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New York,  Benjamin Netanyahu

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has sought to reassure the Israeli people that his positions regarding Iran’s nuclear program have not changed. He told an audience at Israel’s Bar-Ilan University that the international community should tighten rather than relax economic sanctions against Iran until Tehran completely ends its suspected nuclear weapons program. Israel sees Iran’s nuclear activities as a military threat and has said it would attack the country’s nuclear sites if necessary.

Iran has long insisted its nuclear program is peaceful. This stance has been reiterated most recently by Iran’s newly-elected president, Hassan Rouhani, at his September 24 address before the United Nations General Assembly, described by many observers as a ‘charm offensive.’

Elliott Abrams, a senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, has authored an article, published in Foreign Affairs, about Israel’s influence in steering the international response to Iran’s nuclear ambitions. VOA’s Susan Yackee spoke with him about his analysis.

Below please find a transcript of the interview. To listen to it, use the audio player on the bottom of this post.

Yackee: You ask, can Israel prevent a deal with Iran. Can It?

Elliott Abrams

Elliott Abrams

Abrams: The only way it can absolutely prevent a deal is by striking Iran militarily. That is, it can argue against what it views as a bad deal, publically and privately, but it can’t actually prevent it.  It has no veto power except to use its own military.

Yackee: You raise the ‘good cop-bad cop’ scenario. Should Israel play the bad cop to make any deal with Iran more restrictive?

Abrams: Yes, Israel in a sense has been doing that for a couple of years, that is – one of the things that has motivated the United States, England, France and Germany to push for a negotiated deal, a tough negotiated deal to have sanctions on Iran, I think has been [due to the] political and moral pressure from Israel.

Israel won’t be alone in this. It’s not the only country concerned about avoiding a bad deal. I know, for example, the French have been a little bit worried that the United States might be tempted to go for a bad deal just to create what appears to be a solution to this. So Israel will have some allies in Washington, London and in other capitals as well, in and out of government.

Yackee: You suggest Israel may call for increased sanctions against Iran. Is the international community likely to agree to that since Iran has shown some signs of improving its tone?

Abrams: ‘I think it’s tough to see that happening. That is, I think it’s tough to see Israel persuading the P5+1 – Europeans for example – to increase sanctions right now in the face of this charm offensive by Rouhani. What they might be able to achieve by demanding more sanctions is that they at least prevent the lifting of sanctions until Iran has actually performed, that is – no more sweet talk – but ‘what have you actually done in your nuclear program?’ So perhaps that is in a sense a tactic on the part of Israel: Ask for more than you might get but see what you can get.

Yackee: Does the possible adjustment in U.S. relations with Iran that we appear to see put Israel is a worse situation than it hes been?

Abrams: Yes, I think the problem for Israel is that the United States, if I can put it this way, appears to many Israelis to be falling for the charm offensive. Israel a year ago, for example, had an Iran under [President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad, who was widely reviled in the West, who had given a horrendous series of speeches at the U.N., and Israel’s statement that it might ‘pull the trigger’ was viewed by many in the West as not so illogical. Today they are in a worse position because of this charm offensive. Everybody is talking about diplomacy, and this leaves the Israelis somewhat isolated in saying that ‘this is just a charm offensive – it has no substance, beware!’

Yackee: The U.S. and Israel have long been tied together as great, strong allies. Do you think the issue of Iran [having] nuclear weapons might come between the two?

Abrams: I don’t think so. There is an awful lot of support in the country and in Congress to having a really hard line on Iran. Iran has been an enemy of the United States since the hostage taking in 1979. And I think a lot of Americans would agree that we just can’t permit Iran to get a nuclear weapon and, indeed that is official U.S. policy; those are words President [Barack] Obama has spoken. So, I think, the worst thing that can happen is that we diverge in that we think that there’s a good deal and the Israelis don’t. Well, that’s a disagreement and they will be unhappy but we remain their top ally. Or they’ll think this deal is so bad, if one is struck, that they actually go ahead and do the military attack on Iran. I think many Americans would view that as a gutsy thing to do, and I think that the United States in those circumstances would be likely to support Israel in the aftermath. I don’t think it would cause any type of deep break.

