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נאום ח"כ עמר בר-לב ב-Seventh Germany-Israel Strategic Forum

ביום רביעי, ה-11.12.2019, נאם חבר הכנסת עמר בר-לב בפני קהל מומחים במשרד ההגנה הגרמני שבברלין. 

How to deal with Iran in light of the US -Iran showdown?

As most of you know, Israelis frequently respond to a question with a question. With this in mind my first reply to the question “How to deal with Iran in light of the US Iran show-down?” is:   Are the US and Iran in  a “showdown” ?

A couple of years ago, when President Trump declared his withdrawal from the nuclear deal with Iran (the JCPOA), it seemed as if the U.S. was setting itself up for such a showdown. Once President Trump proceeded and reinstated the sanctions on Iran, and even added new ones, most of us were sure that a face-off had arrived; some even believed that Iran would actually pull back and walk away.

At the time, many of us in the international community were reminded of the US-North Korea showdown and believed that President Trump’s unique approach to that might actually be very successful. Many believed that the potential success of Trump’s North Korean approach would  influence and strengthen his potential success regarding Iran.

But let’s look at what has actually happened in the last couple of years.  Kim Jong-un didn’t pull back and metaphorically, President Trump did not fire. In the US-Iran show-down, the situation is even worse- not only did Iran not walk away but it seems that the US has! Not only has it walked away from the showdown with Iran but also from the entire Middle East!

President Trump made several different attempts  to connect to the Iranians. The best known was last September at the UN council gathering when president Trump called the president of Iran Hasan Ruohani and Ruhany didn’t even bother to answer the phone. What had happened since then? The U.S. has not responded in any way to the Iranian attack on the Saudis’ refineries, despite the fact that the US and Saudi are allies.  And, the US has abandoned another ally, the Kurds, in northern Syria and Iraq. President Trump has repeatedly said that he is removing the American forces from Syria, including from East Syria on the Iraqi border, despite the fact that it  quite clearly is  against Israel’s interest.

Putting it all together, - I am sorry to say that I do not see any show-down between the US and Iran.

As for President Trump’s decision to walk away from the nuclear deal, I’ve said it before and I say it again today: “a bad deal is better than no deal”. The difference between saying it in the past and repeating it today is that now we all know that Iran is closer to having a nuclear bomb than before US walked away.

I criticized the deal from its inception because two critical limitations for developing an operational nuclear bomb were lacking:

1-the ability to launch the bomb mainly by missiles including ballistic Missiles

2- the nature of the explosive mechanism.

At the time, I supported President Macron’s efforts  to convince President Trump not to walk away from the Nuclear Agreement but to initiate an additional agreement and/or additional sanctions against Iran should  they not terminate their ballistic missiles’ development plan.

 In June, 2010 (res. 1929) the Security Council stated that:

-“Iran shall not undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using ballistic missile technology, and

-“The States shall take all necessary measures to prevent the transfer of technology or technical assistance to Iran related to such activities”.

Despite Iran’s violation of these conditions the international community did nothing to impose its will or impose sanctions once Iran because of its violation 

In July, 2015 the Security Council once again (res. 2231) stated that “Iran is called upon not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology, until the date eight years after the JCPOA Adoption Day or until the date on which the IAEA submits a report confirming the Broader Conclusion, whichever is earlier”. 

During this year between April 22nd and August 29, Iran performed 4 trails to launch  Ballistic missile that are able to carry a Nuclear device.

(22.4.19 Shehab 3, 24.7.19…., 2.8.19 Burkan 3 with liquid propelled medium range ballistic missile, 29.8.19 Saphir satellite launch vehicle).

Only after that, earlier this month  did the ambassadors of Germany, France and England call upon  the Security Council to meet on December 20, 2019 in regard to these issues             

I can only repeat the old saying”better late than never”.

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And to the other  question:  “Are Iran and Israel on a collision course?”.

I believe that for the next several years Iran has an interest to move forward step by step in improving its nuclear capabilities, to stretch the rubber band as much as possible without tearing it. It’s a great risk Iran might take with such an approach as one never knows when others might think that the rubber is about to tear. Even though I don’t see a military encounter with Iran in the coming years based on its nuclear aspirations.

As for conventional military clashes with Iran, it is a different story. They have taken place during  the last several years over two issues:

  • Iran’s efforts to provide Hezbollah in Lebanon with strategic armaments specifically with precise weapons.
  • Iran’s efforts to establish its military presence in Syria.

The only reason Iran invests efforts in that is that she wants to have her finger on the on/off button that can blow up the region. There can be many reasons for Iran to press this button; some of which  might have nothing to do with Israel, but can harm her.  These might even include certain disputes or disagreements with the Syrian regime and/or with the Russians and/or within Lebanon.

The far-reaching implications of such actions are the reason why Israel cannot tolerate these efforts. Within Israel we have a wide consensus regarding this position. Our policy is well known and most of the time Iran , Syria and  even Russia unwillingly accept it. Frankly, however, it gets harder and harder to implement. But this does not mean that a much wider military collision might not happen any moment even though right now it’s not in the interest of any of the sides. Any of many tactical encounters might cause a quick drift to a wider one. 

I’ll give you two short examples from the last several months:

A recent event which carried this potential occurred when the Iranians fired a rocket on Mt. Hermon during a weekend when hundreds of Israelis were joyfully picnicking. Fortunately, the Iron Dome shot the rocket down.

 And, a couple of months ago Hezbollah fired a Cornet anti-tank missile  at an Israeli truck and blew it up, just several minutes after the soldiers that were in it had gotten out.  Any such cases could definitely end differently, leaving only a very short step to escalation.

To sum up, unlike certain Israeli politicians, I do not believe that at the present we are on the edge of a much wider collision with Iran and/or the Hezbollah.  Apart from the internal turmoil in Iran and in Lebanon which I do not believe will push them forward towards a wide military collusion with Israel, we are in the same situation that we have been in, for several years, in which neither side  have an interest to drift into a wider military escalation. But even though, as said before, it might happen because of tactical event.

Thank you

חבר הכנסת עמר בר-לב

חבר הכנסת עמר בר-לב (המחנה הציוני) חבר וועדת החוץ והביטחון בכנסת, יו"ר וועדת המשנה למוכנות צה"ל וביטחון שוטף, וממלא מקום בועדת הכספים. מפקד סיירת מטכ"ל לשעבר, מקים ויו"ר תנועת "אחרי!". ממייסדי תנועת "שלום עכשיו". ממייסדי חברת "איתוראן". פועל למען ביטחון ישראל, החזון הציוני ולמען צדק חברתי וחיזוק הדמוקרטיה בישראל.

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