Israel’s Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer opened the program today:
HH: I begin this hour with the current ambassador to the United States from Israel, the Honorable Ronald Dermer. Mr. Ambassador, welcome, it’s good to talk to you. How bad is this deal that was announced today?
RD: Very bad. Very, very bad, a historic mistake, a stunning, historic mistake is how the Prime Minister referred to it in Jerusalem. This deal is bad because, for four main reasons, Hugh. First, it leaves Iran with a vast nuclear infrastructure in place. This is not the dismantle for dismantle deal that everyone was talking about a couple of years ago. You’ll dismantle the sanctions when they dismantle their nuclear program. The sanctions are being dismantled, but the nuclear program is being left essentially intact, and you hope that with intelligence and inspectors, you’ll catch them if they do something wrong. And the history doesn’t bode well, Hugh, because our intelligence agencies are very good, but we didn’t know for years about the secret facilities at Natanz and Qom. And Iran has been giving the runaround to inspectors for years, and there’s no reason based on the agreement that I saw that they’re not going to continue to give them, the inspectors, the runaround. And the second major problem is that this is a temporary deal. In ten years, the major restrictions are removed, and in 15 years, virtually all the restrictions are removed. And at that time, Iran doesn’t need to sneak in or break into the nuclear club. If it decides to keep the deal, it can just walk into the nuclear club at that time. And there is no linkage whatsoever between Iran’s behavior and the removal of these restrictions. So Iran could be more dangerous than it is today, a greater sponsor of terrorism than it is today, more aggressive in the region, more dangerous to Israel, more dangerous to the United States, and automatically the restrictions and constraints that this deal puts in place are removed in a decade. That’s why Israel says that this deal does not block Iran’s path to the bomb, it paves Iran’s path to the bomb. And what we think, our neighbors thing. And that brings us to the third problem. And if the Arab Sunni states know, the Sunni states in our region know that Iran, a Shiia power is going to get nuclear weapons, they’re going to want to get nuclear weapons of their own. And a good faith effort to prevent one regime from getting nuclear weapons will lead to the nuclearization of the entire Middle East. And the fourth problem is, as if those three are not bad enough, is Iran gets massive sanctions relief within a few months. Iran is going to have $150 billion dollars that they’re going to pour into its coffers. Iran is a $300-400 billion dollar economy, Hugh. So in American terms, that’s like the U.S. Treasury getting about $8 trillion dollars. and what Iran is going to do with that money is it’s not going to, I think, establish a G.I. Bill for returning members of the Revolutionary Guard. It’s going to use that to fund the Houthis in Yemen, the Shiia militia in Iraq, the Assad regime in Syria, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Palestinian terror organizations in Gaza, and to fund terrorists all around the world. Iran’s perpetrated attacks on five continents in 30 countries, and all of that money is going to go to making Iran a far more aggressive, much more dangerous power. So that’s why this deal is very, very bad. It’s bad for Israel, it’s bad for our Arab neighbors, and it’s bad for the peace and security of the world.
HH: Now I’m going to spend a lot of time today and the next couple of months talking with United States Senators, because that’s where the big blow has to come. The first blow has to be struck in the Senate. They have to get to 60 to send a no to the President’s desk. And the President came out firing today. The first question is a practical one. I know you don’t advise the United States government what to do, but what are the optics if the Senate goes on vacation now at this Munich moment?
RD: Look, I don’t know what the optics are. I can only say as ambassador of Israel that I want to make very clear how dangerous this deal is for my country. We think it threatens the survival of Israel, and its danger for the peace and security of the world, and I’ll let American political leaders decide what they want to do. It’s just very important for me that people understand what our concerns are. And I’ll go door to door to make sure that everybody knows exactly what we feel about this deal.
HH: All right, now let’s go to the specifics of the inspections regime. I’m looking for the weakest points, the easiest points to communicate to the American people. I think they understand there is no anytime, anywhere inspection here. In fact, it’s a three week notice of a walk by. It’s actually unbelievable.
RD: It’s, as somebody said, it’s not anytime, anywhere, it’s sometime, somewhere. And that’s a pretty good explanation of what this is. And if you look in the agreement, it’s about 100 page document, you see that there’s going to be some sort of 24 day period where people can raise these issues, and then Iran will be able to respond to them. I mean, in 24 days, Hugh, you can basically hide almost anything. So they may try to violate the deal, and I’m sure they will try to violate the deal, maybe in a small way, to check whether or not anybody’s going to catch them for anything. But they may decide to keep the deal. And that’s what makes this so dangerous. Iran can get to the bomb by keeping the deal, not just by violating it. The international inspection regime that is put in here is not anytime, anywhere. It’s not foolproof. It’s not very good. And the idea of snapback sanctions when all of a sudden, after all of this money and all of this investment is going to pour into Iran, all of a sudden, all the old inspections are going to snap back is frankly ridiculous.