Listen to our interview with Elliott Abrams:

Susan Yackee

Susan Yackee is anchor of VOA's International Edition radio show. She has been a reporter in the Washington area for more than 35 years and regularly interviews newsmakers and analysts in DC and around the world. Susan works in television, radio and social media.


  1. jochair

    November 20, 2013

    denying that Iran is an existential threat to Israel, does not make it so. Iran is a threat to many ME countries.

  2. Rouffian

    October 28, 2013

    It’s kind of weird that Israel would want to block a peace initiative. Not surprising, of course, but weird.
    It’s also surprising that the USA has current opinions from all of its security agencies saying that Iran is not trying to build nukes. The British secret services hold the same opinion. So why does Israel, and by extension its acolyte America, persist in seeing something that is not supported by the evidence?
    My guess is some sort of racism, akin to the sort that made the US so callous in the aftermath of the murder of 290 civilians on board Iran Air flight 655 after it was shot down by the USS Vincennes inside Iranian airspace. It was clearly either an act of massive incompetence or calculated evil, but the USA has never admitted responsibility or apologised.
    So America’s insane behaviour resembling the unintelligible insults of an aggrieved drunk come as no real surprise, and Israel’s apalling behaviour is just par for the course.

  3. Olive N

    October 21, 2013

    This is an outrageous claim . Even the God of Israel will not forgive us if we follow this self centered claim by Netanyahu to deny Iran what Israel have acquired in massive quantity over time . I don’t much about Iran , neither am I a Muslim , but I follow the path of truth and global honesty . If the World and U.S continue to follow this man’s instruction , the U’S entire war machine and economy will become drowned into history like the old Roman Empire . I will begin to have second look at Israeli and U.S relationship with particular evaluation on total cost in money , global impact and human cost ..

  4. crescentfang

    October 20, 2013

    A deal is going to be very hard to come by considering our track record: Iraq and Libya gave up their nuclear programs and we attacked both of them and overthrew their governments. Any deal that prevents Iran from getting a nuclear deterrent against the US and Israel is going to have to be guaranteed by the Russians, the UN or both.

    Iran can’t publicly admit to having a weapon. They have to follow the Israeli approach of “strategic ambiguity” to avoid an arms race with their Sunni neighbors. That prevents them from conducting the tests the North Koreans used to finalize their designs. The Israelis didn’t have to test their weapons because they stole American designs. Iran can’t deny they are developing a weapon while testing one. They have to do a deal with the Americans that provides security guarantees and back down or go all the way like the Koreans. Backing down is the safest alternative if they can be assured they won’t face an American invasion as a result.

    The Israeli lobby seems determined to push the US into another war. Obama and Kerry’s political theater on attacking Syria demonstrated that the American public can be rallied against another war if the President pretends he is in favor of it. The neocons are now in enough trouble so a deal may be possible.

  5. Michael P Lindenmaier

    October 18, 2013

    The US position on Iran's nuclear program hasn't changed either. That the hardened fronts are somewhat softening is a good sign, also for Israel. It makes me very suspicious how Netanyahu is opposing these approaches. It was a goal of these sanctions to bring Iran to the negotiation table. To now oppose these political advancements between the US and Iran is illogical and dangerous. Comments now about an attack by Israel's forces on Iran are downright criminal.

  6. David MacGregor

    October 18, 2013

    Israel an existential threat to Iran? I think it's more than that – an existential threat to the entire world, due to its embedded victim mentality that literally causes the country and its leaders to be incapable of moving away from the idea that Iran is out to get them, which it is not. What the world needs more than anything is less violence and more diplomacy. But let's not fool ourselves into thinking that sanctions are diplomacy. They are an act of war, or war by other means. It's time for this insane hostility towards Iran to stop.

  7. Damian Lataan

    October 7, 2013

    Could it be that it is Israel that is an existential threat to Iran…?

  8. Mladen Andrijasevic

    October 7, 2013

    Standing Alone – Churchill 1940 – Netanyahu 2013

    n this context, the deterrent that worked so well during the Cold War, namely M.A.D. (Mutual Assured Destruction) , would have no meaning. At the End of Time, there will be general destruction anyway. What will matter is the final destination of the dead– hell for the infidels, and the delights of heaven for the believers. For people with this mindset, M.A.D. is not a constraint; it is an inducement…
    Why are Bernard Lewis's views on MAD ignored?


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