ammunition for a week of fighting and that they would not be able defend the country. The Americans pressed very hard and Secretary of State George Marshall told [Moshe] Sharett that establishing a state was an invitation to genocide and that the Arabs would slaughter the Jews. As a result, Sharett became panicked and Ben-Gurion barely had a majority in the government, but he understood that he had a very brief window of opportunity within which he could make the historic decision, and he understood what sovereignty meant and when a leader must take responsibility and decide.

“In 1967, there was a very friendly American president who just loved us, but still he asked [then-Prime Minister Levi] Eshkol not to do anything. The equivalent of the sanctions at the time was an international flotilla that was supposed to break the blockade of the Straits of Tiran. The United States was weary of war – sound familiar? – since it was mired in Vietnam, and so [then-foreign-minister] Abba Eban returned from Washington with a red light, and even Mossad chief Meir Amit returned with just a flashing yellow that he received not from the president but from the head of the CIA. Eshkol didn’t sleep all night because he feared the American response, but like Ben-Gurion 19 years earlier, he understood the responsibility that falls to the prime minister of Israel. He waited, he exhausted the diplomatic process, but in the end, he made a decision.”

And you’re saying that there’s a parallel between our situation in 1948 and our situation in 1967 and our situation today?

“There are big differences. In ’48 and ’67 we did not have a deep strategic alliance with the United States, and our international standing was much flimsier, and the IDF was a lot less strong than it is today. But there is a lot of similarity in that we are facing a big country that is threatening to destroy us and busy developing the means to actually do so. Iran is a Holocaust denier that is planning to perpetrate Holocaust II. And the similarity is also that there is a limited window of time. So the responsibility that the prime minister holds today is a historic responsibility similar to the one that fell to Ben-Gurion in 1948 and to Eshkol in 1967.”

What you’re saying is that Netanyahu may have to go to war against Iran despite the international and domestic pressure not to do so.

“As prime minister of a sovereign state, Netanyahu has the responsibility to defend the country. When the country is a Jewish state with a painful and tragic history – the responsibility is even greater and heavier. Israel has a supreme interest in reaching a diplomatic solution just as Eshkol tried to do in May 1967. But one mustn’t flee from the responsibility that conferred by both our history and our sovereignty. Defending Israel is not an option – it’s a duty.”

‘This suit is my uniform’

Is Netanyahu capable of going to war? Does he have the necessary emotional wherewithal?

“I think so. He doesn’t sleep at night. He bears a tremendous responsibility on his shoulders. And he has restraint; he isn’t dragged into unnecessary wars. But this restraint is actually a sign of strength – as it was with Eshkol.”

You’re saying things that won’t register in Israel. Here in Tel Aviv the sky is blue, the beaches are filled and there isn’t a cloud on the horizon.

“I’ll tell you a story. President Obama’s national security adviser, Tom Donilon, asked me how, as a historian, I view Israel’s strategic situation. I told him that in terms of the spectrum of threats facing us, in the best case, it’s May 1967 and in the worst case, we’re at May 1948. It’s hard for me to point to any moment in our history when we faced so many threats simultaneously. The upheavals in Egypt, the question of Jordan’s stability, Syria, 70,000 Hezbollah rockets, Hamas’ long-range rockets, terrorists in the Sinai Peninsula – and above all that, the colossal Himalaya of the Iranian nuclear threat that casts a shadow over everything.

“But geopolitically, I told Donilon, our situation is better than it has been at any point in history. The alliance with the United States, the membership in the OECD, our relations with China and India, relations with the former Warsaw Pact nations, the state of our economy and our military. In 1948 and 1967, the Israeli public saw the hostile forces massing at the borders. In comparison, the Iranian threat is abstract. What’s happening is far away and hidden and hard to understand – but it’s a genuine existential danger to the country. This is what makes it hard for the prime minister. Precisely that complacency that you describe – that derives from Israel’s success and strength – is making Netanyahu’s mission even harder than the missions that Ben-Gurion and Eshkol faced.”

