Dr. Michael Oren is a member of Israel’s Knesset, formerly Ambassador from Israel to the U.S., a historian of the Middle East, and author of the incredibly timely book Ally:
HH: It’s late in the state of Israel tonight, but former Ambassador from Israel to the United States, Dr. Michael Oren, now a member of the Knesset and my guest last week in studio, the author of the new bestseller, Ally, stayed up late to talk with us, because it’s such a historically bad day. Dr. Oren, welcome back to the program.
MO: Good to be with you, Hugh, though it is, you’re right, a bad day.
HH: Ambassador Dermer began the show, but that was two hours ago. So would you run through the points that you think Americans need to hear about why this deal has to be defeated by the United States Congress?
MO: The major points are this is a bad deal for Israel, and in many ways, a disastrous deal for Israel. But it’s no less catastrophic for the United States. Understand that Iran’s pathway to the bomb has not been blocked. In many ways, it’s been guaranteed. Iran can either sneak out under inspections which are not anywhere, anytime. Yes, you have to coordinate them with the Iranians in advance. They can break out and sneak out to nuclear capabilities. Or they can just wait out the ten year period and then move ahead to make not one bomb, but several hundred bombs, because they can develop new centrifuges, they can keep all of their infrastructure. So the day after the inspections end, they just go ahead with the next generation of centrifuges that can enrich at six, seven, eight times the rate of the current centrifuges. So they just create 200 bombs in one throw. Beyond that, you’ve got to remember, Iran is the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism. No one comes close. Iran and its proxies have killed more Americans, Hugh, more Americans, not Israelis, more Americans than any other organization outside of al Qaeda. Now this state sponsoring terrorist organization is going to get hundreds of billions of dollars in funds. Can you imagine what they’re going to do with that money? They’re not going to use it to pave roads and build schools. They’re going to do it to fund terror internationally. This is a grave danger to world peace, and particularly to the security of the citizens of the United States.
HH: And so when a United States Senator sits back and the President comes on TV this morning and says this is a terrific deal, and the Secretary of State says don’t worry, we can always go back to the old regime, it’s an uphill battle for even everyone who’s been on the show today. And I’ve had Senators Sullivan, Gardner, Cotton, Thune, Graham, and Risch. They all say the same thing. This is a terrible deal. But it’s an uphill battle. I don’t know that Americans understand it.
MO: I don’t, you know, maybe it’s hard because I’m sitting here a lot closer to Tehran than you are, all right? But you know, when you see pictures of millions of Iranians in the streets chanting death to America, burning the American flag, when you have the Supreme Leader of Iran saying that he’s going to continue the fight against the United States even after the agreement is signed, when you’ve got hundreds of families in the United States who have lost loved ones who fought in Iraq and were killed by Iran, killed by Iranian troops or by their proxies, it’s difficult for me to understand, too. Iran’s got an intercontinental ballistic system arsenal, which has one purpose. These missiles have one purpose and one purpose only, and that’s to carry a nuclear warhead. That program, which by the way is not covered by this agreement, there are no inspections of those missiles, that program is advancing very, very fast. And in a manner of years, those missiles will be able to reach the Eastern Seaboard of the United States. So Americans have got to be part of this, are being threatened by this almost every bit as much as we are in Israel. So it is, I don’t understand entirely why someone would have a hard time understanding the threat to the United States posed by Iran and its nuclear program.
HH: At the very last minute, Iran introduced and was granted by the United States a demand for a lifting of the conventional arms embargo. What do they want that they don’t already have?
MO: They probably want, they have many of their airplanes are from 1979 when they kicked the United States out, overthrew the Shah and took the United States Embassy and its personnel hostage. So they have an aging air force. They want an advanced anti-aircraft system that would remove or try to take off the table all the options that Israel and other countries want to keep on the table in case Iran breaks out and creates a nuclear program. I mean, that’s the whole problem. The Obama administration has said again and again that all options are on the table. Well, they may not be on the table if Iran has access to some of the most advanced anti-aircraft systems in the world.
HH: Now Dr. Oren, you’re also a historian of the Middle East. You have Arab Sunni neighbors in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the Gulf states. How long, realistically, until they saddle up and go over to Pakistan and ask to buy one of Pakistan’s nuclear devices?
MO: Well, our working assumption, and not only our working assumption is once Iran acquires the ability to make nuclear weapons, then other states in the Middle East will follow suit. Yes, the Saudis, other Gulf countries, Turkey, Egypt, are expected to follow suit. And we will find ourselves living in a profoundly unstable nuclear neighborhood. We used to worry about what would happen to the chemical weapons in the arsenals of some of these states. Who knows who’s going to be running these states five years from now? If anything we’ve learned in the last five years is that we cannot be certain about that. And they have nuclear arsenals. Who’s going to be controlling them?
