Israel Spy Master Efraim Halevy on War With Iran: His Half Baked Thoughts Concerning Israel Policy

Recently, Aaron David Miller over at Foreign Policy had the opportunity to sit down with Efraim Halevy, Israel’s legendary spymaster who served Mossad for 40 years and ran it under 3 different administrations. While Halevy might be a master of the spy world, he seems to be wildly out of touch on important issues. A quick foray into his thought process has made me realize why Israel’s foreign policy prerogatives have been so out of line with the undeniable realism of international relations. 

First off, I’ll give credit where credit is due; Halevy is one of many recent Israeli officials – most of whom are retired – to come out in favor of dialog with Iran. While I wholeheartedly respect this policy stance, as it’s the one that is most likely to bear fruit if done correctly, Halevy contradicts himself while making sloppy statements on what would amount to unsubstantiated preventive war. 

Miller prods Halevy on a number of issues. When asked whether military action would be warranted if negotiations and sanctions failed to stop Iran from going nuclear, his answer was an unequivocal yes. However, what Halevy doesn’t seem to either understand or care about is the fact that this statement amounts to a weak justification for preventive war, akin to the pretense the U.S. used in 2003 to invade Iraq. 

To wage a preventive war justly, you need to not only prove the existence of WMD, but also prove the unequivocal intent to use such a device (UN approval is always nice as well). Halevy would only have half the weight necessary here, since Iran has never expressed intent to destroy Israel. For those of you who are going to bring up the “wipe Israel off the map” quote, I direct you here.

Even more enraging is Halevy’s desire to get the U.S. to do Israel’s dirty work, where he states,

“I believe that if we are looking for the best way of doing it, I think that the United States' capabilities are far beyond Israel's … That's why I believe the major priority should be to get the United States to agree to take this this task upon itself."

While we’re on the topic of preventive war, it is considered especially bad form for a country to bring a third party into the mess, especially when that third party has no national security interest in the matter.

What’s more confounding is Halevy’s response to Miller’s question on whether Iran is rational, to which he responds with a solid “yes.. I agree with him, but what he says next is completely contradictory to this answer:

“Maybe they (Iran) believe that they do have it in their power to remove Israel from the face of the Earth … I don't believe that once they have the means, they will not use it.” 

Let’s get one thing straight: No rational power develops a nuclear weapon and then attacks a country with a nuclear arsenal many times larger than its own. This would almost surely lead to destruction, something that is antithetical to Iran’s long-term goal of hegemony in the Middle East. Further, I would go so far as to argue that Israel is nothing more to Iran than a public relations tool to win over Arabs, and that Israel knows this, fearing only the fact they may lose their spot as a regional hegemon to Iran. Understandable, but the U.S. and the Soviet Union duked it out all over the globe without firing a single nuke, and the U.S. came out the victor. There is simply no excuse for armed conflict here. 

It wouldn’t be fair of me to chastise Halevy without pointing out some of the good. Although he is predictable when it comes to an old Israeli’s viewpoint on who’s fault the Israel/Palestine issue is, he does argue that Mitt Romney’s open statements in blind support of Israel are detrimental for Israel itself, seems to have a pragmatic mindset on the outcomes of the Arab Spring, and rightly worries about Iran having a lasting influence in a post-Assad Syria.

Nevertheless, Halevy’s less than prudent outlook on the Iranian issue as well as his refusal to take responsibility for many of the issues between Israelis and Arabs provides an answer as to why Israel has been perpetuating a self-fulfilling prophecy of paranoid hysteria that could be mitigated with an end to settlement in the West Bank and a real effort at a two-state solution.

While Halevy vacillates between pragmatic and erratic – leaning closer to pragmatic than many fellow Israeli leaders – I think we’d all be better off if his peers joined him in early retirement.