Israeli Ambassador Yacov Hadas-Handelsman
Israel’s Ambassador to Hungary, Yacov Hadas-Handelsman, believes the world should take the dangers of Iran’s nuclear program seriously. According to the diplomat, Europeans are often reluctant to accept the gravity of the issue, but in Israel’s case it is a matter of national survival. The interview is based on the one originally published in Magyar Hírlap.
PM Bennett has recently warned that Iran is dangerously close to reaching nuclear weapons capabilities. He also called on the West to put pressure on the regime. Yet it was the Trump White House’ policy of “maximum pressure” that formally lead to the abandonment of the 2015 nuclear deal. Why do Israeli politicians still think that political or economic pressure is the most effective approach?
The Iranians count on their own sophistication on the one hand, and Western lack of consensus on the other but also on the propensity of the West to say that ok, we did something, and now we can go home. The agreement gave Iran some kind of legitimacy to continue with their nuclear and weapons development, because you have the agreement, but this did not include a ban on the development of launch vehicle, that is missiles. Iranian officials claim that it is only for self defense. But if you want self defense, you do not need to develop intercontinental missiles. All of Europe is now under the range of Iranian missiles. These types of missiles are developed for only one purpose, to carry an unconventional warhead. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has recently condemned Iran for violating all agreements, because Iran does not adhere to these pledges. They switch off cameras, delay inspections, clear areas of illegal material. Iran is a terrorist state, that is threatening everyone, but from an Izraeli point of view, they threaten to wipe us out.
We have the tendency to believe that they are serious about this, and we are determined to stop them. It would be better for the international community to do this, but in the end of the day its about our existence.
The reality is that the West, including the US, has no influence to change the Iranian regime’s mind, and the most likely scenario is that one day the seismographs will move, and the world will wake up to the reality of a nuclear armed Iran. Or is there a realistic alternative to this course of events?
The situation in Iran is not easy, and this is an understatement. A country that has some of the biggest reservoirs of oil in the world, a country that used to be rich, now has problems with food supplies, with water. But they use their money to finance terror, for destruction. If we continue the pressure, and we are decisive, the regime will either have to cave in or go. It is only a matter of resilience. They violate every international law and principle, so there is no textbook solution, and it all depends on the determination of nations. The problem is, that even though on the surface everyone seems to be focused on preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, and they make public declarations to this end, eventually everyone is giving priority to their bilateral interests. If there is a chance for a good economic deal, then we are willing to forget about our ideology. The unity of the international community is only maintained, until local interests take over. Countries can sometimes turn a blind eye. But this is the reality. The alternative to this is to sit and do nothing, until Iran develops its nuclear capabilities. However, if you are pressuring them, maybe the chances of success are not 100%, but in the end of the day you are buying time. The chances of Iran using nuclear weapons are allegedly slim, but look what happened when Russian mentioned their nuclear capabilities recently. They were only floating a kite, and watching international reaction. Going against an opponent in a conventional war that has nuclear weapons, even if they are unlikely to use them, is a different ballgame. In any case, here we are on our own, because we are the ones they threaten to destroy.
You have mentioned the principle of business versus security. In 2015 during the migrant crisis, European governments have argued that this is not a problem, since they need to replenish their economies with new workforce. The Hungarian government had argued, however, that security considerations must come ahead of business arguments, and the government was heavily criticized for this. Then this year, Jens Stoltenberg, after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, has turned this on its head and said, we must make sacrifices, no one should do business with Russia, because security concerns come first. Is not the West somewhat selective when it comes to this principle?
Countries are acting according to their own immediate interests. In Europe these discussions are going on in relation to Russia. Some countries want to opt out of certain sanctions, and rightfully so, because if you for instance have no fuel, you will freeze, or you won’t be able to drive your car. Other countries have other resources, such that Hungary does not have. So they are easy about boycotting Russia. But some say, sorry, I need to feed my citizens.
That is reality, this is life. Only when there is a real, immediate threat to their existence, will people unite in a direct way.
But now each one has their own interest. For many countries security equals economy, and that is why there are countries who are honest about the fact that they have to keep their economies moving.
The Israeli PM goes as far as saying that “Iran’s nuclear program won’t stop until it’s stopped”. The most likely interpretation of this statement is that he is hinting at the necessity of the use of force. However, there was no appetite for using force before, and with the war in Ukraine, this has become pretty much unthinkable. Can we therefore discount this option entirely?
The Iranians know exactly what the West wants to hear and will say that very eloquently. This is an essential part of the Iranian tactics: delay and deceive. They delay things to the very last moment just before consequences would follow and deliver promises right at the deadline. And yes, nobody wants to use force, but we maintain a certain ambiguity in this question. No one wants to turn to force, but at least the war in Ukraine proved that the West can be united. It also proved that there are other means than direct military confrontation. But the war in Ukraine is a different thing because nobody really believes that Russia will deploy nuclear weapons. Iran is different.
Then there is also a global propaganda, and some will try to blame Israel for the Iranian aggression. Even Saddam Hussein, when he invaded Kuwait said that he only did so to raise the awareness of the plight of Palestinians under Israeli occupation. There were European politicians, who did believe him. They wanted to believe him because they would be ready to do almost anything to avoid war. And this is happening with the Iranian threat as well.
We seem to have lost our fear of a nuclear Armageddon. During the Cuban missile crisis, the entire world was in the grip of a fear as what would happen, today the average citizen of the world is increasingly apathetic about the dangers of a nuclear confrontation. What do you think had caused this, and what can be done to change these attitudes?
Not only nuclear weapons, but a badly maintained reactor is a threat too. We had serious accidents in Chernobyl or Fukushima, yet the exact same thing happened like when you pass next to a road accident. You are shocked, you drive carefully for an hour, but then you gradually start to speed up, and lose your inhibitions again. Yet the nuclear danger is there always. People in Europe do not want to be bothered, these issues seems far away from them, they just want to go their own way and not to deal with such threats. But in Israel’s case these problems are existential.
Featured Photo: Yacov Hadas-Handelsman official Facebook page