17 Feb 2010

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: Time to apply sanctions on Iran is now

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has given an interview to Interfax and Kommersant newspaper as part of his first working visit to Moscow in which he speaks about sanctions against Iran, arms supplies to Georgia, bilateral cooperation with Russia, and the prospects for resuming Israeli-Palestinian talks.

Question: Mr. Netanyahu, I have been following high level contacts between Russia and Israel for education and they gave me a strong impression of deja vu. The agenda is almost the same: Iran, etc. The outcome of the talks almost the same, besides expressing satisfaction, mutual understanding. Nothing really happens. Or almost nothing. Is there going to be something new now?

Answer: Well, a lot of has been happening between Russia and Israel over the last two decades. And next year we will celebrate 20 years. And the deepening of relations is not a slogan. First of all you can measure it. You can see the growth of the number of tourists. For example [it] has more than doubled fr om 170,000 to over 400,000 in the short time since we lifted the visas. Russians are coming to Israel; Israelis are coming to Russia. The participation of Russian speakers in the highest levels of the Israeli government is expressed in my visit here.

The presence of Russian speakers in every part of our society is clear. And that expresses itself also in the relations with Russia, economically, technologically, academically, culturally. All of this will have concrete expression in agreements and in projects that we intend to put forward for the 20th year. So, I think something is happening, there is the deepening of relations. I’ll tell you about Iran in a minute but it is important to understand what is happening and what is not happening.

The second point is that I think Russia identifies Israel as a global technological power, and Russia understands that this will be the century of knowledge. There is one quite impressive thinker, who said that the demand for knowledge [that] will come in the 21st century will be a thousand times more that the one in the 20th century. The advantage will go to the knowledgeable. Israel is the number one producer of knowledge-based products in the world per capita by far and probably number two in absolute terms. Which means that Russia has expressed in my meeting with President Medvedev yesterday and other meetings that we had, possibly my meeting with Prime Minister Putin today, the desire to strengthen by order of magnitude relations with Israel on knowledge-based matters, or security for economic growth and for other reasons. This is an important development.

Now we come to Iran. This is what is happening. What is happening in Iran? Here is what is moved, here is what is yet to move. What has moved is that the gaps in assessment about what the uranium program is about and where it‘s at have largely disappeared. And if I spoke about this 14 years ago, when I first became prime minister, I was asked to speak before a joint session of the American Congress, and I said that the greatest threat facing mankind in my own country was the attempts of Iran to arm itself with nuclear weapons. This raised eyebrows both in Washington and in Moscow and many other countries, but it no longer does. Second, there is a common assessment that Iran is getting much closer to its goal, producing nuclear weapons, and then indeed its goal is to produce nuclear weapons and not medical isotopes. And third, the pressure must be exerted on Iran to try to prevent it fr om getting these weapons because, fourth, the acquisition of nuclear weapons by Iran would be detrimental to the peace of the region of the Middle East, and peace in the world. For one thing it would spark a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, and for another they threaten openly Israel and for a third consequences would be a nuclear umbrella to terrorists proxies that they sponsor far and wide and that those proxies could become greater and more varied, greater in number, and more varied in geographic scope than is presently imagined. For all these reasons, there is an awareness now that we are very late in the day and that some form of sanctions have to be applied. My argument of this before President Medvedev yesterday and to Prime Minister Putin later today is the argument I made to President Sarkozy, to President Obama, Hillary Clinton, I spoke to President Sarkozy and Hillary Clinton on Friday on the phone, as I do open face to face with the leaders of Russia. The time to apply sanctions is now, and the sanctions that have to be applied have to be, to borrow a phrase, ‘crippling sanctions’. ‘Crippling sanctions’ means that we have to stop the importation of refined petroleum, which means gasoline above and before anything else, and we have to stop the exportation of oil, because the Iranian economy is dependent on both, and the Iranian budget of the Iranian government is supremely dependent on both energy and the energy sector. So, these could be effective in the short-term, I don’t think that they are necessarily effective in the long-term, but they are very effective, highly-effective in the short-term and the middle-term. Therefore, they should be applied now before Iran is able to complete its nuclear program. I don’t think they‘ll be effective in stopping the program. I know that soft sanctions, watered down sanctions, will not be effective, and if we do give sanctions a chance we have to give them, make them very strong, with sharp-teeth, and we have to apply them now.

Not everyone agrees. You know, there is a discussion in the international community about this. But this is where the discussion is right now. This is not about, is Iran a problem, is Iran amassing sufficient nuclear material, is Iran seeking to use this material for military development, weapons. All of that is no longer under discussion. What is under discussion is what are the sanctions that will be applied.

Q.: You said about narrowing gap. Is it concerned with the position of Russia? Is Russia ready to introduce ‘crippling sanctions’? It was reported that you asked Mr. Medvedev to back sanctions ‘with teeth’ to target the energy sector of Iran. What was the reply? Did Russia support the idea of introducing such sanctions?

