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Expecting Iran to cheat is why we need this deal, says former Mossad chief

August 21, 2015 at 6:30 PM EST
Efraim Halevy, former director of Israel’s intelligence and special operations agency Mossad, is breaking with his country's government and public opinion to support the Iran nuclear agreement. He joins Judy Woodruff from Tel Aviv to discuss his stance.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: But, first, President Obama won a significant endorsement today for the Iran nuclear agreement, as Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York announced his support. Nadler’s decision followed a personal appeal from the president, who sent him a letter pledging that the U.S. would continue economic pressure on Iran and keep military options open.

Tonight, we continue our series of conversations on the agreement as part of our Deal or No Deal series.

Earlier this week, we heard from an Israeli scientist who was opposed to the deal.

This evening, we hear from the former head of Israel’s intelligence and special operations agency, the Mossad, Efraim Halevy, who is breaking with his country’s government and public opinion to support the agreement.

Mr. Halevy, thank you very much for being with us.

Given that you disagree with your government, why do you? What do you see in this agreement that makes you support it?

EFRAIM HALEVY, Former Director, Mossad: I believe this agreement closes the roads and blocks the road to Iranian nuclear military capabilities for at least a decade.

And I believe that the arrangements that have been agreed between the parties are such that give us a credible answer to the Iranian military threat, at least for a decade, if not longer.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You have said that this agreement is historic from the Iranian point of view. What did you mean by that?

EFRAIM HALEVY: Up to a couple of years ago, the Iranians refused to discuss their nuclear programs on the basis of a negotiation, international negotiations. They said that this was their sovereign right to do whatever they wished.

They have caved in. They have entered into a detailed discussion of their capabilities. They have agreed to an agreement which lists their various facilities in Iran. They have agreed to knocking out the first and foremost important element in it, their location in Arak, which is a plutogenic-producing facility in potential.

The core of this particular aspect is going to be destroyed. And that means that there will be no capability of the Iranians to ultimately weaponize whatever they are doing for the purposes of attacking anybody around the world for the next decade. If only for that element alone, I would say this is an agreement worthwhile accepting.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You said just a moment ago that you believe this closes the road or the route to Iran’s military capabilities for at least a decade. Why are you so confident of that? As you know, Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, says just the opposite.

EFRAIM HALEVY: Well, I have looked at the details of the agreement.

As I said, on the issue of Arak, the plutogenic program, it’s clear the core of the reactor is going to be destroyed. As far as Fordow, where they have had a lot of centrifuges up until now, Fordow will be restricted only to scientific research.

When it comes to Natanz, there is going to be a clearer way of monitoring what is going on there. And the facilities there which would allow — the produce of Natanz to be passed on, the piping and all the other elements necessary to pass on whatever it is they produce in order to process it into something of a military nature, is also going to be removed.

So, I believe that, in all three counts, it’s clear, in my view, that the capabilities of the Iranians to go ahead with their original ideas has been stopped by this agreement.

JUDY WOODRUFF: There is a story that’s gotten a lot of attention in the United States this week, and I’m sure in Israel as well, the Associated Press reporting that Iran will be able to use its own inspectors. They have a side deal with the International Atomic Energy Agency, where Iranian inspectors will be in charge of looking at the military site, the so-called Parchin site.

The argument is that this is a big loophole in the agreement. How do you see it?

EFRAIM HALEVY: This is an agreement which is a secret agreement reached between the director general of the IAEA, which is the United Nations body charged for years with supervising the implementation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The director of this agency, Yukiya Amano, is not only a veteran in this field of disarmament. He’s been highly regarded, and he has impeccable credentials.

Up to now, Israel has respected Yukiya Amano, respected his judgments. And I think we should wait and see how the ultimate process of the negotiations he is now conducting with the Iranians and the outcome of these negotiations at the end of this year, how he will be satisfied with the arrangements that he’s setting up in order to monitor these activities.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Efraim Halevy, you have also said very clearly that you expect Iran to try to cheat on this agreement. Why should that be acceptable to the rest of the world?

EFRAIM HALEVY: It is not acceptable to the rest of the world. That is exactly the whole point of the agreement.

Whereas, when the United States negotiated with the Soviet Union, the code word which was used by President Reagan and Secretary Shultz was trust and verify, this time, it is mistrust and verify. There is going to be a verification system in place which is second to none and has no precedent.

And I believe that if the Iranians are going to try and cheat, there will be ways and means of finding this out. I think that the machinery which is going to be put in place, which, by the way, will be supported fully by the United States, without which this could not actually be implemented, will not be in place if the agreement is scuttled by Congress.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally, Mr. Halevy, how difficult is it for you to support this agreement, when your prime minister, when the majority of Israeli public opinion, we’re told, opposes it?

EFRAIM HALEVY: First of all, there has been no real public debate in Israel on this.

The Knesset, which is the equivalent, if I may say so, of Congress, has not even discussed it once. I think there is an attempt here to stifle public discussion.

I’m not alone in this view. There are others who are thinking likewise as I am. One of them is General Uzi Eilam, the former head of the Israeli Atomic Energy Commission, a highly regarded general, the man who led his battalion and stormed the Old City in 1967. And there are others, like Professor Itsik Ben Yisrael, who was head of R&D of the Israeli defense establishment for many years, an air force general.

In the Yom Kippur War, the vast majority of public opinion and official opinion said there would be no war. Very few people stood up and said the opposite. Let’s not have another Yom Kippur in reverse.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Efraim Halevy, the former chief of the Mossad, joining us from Israel, We thank you tonight.

EFRAIM HALEVY: Good evening.

Editor’s Note: Arak was mistakenly transcribed as Iraq. We regret the error.

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