Israeli Consul General for Los Angeles David Siegel on Iran, Syria and the relationship with the current administration
HH: I’m so pleased to welcome now David Seigel. He’s the Consul General of the state of Israel in Los Angeles. Mr. Consul General, welcome to the Hugh Hewitt Show, thanks for joining us tonight.
DS: Thank you, thank you. It’s a great honor to be on your show, Hugh.
HH: I want to begin by playing for the audience who’s just tuning in what Prime Minister Netanyahu said today.
BN: The world tells Israel wait, there’s still time. And I say wait for what? Wait until when? Those in the international community who refuse to put red lines before Iran don’t have a moral right to place a red light before Israel.
HH: Now Mr. Consul General, is that different in tone and degree than what we’ve heard before from the Prime Minister?
DS: Well, the tone may be different, but I think the approach is still very much the same. You know, we, all these years, have been very supportive of the diplomacy and the sanctions. But we got to the point where both the sanctions and the diplomacy were not getting us anywhere, and Iran is accelerating their program, according to the IAEA. So the sense now is that the only way to stop Iran, short of military action, is to have ratcheting up of the sanctions, but to also have a very clear and credible military threat on the table. It’s very hard to do that without a defined red line that clarifies to the Iranians what the world expects of them. So I think this is the missing element that we’re focusing on very much now, and we’re having ongoing conversations with the administration about.
HH: Now Consul General Siegel, I know, or I expect you will not comment on the President’s decision not to meet with the Prime Minister. But perhaps you could tell us what you think Iran views this story as reported in Ha’aretz and the New York Times, and everywhere else, how do the mullahs view this kind of a deal?
DS: Well, I think it’s clear looking at Iran’s behavior all these months, whether at the negotiating table or the fact that they’re spreading terror, and continuing to do that in the heart of Europe against Israelis and American tourists and so on, you know, their pattern of behavior is such that they’re not deterred. They’re not taking this seriously. So we think that any report that plays us disagreements between our Western countries is unfortunately very counterproductive, because Iran needs to get the message that we’re not going to let them go nuclear, that the world won’t let this happen. And this is still what we’re waiting for.
HH: I think we’re going to have to send them subscriptions to the New Yorker so they can read the story. I don’t know if you can comment on that story, Mr. Consul General. Can you, about the Syrian reactor?
DS: Well, I can’t comment on that story, but I certainly have it in my pile of things to read.
HH: All right, so we ought to send the New Yorker to the Iranians. Let me ask you about tonight in Egypt. Islamist have seized portions of the American Embassy. They’ve taken down the flag. They’ve raised the black flag of al Qaeda allegedly over some movie I’ve never heard of before. And so…and our Embassy put out a statement that was in essence condemning the filmmaker, and not the takeover of the Embassy. What’s your reaction to that?
DS: Well, you know, first of all, today is the 11th anniversary of 9/11, and our hearts and our condolences go out to the American people as they have for the last 11 years. Look, you know, what happened in Egypt today is very unfortunate. You know that our Embassy was sacked last year, and it was placing our people in actual danger, and we managed to handle that situation. And now there’s a new situation. The Middle East is throwing many, many surprises at us now, and it’s part of the volatility in the entire region. And what…we are on alert on multiple fronts. Unfortunately, we have the situation to our south, we have Syria, the situation in Lebanon. It’s all spreading very, very rapidly. So I think friends need to stick together. We need to understand what the challenges are, and how to approach the years ahead.
HH: You know, I was there last summer. You would never get the impression that you’re in a nation that was surrounded by foes. In fact, I’d go there tomorrow. I think it’s about the safest place in the world. But are you afraid that this is going to wear on the Israeli economy?
DS: Well Hugh, thank you for mentioning that, because you know, Israel is sort of in the eye of the storm, but it’s been a very quiet eye. We’ve experienced five years of very robust economy, quite years. We’ve handled security threats very effectively. People in Israel feel very safe. Tourism is sort of breaking records in Israel. We have a tremendous high tech economy, which is very connected to America, so we’re producing jobs together, and we’re producing innovation together. Hollywood wants to go to Israel. There’s no sense of danger today. And you know what? We’d like to keep it that way. But when we look at the region around us, you know, there is, there are concerns. But Israel is strong, it knows how to defend itself, and the fact is that people feel very safe in Israel today.
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HH: Mr. Consul General, in terms of Iran, having sat at Wye River, having been in all of these different summits over the years, are they different than the standard adversary? And do Americans get that?
