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Interview with former Mossad chief Danny Yatom, Part I

Click here to listen to part II of the podcast, on regional issues, and the next Israeli elections.

In an interview with BICOM’s Director of Research Toby Greene and Israel office Deputy Director Richard Pater, former head of the Mossad, Major General Danny Yatom, has defended Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Ehud Barak over their handling of the Iranian nuclear threat. His comments come after former Shin Bet (Israeli internal intelligence) chief Yuval Diskin launched a public attack on the two leaders over the weekend.

Yatom told BICOM:

“I… do not accept their criticism towards the personalities, towards the personality of Barak and towards the personality of Benjamin Netanyahu. I know Barak for almost 50 years. He is very courageous, very wise, very talented. I think that he is an excellent minister of defence, I know he was an excellent officer, I saw him under fire. He always kept cool… I do not agree that what motivates Barak is a messianic motivation. This is totally unacceptable by me, knowing Barak five decades.”

Yatom encouraged a public debate on how to respond to the Iranian threat, given the importance of the subject, and described this as natural, healthy and correct in a democratic society. But he said that if senior security officials did not have faith in the political leadership they should have resigned whilst they were in post.

Yatom said: “I think it is not ethical. He can say it. It’s a democratic state. I don’t think that it hurts the security of the state of Israel… I think that whoever wants to speak should speak and it will be a big mistake to try and to shut their mouths. But I would prefer to listen to them, once they have criticism, talking about the issues and not the personalities.”

The former intelligence chief also discussed the Iranian threat itself. He stressed that the problem of a nuclear armed Iran is not only a threat to Israel but to the entire region, and the wider international community.

He said: “My opinion is that is very dangerous, and once Iran will have an atomic bomb it will be almost impossible [for] Israel to continue to flourish.”

He added, “[Many Arab leaders] especially those which are neighbouring Iran, they are terrified to the possibility that Iran will have a bomb because they understand that once Iran will have a bomb, Iran will be able, by the backing of the bomb, to take over their natural resources, the gas and the oil fields.”

Yatom stressed that Iran had made the strategic decision to build a bomb, and to mount it onto their missiles that could already reach Europe, and would eventually be able to reach the United States. According to Yatom they had not yet made the decision to take the final step to construct the weapons, though the infrastructure was in place to do so.

Yatom expressed his hope that sanctions would succeed in stopping Iran’s nuclear programme and he stressed that there was still time – more than a few months – for sanctions to work. But he rejected the view that a military attack against Iranian nuclear facilities would be a “total mistake”, saying “if the sanctions will not work and the Iranians will continue with their clandestine program to achieve a nuclear bomb, then the world, with the leadership of the United States and others will have to attack the Iranian nuclear facilities.”

In the second part of the interview, to be podcast next week, he also shares his views on Egypt, Syria, Jordan, relations with the Palestinian Authority.

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