HH: Is there anything in the deal that would advance the idea that Iran can reform within? They crushed the Green Revolution five years ago, so I don’t know what we could have incentivized here. But there’s an argument that the Helsinki Accords brought some light and daylight into the Soviet Union that assisted in the erosion of that totalitarian state. Is there anything in this agreement that increases freedom for the average Iranian?
RD: Look, I don’t actually agree with that argument at the Helsinki Accords. I don’t know how much we want to spend on it. But you actually linked, there was a famous Jackson Amendment that linked, actually, a change in policy in the Soviet Union for them to get trade benefits from the outside world.
RD: The problem with this deal, the problem with this deal is there is no linkage whatsoever to Iranian behavior. And there’s no incentive for Iran to change, because you have just now removed all the pressure from Iran to change. Iran gets to have the best of both worlds – prosperity at home and aggression abroad. So what is going to incentivize them to change? I mean, three days ago, President Rouhani, three days ago, went to a rally where they were burning American and Israeli flags and chanting death to America and death to Israel. That’s what he’s doing three days before he signs the deal. What message is this saying? The only way you can force Iran to change is by actually standing firm, by having a credible military threat, and crippling sanctions, and forcing Iran to accept terms of a better deal that you can live with. This is not a deal that people in the region can live with. And Hugh, when Israelis and Arabs are on the same page, that happens about once a century.
RD: We both think this deal is a disaster. People should pay attention to that. People should ask themselves why is Israel so opposed to it, and it’s across the Israeli political spectrum. Why are the Arab states so opposed to it? We’re there. We’re there. And it’s very different. One other point I want to make. It’s very different than the deal that you made with North Korea, because and I think it’s worth it to play for your listeners the promises that were made when the deal was signed with North Korea, how North Korea would join the community of nations, how it would prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon, how it was a day when the world was much safer, all of those statements were made that proved to be false. But one big difference with the negotiations in North Korea and the negotiations with Iran is with those negotiations, there were also six party talks. But two of the parties in the North Korea talks were the South Koreans and the Japanese. Your allies were at the negotiating table. And they were supporting the agreement. So it’s hard to criticize either President Clinton or President Bush for agreeing to a deal that your main allies were telling you to do, were supportive of. Here, in the P5+1 negotiations, Israel is not there. The Arab states are not there. The ones who are most vulnerable, most affected by this deal, are most opposed to it, and that’s a moral difference that people should pay attention to.
HH: That is important. Now talk to people about what happens if the United States Senate and the United States Congress both vote to kill the deal and then override a presidential veto which was already promised this morning. What happens in the real world?
RD: Oh, in the real world, it sends a signal that the American people through their representatives in Congress don’t accept this. And this whole confrontation, the whole desire to stand firm against Iran, that began in America. And if it continues in America, I think it will be a good thing, or else the only message that’s sent is that Iran basically has a free pass, a free pass to enter the nuclear club in a decade or 15 years. Now ten years may seem like a long time in the life of politics. But in the life of nations, it’s a blink of an eye. And I think as people make clear that this is unacceptable, I think it sends a very powerful and very good message. And your allies in the region, the ones who are most vulnerable and most endangered by this deal, they will be the most appreciative.
HH: Last question, I want to finish on the $150 billion dollars, because in the United States, where we passed a stimulus with $850 billion, people don’t quite understand how much money that is. But in terms of a Hezbollah budget, aren’t they basically rearming or doubling the Hezbollah arsenal with this kind of money?
RD: It’s huge. I can’t tell you exactly off the top of head what Hezbollah’s budget is, but a few billion dollars goes a long way in funding terror organizations. And one of the arguments that’s being made is here, Iran is under all these serious economic constraints, and they’re still funding the Assad regime and Hezbollah regime and everything. So we shouldn’t worry about them getting more money. That’s absurd. They can fund it 100 times more than they’re funding now. And right now, Iran has to make choices. Do we fund, do we pass weapons to Hezbollah, or do we give something to the Houthis? Do we go to this terror organization or that terror organization, because they’re under serious budget constraints. You just gave them a jackpot, and a jackpot that they’re going to use to fund terrorism. The most important thing to understand, this does not bring closer, this deal. It brings war closer. It makes the odds of a conventional war greater today, and the odds of a nuclear confrontation much greater tomorrow.
HH: Ambassador Ronald Dermer, thanks for joining us. Follow him on Twitter as you must in these days ahead, @AmbDermer.
End of interview.