DS: I think Americans get it, and I think they’re different, because we’re not dealing with a rational country. I mean, this is a country that threw their children into battle against Iraq and used them as sort of live mine detectors. It’s a country that is involved in terror around the world. I mean, they targeted the Saudi ambassador in Washington, D.C. last fall. They come in and out of Mexico and Latin America. They’re connected to Neft oil in Cuba. They’re truly a global terror phenomenon, and their goals, if you listen to these people, they deny 9/11, they deny the Holocaust, they call for Israel’s destruction every day, they’re a threat to the entire Middle East and the entire world. So if they go nuclear, the Middle East goes nuclear, the world goes nuclear. It’s as simple as that. So we don’t see them as rational actors, and we don’t see them as deterrable.
HH: What would you love to hear the president of the United States, or a senior administration official say about Iran right now?
DS: Well, you know, we’re in very close consultations with the administration, and we have been for years. We have very close intel exchanges on very high levels. We have access to the same information. And we basically see the picture eye to eye. The difference is that Israel is a small country. It’s right there in the neighborhood with Iran, and America is far away. Israel’s limitations or capabilities are more limited. America’s capabilities are much, much larger than ours, and being far away. And Israel’s being called to task by Iran for a national annihilation every day, and America is not. So there is a difference structurally between the way our two countries look at the immediacy of the threat right now. But our approach is that it’s very, very late in the game. We’ve been at this for 20 years now. We’re at a fork in the road, and we really need to make strategic decisions very, very soon. And we hope very much that these consultations with the administration, and with the rest of the world powers that are dealing with this, will be such that the message to Iran will be that they’ve got to stop this military nuclear program before it’s too late. And we’re very late in the game.
HH: When the Prime Minister says we need a red line, what does it sound like, though? What is it that he’d like to hear, or you’d like to hear somebody on our side say that the mullahs would understand in unmistakable Farsi?
DS: Well, exactly that. The mullahs don’t seem to take us very seriously, so they’re continuing to enrich uranium, they’re continuing to accelerate their program. There was just a report today about, another report about their weaponizing of warheads and long range missiles and so on. They don’t seem to be getting the message strongly enough that they’re going to be stopped. And they’re not taking it seriously. So what we’d like to see, and what we think is missing, is a very clear military credible threat that says at some point, if you don’t stop, this is what we’re going to do to you.
HH: I would love to hear that as well. I’m not going to hold my breath between now and the election, or afterwards, if President Obama is reelected. I know you don’t comment on that, Mr. Consul General. But let me ask you about the American media. Do you see adequate coverage of what is in essence a crisis? And I said today that it sounded like it had a 1933 feel about the statement today by the Prime Minister, that kind of urgency. Do you think the American media is covering it the right way?
DS: Well, I think the main problem with American media right now, and all media, is they’re treating this as if it’s an Israel-centric problem. Whether Israel responds or doesn’t respond, or when it responds. But what is going on with the rest of the world here? You know, the problem is that the sanctions have not been serious enough, they haven’t been fast enough, and too many countries are still involved in very short term thinking. Now together with America, the hope is that we can get Europe, Asia and everyone else on board with ratcheting up these sanctions, making them so crippling that Iran will have to pay attention. The fact is they’re not paying attention right now, so this is what we need to do.
HH: All right, last question. Syria is obviously in a state of slow motion collapse. What does that do for the way you view the security situation? Does that take pressure off? Or does that ratchet up the possibility of something going very badly wrong unexpectedly?
DS: Well, one thing that needs to be said about Syria, first of all, it’s a terrible tragedy. I mean, I don’t know if everyone is aware of this, but you know, there are around 25,000 people dead, 5,000 in the last month alone, around 500 a weekend. There are around three million people that are homeless in Syria today, dislocated because of the war, which is really a sectarian, you know, this regime is basically targeting people for their ethnicity, and it’s really a terrible situation. It’s also spilling over into Lebanon, into Jordan, into Turkey. And we hope very much it won’t spill towards us. But it’s a huge danger. I think the interest is to get rid of this regime as quickly at possible. It would be a huge blow to Iran, because they’re Iran’s only ally in the region, really, beyond the terror organizations. And this is something that has to happen, and has to happen as soon as possible to end the tragedy, and also, you know, leave a Syria that could be containable in the future.
HH: Consul General David Siegel, thanks for spending time with us. I hope I get you back as these events unfold. I appreciate you taking the time very much.
DS: Any time you need us. Thank you, Hugh.
HH: Thank you.
End of interview.