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Exclusive Interview With Former Defense Minister Moshe Arens

Moshe Arens: 'Cynical & Hypocritical Of French President Jacques Chirac To Say Not So Dangerous If Iran Acquires Nuclear Weapons That Threaten Israel'

'Russian President Putin Says He Opposes Iran's Acquiring Nuclear Weapons But Sells Tehran Nuclear Reactors and Anti- Aircraft Missiles To Protect Them'

French President Jacques Rene Chirac

In Iran, President Ahmadinejad continues his drive to acquire nuclear weapons on one hand while threatening 'to wipe Israel off the map' on the other. Nevertheless, two world leaders Jacques Chirac and Vladimir Putin appear to be putting their narrow national interests first. In an exclusive interview with David Essing for IsraCast, a former Israeli defense minister Moshe Arens, assesses this security threat to the Jewish state.

Former Defense Minister Moshe Arens calls French President Jacques Chirac both cynical and hypocritical for playing down the threat of Iranian nuclear weapons to Israel. Chirac was quoted as saying this would not be so dangerous because Tehran would be destroyed immediately if it dared launched nuclear weapons at Israel. As Chirac put it:' A nuclear missile would not reach two would not reach two hundred meters before Tehran would be turned into a city of ruins'. Arens said the Chirac statement represented the views prevalent in some international quarters today. The former defense minister also took issue with French President Vladimir Putin who  promised to continue selling nuclear know- how to Iran as well as sophisticated anti- aircraft missiles to defend Iranian nuclear facilities. At the same time, the Russian leader declares that he is opposed to Iran's  developing nuclear weapons. In Arens' view, both Chirac and Putin were more concerned with promoting their own narrow national and economic interests.

Interview With Former Defense Minister Moshe Arens

Q: We had this very surprising, if not shocking, statement from French President Jacques Chirac, to the extent that if Iran, Ahmadinejad, gets his nuclear weapons, that that's not such a bad thing because if he ever tries to nuke Israel, Israel would wipe Iran off the map. What is your reaction to this kind of what many people would consider an irresponsible statement by the French President?

A: It really sounds irresponsible when it comes from the French President. This kind of views, I think, we hear expressed now and then in various quarters from people who either feel that it is no use, we are not going to be able to deter the Iranians from building their nuclear capability, or if they feel that it is too dangerous to take the steps necessary to deter them from doing so, whether we impose severe sanctions or whether eventually some military action will be taken, and so people find a solution: "maybe it is not so bad. It's having the unavoidable, and so maybe it's not so bad, we can live with it". Some draw the incorrect analogy with the cold war between the United States and the Soviet Union for many years with both these countries having nuclear weapons, but there is a very big difference between the decision makers in the Soviet Union in the days of the cold war, and the decision makers in Iran, who go around on a daily basis, especially the prime minister, Ahmadinejad, saying that it is their intention to wipe Israel off the map. The French have carried out over the years a rather cynical and hypocritical policy on matters of the Middle East. It's Mr. Chirac, I think people remember, he is the man who sold the nuclear reactor to Saddam Hussein in Iraq at the time, when he was prime minister, so maybe we should not be overly surprised. But nevertheless there is room for astonishment that he allowed himself to make that remark, and I guess he himself was a little concerned about that, because I understand he has been backtracking ever since.

Former Defense Minister Prof. Moshe Arens

Q: Also, not only Chirac, but we have the Russian President Vladimir Putin stating categorically this week that he is going to continue supplying, or building, those nuclear reactors in Iran. The Russians are also selling Iran anti-aircraft missiles to defend those nuclear facilities. What kind of a world are we living in today?

A: I think as regards to Russia at the present time, although it has come some ways towards a democratic government as compared to what existed there in the days of Stalin and Brezhnev, when it was still the Soviet Union, it is still, I think, some distance from democratic governments as we know them in the west, or as we know them in Israel, and no doubt that some of the motivation in their policy is based on very narrow self interests and very narrow economic self interests, on very short range projections. They clearly have economic interests in Iran; they have economic interests in the near world. I think they are trying to posture, or assume a posture of being a competitor with the United States, of really being another super power again, as the Soviet Union was, and so we hear words that come from Mr. Putin that are really not consistent. On the one hand he has said on a number of occasions that he does not think that Iran should acquire nuclear weapons. On the other hand he is certainly not putting his whole weight behind the efforts that are being made to try to prevent them from doing that. He is not in favor of significant sanctions against Iran to convince them to stop their nuclear efforts, and worse yet, he is selling nuclear knowledge, nuclear know how to the Iranians. He is selling them weapons that presumably will give them a feeling of immunity against any military action that might be taken against their nuclear capability. He is selling advanced weapon to Syria. He is, in many ways, a trouble maker, and I guess many people are really not surprised, knowing what goes on in Russia at the present time.

Q: You have been there, you have sat as defense minister, you've had that responsibility in facing the dire threats to Israel, and those dire threats still exist today. What should be the lessons that a democratic state like Israel draws from the situation in which it is faced with the threat of a nuclear destruction by a state like Iran, which is being supported by Russia when it comes to the nuclear know hows you just mentioned, and also from terrorist attacks, suicide bombers, coming across its border?

A: I think you want to differentiate between the two dangers that we face. As regards to the terrorism, suicide bombers, it's a problem that we face for quite a number of years now, I think that we have learned how to deal with it, I think we have done so quite effectively, I think the mistake we made in the disengagement process is something that I am pretty sure will not be repeated again. I was glad to hear the Prime Minister, I think the foreign minister lately said that she realized that it was a mistake; I think most of the Israeli public realizes that that was a mistake. We don't want to do things that will, in any way, encourage them or lead them to think that their attacks against us are effective. Quite the contrary, we want to score such substantial blows against Palestinian terrorists that they will come to the conclusion that this is of no use and leading them nowhere. The nuclear threat from Iran is a different story in many ways. First of all it is not conventional and therefore poses a far more severe threat if it ever were to be carried out or pointed at Israel. But it is also different in the sense that whereas the Palestinian terrorist attacks are directed against Israel and only against Israel, it is recognized today that the Iraqi nuclear capability represents a threat for the entire world, or at least many people in the world - first and foremost the United States. That is a threat not only to Israel. So in that sense, in this case, Israel has some allies so that makes it easier for us to try to work something out together with our allies.

Q: Finally, Sir, could I ask you this question: about a week or so ago Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said pretty much, in no uncertain terms, that Israel could not tolerate another threat which would be similar to the holocaust during WWII, the threat of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons. This was viewed by some as a change in the Israeli attitude of not spearheading the campaign against Iranian nuclear weapons. Do you think this is the right approach, to take a tougher stand now, and perhaps make clear to the international community that it has to be done one way or the other - that Iran has to be stopped?

A: I am not a great believer in dramatic pronouncements on the subject. The problem, I think, is well understood - by us, by people in Washington, by people in other parts of the world. Whatever needs to be said, I think should be said in closed meetings, whatever discussions need to be held before decisions are reached, I think should be held in closed meetings. I think there is little added by these public pronouncements. I don't see them having any serious effect on either Ahmadinejad, the Iranians, or on anybody else. The people in the United States, the government of the United States, know very well how we feel on the subject. I think these statements may be directed for internal consumption - in that sense also they are not particularly effective, are really less than useless.

Q: Well, better to accept Teddy Roosevelt's adage of speaking softly and carrying a big stick.

A: That's a good adage.

Transcript by Dar Translations
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David Essing

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