To be able to face Iran and hold its own in a tumultuous Middle East, Israel needs a close alliance with the U.S. What is the situation on the American front? What’s the good news, and what’s the bad news?

“The rate of American support for Israel is currently at an all-time high. There hasn’t been this much sympathy for Israel since the First Gulf War. Most Americans view Israel as an important ally, and some would even be willing to send military forces to defend it. But we can’t fall into complacency. When I come to Jerusalem, I always say that I’m the bearer of bad news. Among the American elite, our situation is not good. The media tends to be critical, as does a significant portion of the academic world. The communities that are on the rise in America are Latinos, blacks and gays, who do not have historic ties with the State of Israel.

“And besides that, there is a great weariness now in America that is leading to a kind of neo-isolationism. In the past decade, this great nation has been through two difficult wars and a traumatic economic shakeup. So you have this exhaustion and cutbacks in the defense budget and a shrinking of the military and an aversion to any more overseas intervention. Lawmakers are asking why send money to Egypt or the Palestinians rather than invest that money in a new bridge. Americans are tired of the Middle East. They don’t want to hear about it, and they don’t want to know what is happening in Egypt and Syria and Iran. And what I am compelled to repeat here over and over is that when the helicopters took off from the Saigon embassy in 1975, the Vietcong did not chase the Americans all the way to Fifth Avenue. But it won’t be the same with the Middle East. You can’t run away from the Middle East, because if you run away from the Middle East, the Middle East will come running after you. I think President Obama understands this. Secretary of State [John] Kerry certainly understands this. But a mood of weariness and isolationism is making it difficult for them. America in 2013 is an America that is tired of the Middle East.”

If so, then the likelihood of an American operation in Iran is basically nil.

“It’s a paradoxical situation. The three leading newspapers in America – the New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal – support intervention in Syria, for instance, even though just 17 percent of the American public supports it. But in operative terms, the challenge involved in intervening in Syria is much more complicated than intervention in Iran.”

So what you’re basically telling me is that an American operation in Iran that removes the existential threat to us and removes a strategic threat to the U.S. could be a surgical operation, while an American operation in Syria could create a war situation that wouldn’t lead anywhere.

“You said it. I cannot refer to this matter. All I can say is, it’s an ironic situation.”

Michael Oren, you are not a rightist. You were on a kibbutz, you were in the disengagement, you hold centrist views. Why did you agree to represent in Washington a right-wing Israeli government?

“First of all, I saw that Netanyahu’s commitment to the peace process is genuine. I’m telling you honestly, Ari: Netanyahu is serious. In regard to peace, the prime minister is serious. He really does want to enter talks, and he really does want quick and brief talks, and he really does want to arrive at a solution. Netanyahu is aware of the danger posed by an absence of peace, both in terms of Israel’s perceived legitimacy and in terms of the risk to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. Few have noticed, but aside from the Bar-Ilan [University] speech and the construction freeze, he also said that when peace is achieved, some settlements will remain outside the border – in the territory of the Palestinian state. He meant it. I’ve gotten to know him very well in the past four years, and I’m telling you that he is not just paying lip service. He is truly committed to peace.

“Beyond that – the Iranian issue is very close to my heart. I take the threat seriously. My fundamental belief is that a nuclear-armed Iran will create a number of existential threats to Israel. The Iran challenge is the great challenge of our time, and I did all I could in Washington to help grapple with it.

“But ultimately, there is also civic aspect. I am an Israeli. I served in the army for 30 years – in compulsory service and as a reservist. And although here I put on a suit every morning, to me, this suit is my uniform. What I did in America was four and a half years of reserve duty. I did my best in this reserve duty in my dealings with the administration and with the American public, and I’m proud of what I achieved. But now this period of reserve duty is ending. My wife Sally and I are packing up the uniforms and returning home.”

“Obama is a true friend” ?  My father was a diplomat too, but he never came close to uttering this type of Orwellian statement  Michael Oren just did.  Except, of course, if he meant to say that  Obama was a true friend of the Muslim Brotherhood.