Former Israeli Defense Chief Urges 'Big-for-Big' Offer to Iran

Amos Yadlin says that Israel could recognize Iran's right to enrichment in context of a grand bargain, writes Barbara Slavin.

al-monitor Amos Yadlin speaks at the annual Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) conference in Tel Aviv, Dec. 15, 2009. Photo by REUTERS/Gil Cohen Magen.
Barbara Slavin

Barbara Slavin


Topics covered

interview, mossad, israel, iran, bashar al-assad

Apr 30, 2013

Former Israeli Defense Force chief of Defense Intelligence, retired Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin, says the US and its negotiating partners erred by offering Iran a small confidence-building deal this year instead of a comprehensive agreement trading sanctions relief for tough curbs on Iran’s nuclear program.

Speaking Tuesday, April 30 before a convention of the Anti-Defamation League, a US organization that fights discrimination against minorities, Yadlin, who now directs a think tank at Tel Aviv University, also said Iran had broken through two of Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu’s “red lines” and that it was wiser not to announce such limits.

Yadlin said he thought that after the re-election of President Barack Obama last November, “we would get big-for-big instead of small-for-small,” as reported by Akiva Eldar.

Instead of a broad offer, however, the US and its negotiating partners said they would lift sanctions on Iranian use of precious metals to settle its oil exports. In return, Iran was asked to suspend operation of its underground enrichment site at Fordow and to stop enriching uranium to 20% U-235. Iran has so far refused the smaller deal in two rounds of talks in Almaty, Kazakhstan.

Yadlin would be more generous in return for bigger Iranian concessions.

If the Iranians stop producing 20% uranium and send out their stockpiles of fissile material, “we even recognize your right to enrich,” he said. “I’m not asking him [Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei] to sing Hatikvah [the Israeli national anthem] twice a day.”

“The comprehensive offer should [have been] on the table yesterday but for a limited time,” Yadlin said, so that Iran could not take advantage of talks to get so close to the ability to make nuclear weapons that Israel and the United States would not have time to react.

Gary Samore, who headed nonproliferation and arms control efforts in the Obama White House in the president’s first term, said he disagreed with Yadlin.

“Big-for-big is doomed to fail,” Samore told Al-Monitor, “because we are not prepared to make big concessions” including “an unrestrained enrichment program under the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency], which is what Iran wants.”

The only value of such an offer, said Samore, now executive director for research at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard, would be “tactical.” Iran, he predicted, would reject what the US was prepared to concede and Washington could use that rejection “as a basis for more sanctions.”

The talks are now in hiatus as Iran prepares for presidential elections in June. Even though the Supreme Leader will remain and he sets Iran’s nuclear policy, Samore said there is hope that Iran’s position on the nuclear front might change after the vote.

In the meantime, Yadlin expressed confidence that US and Israeli intelligence would catch Iran if it sought to break out and build a nuclear weapon. At present, he suggested, there are four-six months lead time before such a break out would be possible. When it becomes dangerous, Yadlin said, is when that period is shortened to one month.

Yadlin, who directs the Institute for National Security Studies and was IDF Defense intelligence chief from 2006 to 2010, criticized his former boss for announcing red lines that Iran has already passed.

A year ago, Yadlin said, Netanyahu’s red line was the installation of 3,000 centrifuges at Fordow. Iran has about that number installed now, although only about a third are operating. Last September at the United Nations, Netanyahu suggested that Iran’s enrichment of 220 kilograms of uranium to 20% U-235 was the new red line. However, Iran has already surpassed that too, Yadlin said, albeit while converting 80 kilograms into an oxide powder that can be turned back into bomb fuel at short notice.

Yadlin said he had no way of knowing whether Khamenei would accept a large bargain. Using Samore’s logic, Yadlin said Iranian rejection would strengthen the case for other means — including military strikes — to constrain Iran’s ability to develop nuclear weapons.

He downplayed the severity of Iranian retaliation for a US or Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear installations but conceded that it would be difficult to predict exactly how Tehran would react. When he was advising then Prime Minister Ehud Olmert before Israel bombed and destroyed a Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007, Yadlin said he was asked how Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would respond. Yadlin said he told Olmert that even if Israel could produce a computer chip that could read Assad’s mind and it was inserted in Assad’s bedroom by “the most beautiful agent of the Mossad,” no one could have 100% certainty about the Syrian reaction. In the end, Assad did nothing.

Barbara Slavin is Washington correspondent for Al-Monitor and a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, where she focuses on Iran. She participated in the panel Wednesday with Yadlin and tweets @BarbaraSlavin1

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