HH: In the course of the day today, there are a lot of parties in Israel. You’re part of a new party. Does anyone say okay, maybe it’s a decent deal? Or what, is Israel united?
MO: No. No, the amazing thing, you know, I’m in Knesset, Hugh, and we agree on absolutely nothing. It’s very different than the Congress. You know, we scream and yell at each other. If the seats weren’t screwed down, we’d probably throw them at each other. Nobody agrees on anything. Everybody, everybody agrees that this is a bad deal. And I’m talking about left wing, right wing, religious, secular, even an Arab and Jew. And we have a lot of Arabs in the Knesset. And they cannot be feeling secure tonight, either, because an Iranian nuclear device or even a missile from Hezbollah is not going to distinguish between an Arab house and a Jewish house in the state of Israel.
HH: $150 billion dollars in sanctions relief is what Ambassador Dermer said. I gather that’s assets that are freed up that they can now spend it on anything they want, and with an arms embargo, how much of that goes into the terror state? How much of that goes for relief for poor people in the farther reaches of Iran?
MO: As I said, this is probably not going to go for building schools and paving roads. Hezbollah, I know that Iran is already thinking millions and millions of dollars into Hezbollah trying to upgrade its missile arsenal. Iran, Hezbollah has 100,000 rockets pointed at the state of Israel. That’s more rockets than in the possession of all of NATO combined. And Iran is trying to upgrade those rockets to make them guided missiles so that it can hit not just sort of pound Haifa, but they can maybe be shot at Haifa but then change direction and go to our national airport, or to an oil refinery, or to an army base.
HH: I’ll be right back with Dr. Michael Oren.
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HH: Without giving away anything classified, which you obviously wouldn’t do, Dr. Oren, when you’re Israel’s ambassador to the United States, now you’re in the Knesset, you have some sense of how vast these facilities are that Iran is not being obliged to dismantle. They’re shipping out some of the uranium, I gather, but can you communicate to the audience what we’re talking about that is under the mountains at the various places?
MO: We’re talking about 19,000 centrifuges. It’s an amazing amount of centrifuges. The number has grown four-fold over the last six years, and it’s capable of spinning out enough enriched uranium, highly-enriched uranium, to produce a number, at least six nuclear weapons at this point. Now that’s, these are mostly first generation centrifuges, but the new generation of centrifuges will be able to spin out four times as fast, which means instead of making six bombs, they could make 20, 30 bombs in a very short period of time. And some of the estimates are as low as three months, three months to make a single, to break out and create a nuclear weapon. And many of these centrifuges are underground in fortified facilities. Why would a country seeking peaceful nuclear energy have to put its centrifuges under a mountain? That’s the question you have to ask. And basically, it’s that…
HH: Now let me ask you, what is the likelihood that this regime would give one of those devices to a third party even more radical than itself?
MO: Well, we are talking about the world’s largest state sponsor of terror. And it’s a state sponsor of terror that consistently tries to upgrade and enhance the killing capacity of its terrorist organizations. We’ve seen them try to put advance missile into the hands of Hezbollah and other terrorist organizations. What would prevent Iran from creating a nuclear device that doesn’t need an intercontinental ballistic delivery system, but only needs a ship container? Think about that. Think of the danger that poses not just to Israel, but to the United States. Can you guard all your ports against that? And you wouldn’t even know where it came from. Before you found out where it came from, you’d already suffer unacceptable damage.
HH: Last question. You’ve got a lot of friends in Washington, Dr. Oren, from your years as an academic here and the ambassador. Are you going to work the phones? Or is there a rule that the Knesset, you can’t call your friends, because obviously, all the Republicans are going to vote against this, but we’ve got to find 13 Democrats.
MO: Well, Hugh, the government of Israel has made a decision we are not going to intervene in internal American Congressional process, but we’ll certainly make our views known. I’m making them known right now on your program, Hugh. Anybody who wants to call me, I’m going to answer the phone. And I’m going to tell them, give them my mind. If they want to know exactly what we think, and I think here, we can say we. It’s not Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister, it’s not the government of Israel. It’s the people of Israel. The people of Israel think this is a disastrous deal. And if anybody wants to know why in detail, I will always be available, by the way, 24/7, even in the middle of the night. It’s the middle of the night here in Israel.
HH: It’s the middle of the night right now.
MO: I’ll be available.
HH: Thank you for staying up. Michael Oren’s brand new book is Ally. You should read it now. You’ll understand the next 60 days so much better.
End of interview.