He played a significant role in negotiating Israel‘s peace deal with King Hussein of Jordan, the bringing of Ethiopian Jews to Israel and Israel‘s response to the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.
In the second instalment of a two-part interview he discusses his views on Palestine, the Middle East road map, Hamas and Iran‘s nuclear programme.
Halevy is currently head of the Centre for Strategic and Policy Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. His book Man in the Shadows: Inside the Middle East Crisis with a Man who led the Mossad was published in March 2006.
Aljazeera.net: You have said that the world should take Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s desire to annihilate Israel seriously. Given the international community’s apparent inability to agree on how to handle the situation, can you see a long-term failure to act ending up with the US, and perhaps Israel, taking military action in the form of a strike on Iran‘s nuclear facilities?
Efraim Halevy: I indeed think that Israel and the world as a whole should take the threat of President Ahmedinejad of Iran very seriously. I am gratified to see that this is how the world is indeed approaching this defiant position of Iran which is flouting international decisions, hitherto with impunity.
I do not think that meeting threats with counter-threats is a useful way of making progress on this delicate issue. Iran has just suffered a very serious setback in Lebanon: its quarter of a century investment has been virtually destroyed; its proxy badly mauled; its strategic missiles supplied to the Hezbollah wiped out in the first 48 hours of the war; and its frantic calls for a ceasefire rejected until UNSC resolution 1701 was unanimously approved in the face of its strong objections.
There are many ways whereby Iran’s designs can be foiled and Iran’s responsible leaders would do well to ponder the results of this recent round.
Maziar Bahari, a prominent Iranian journalist and cinema producer, writing from Tehran on 24th August, had this to say in the concluding lines of an article published in the New York Times of that day: “The bearded men in the saunas must be sweating more than usual, even though in public they toast Hezbollah’s ‘victory’ with glasses of pomegranate juice. The Islamic Republic is coming to the point where it has to choose: destroy itself by repeating the same slogans, or come up with new definitions for itself, its friends and foes.” I could not state this in better words.
Has Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip been a success?
I do not think that the withdrawal from Gaza has been a success. The notion that left to their own with all the territory of Gaza restored to the Palestinians, they would create a viable responsible governmental leadership has not come about. Instead, the Palestinians have maintained their steady rocket firing into Israel territory and have resorted to massive smuggling of tonnes of weaponry into the Gaza strip. The Hamas government is refusing to meet basic international standards of conduct and therefore the future is not at all hopeful.
Should Israel repeat the process in the West Bank?
In the light of the above, I do not think Israel should repeat the Gaza withdrawal in the West Bank.
You have not ruled out an accommodation with Hamas over the West Bank and say that Hamas is still deciding what direction it wants to take on peace talks. What would be your strategy if you were leading Hamas?
In recent weeks Hamas has unfortunately taken a direction that is leading to the possibility of renewed hostilities and confrontation. The local leadership has bowed to the dictates of the exile group in Damascus and, as a result, the unity government that Abu Mazen, the Palestinian president, has been striving to create has little chance of getting off the ground. Hamas has reached the point where it is forgoing a golden opportunity to establish itself as a responsible and credible leadership, and it will fail dismally in improving the lot of the Palestinians in the streets of Gaza, Ramallah and elsewhere.
Hamas is rapidly reaching the stage where it will be publicly denounced as a failed leadership and this could spell added disaster to the Palestinian people. I held a minority opinion in Israel that we should try and “do business” with Hamas; it now appears that Hamas does not wish to act as a government but to continue with the “armed struggle”. This struggle they cannot and will not win.
You have been extremely critical of the Middle East road map, stating that it takes the final responsibility for a peace deal out of Israel’s hands, and that it would involve Israel and the Palestinians moving directly to a final peace treaty, whereas you would prefer an interim agreement so that both two sides can get used to the idea of co-existence. In the long term, perhaps with lobbying of the US, do you feel Israel can disentangle itself from the road map?
I think that the road map has become a relic of the past. I never thought it was feasible and now that the Palestinian leadership is disintegrating before our eyes, the roadmap is finally no longer relevant.
In the final pages of your book, you pose the possibility of an accommodation with Hamas and Hezbollah in which these groups could help engage and counter al-Qaeda. How serious are you about this?
The future of movements like Hamas and Hezbollah is unavoidably linked to the outcome of the third world war now raging between International Sunnite Terror and the world at large. This monumental struggle finds al-Qaeda in Iraq not only fighting against the coalition presence in Baghdad led by the United States of America but also against the Shia majority in that country. Al-Qaeda has attempted to spread its patronage over Hamas and Hezbollah and has tried to move into the entrails of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It has listed Israel as one of its targets and sees it on par with Arab “infidel” leaderships throughout the Middle East.
In the depth of their hearts, the leaders of Hamas and Hezbollah fully realise that in the designs of al-Qaeda they have no place. There can be no true permanent partnership between the land-based movements of Lebanon and Palestine and the internationally orientated movement of al-Qaeda. The Iranians experienced this when ten of their best intelligence officers were killed in Mazar-i-Sharif in northern Afghanistan in September 1998, three years before the September 2001 attacks, by the Taliban. Hamas and Hezbollah must know that as far as al-Qaeda is concerned, they are outside the camp. If they do not find ways of accommodating with the anti-terrorist forces of al-Qaeda, their ultimate fate is sealed.
In your book you talk about an almost complete absence of professional initiatives from the political policy-making level and how you became more and more emboldened in promoting your own ideas and course of action. You state that you were the main driver behind the creation of an alternative leadership to Yasser Arafat in the Palestinian Authority, which you described as “certainly the first time that such a concept was proposed to the political level in Israel by an intelligence chief”. Do you feel in a democratic society that it is the role of intelligence to dictate such policies?
I think that in a democratic society it is the duty of all office holders in government administrations to be active and productive in analysing situations and proposing plans of action. As stated in your question, I related in my book the process whereby I proposed a line of action to my political master. This is exactly what my duty was. It was for me to propose and for him to decide if he wished to adopt my ideas. There was no element of dictation here at all.
You recently said that “by the middle of the century major cities in Germany will have a Muslim majority and so will many federations in Russia“. What do you see as the potential implications of such a development? I understand you have made analogies with Arab-Israelis.
I see no analogy between the growing situation in Europe and that in Israel. There is a steady influx of Muslims from a variety of countries into Europe and the estimates concerning Europe are those of UN census officials. I think that the situation in Israel will remain stable and the Jewish majority is assured. I believe that the challenge that the Muslim communities in Europe will pose to the future of European society and culture will be profound and the leadership in Europe will have no escape from facing these dilemmas. I do not think it possible to forecast the outcome of this cultural and social confrontation. I have dwelt on these themes in my book.