A.: Well, Russia is talking to the key members of the [UN] Security Council in addition to itself. To the United States and to France that is chairing the Security Council and to other about this. But I can tell only what I suggest, and I say forthrightly that other sanctions are being considered. Sanctions on the banking sector, sanctions on the Revolutionary Guard and the leaders and so on. And they do not have I believe a critical mass of effect that is required. And I do not know whether ‘crippling sanctions’ will have an effect. But I know that nothing short of them is likely to succeed.

Q.: Does Israel consider the option of using force against Iran and what does it depend on?

A.: I think right now the international community is at the moment of truth. The issue right now given that Iran poses a threat to the entire world. To my country certainly, but to the entire world. The arming of Iran with nuclear weapons poses a great threat to stability and peace not only in the Middle East but beyond. Then, the question is what will the international community do. And I think this is the time to talk first about what will happen if we don’t, if its not done but what can be done right now by the responsible members of the international community. And the answer is sharp sanctions now.

Q.: Relations between Russia and Israel are fairly good, but to some extent they lack economic basis. What is going to be done?

A.: I think that economic ties are based on economic interests. And our job is to identify them and to [put] in places where the private sector cannot do on its own and to help them. Number one, we should have to form Russian-Israeli business and economic forum. And go back Israel and choose leaders on our side. Russia has chosen leaders on its side. And I think a lot of things have come out at these meetings. It facilitates the flow of information and then projects emerge themselves. But there are other things. This is a unique thing where governments can facilitate the economic growth. And here wh ere this comes to the fore between Israel and Russia, because of our unique history of technological development. Much of our technological development originated and still originates in the government nucleus, primarily defense and intelligence. Israel has rather a big army, small compared to, well it’s big actually, compared to many other countries. But it has a very large, very large in terms of dedication of resources and brains to intelligence. And this produces a whole series of industries. We have similarly these capabilities in things like agriculture that have not been fully developed. We have and R&D nucleus that could develop into very wide usage if it’s tied to the development of actual products, crops. And for that we need land and water and genetic engineers. I know that Israel has great genetic engineering and other capabilities in biotech that have not been developed. I am talking about government capabilities for the development of assistance to Israeli agriculture. There is a rumor that I heard that Russia has a lot of land and considerable amount of water. So, obviously there are ways of combining capabilities that are not immediately apparent. But when you think about them and make them concrete you can have things developing that are totally unpredictable. But once put in place can have immense consequences and immense positive benefits for both Russia and Israel. This relates to what I said before that there is a potential.

Q.: As far as I know Russia has at a very high-level pushed the idea of constructing a gas pipeline to Israel. Is there any progress on this direction?

A.: Well, there was. But quite frankly we discovered very large deposits of gas on the shore of the sea close to Israel, very large. So, whereas we had a very clear interest before in getting Russian gas, right now we are less enthusiastic because we simply found gas. It happens sometimes, but this creates other opportunities for example, this gas has to be taken out from the sea. And it’s not clearly whether we have the ability to export it. In any case Russian companies beginning from Gazprom have tremendous amount of experience in doing this, whereas before we were the recipient of Russian gas. Maybe we can use the recipient of Russian technologies in the field of gas. In any case this is something we need to look at.

Q.: There were some news about that Israel had started or is ready to resume arms supplies to Georgia? Is that true?

A.: We take care to take into account all the considerations of such relations of arms suppliers, and we expect Russia to do the same. That is to ensure the interests of stability in unstable regions and take into account those considerations. The question you asked and we similarly ask that Russia do the same in matters that effect our security.

Q.: Does this mean that in case Russia fulfills a contract for S-300 to Iran, Israel could consider the possibility of resuming arms supply to our region, including Georgia?

A.: Well, I accept the statements that I read yesterday from President Medvedev, because I know that the current Russian policy is aimed at promoting stability. I won’t say more than that, but this is a fairly good policy that can guide both our countries. I respect relations in the field of weapons supplies.

Q.: You have discussed the question of the contract for S-300, are you satisfied with what you have heard from the Russian side?

A.: As I said, I accepted the statement which I thought was an important one, but I won’t go into to details beyond that. And I’m not confirming that we discussed specific weapons deal. This is always left for you to speculate about.

Q.: What do you think about the Hamas leader Khaled Mashal’s recent visit to Moscow and did you discuss this visit with President Medvedev?

A.: I do not hide that we think that Hamas is openly committed to our destruction, should not be partner for diplomacy because you can only make peace with an enemy who wants peace, who wants to go away from the path of destruction and annihilation, and Hamas has not made that move. We said very clearly that we are opposed to contacts with Hamas. I say this on every occasion to every leader, including leaders of Russia, and this is nothing new to them. This does not mean that we do not have humanitarian contacts with Hamas or the release of Gilad Shalit, but beyond that we don’t think that countries should engage or recognize or give legitimacy to an organization that openly seeks Israel’s destruction and that has no inhibitions whatsoever in the use of flagrant terror.

Q.: Have you discovered prospects of resuming talks between Israel and Palestine. And how do see the possibility of this?

A.: I think its time to stop negotiating about the negotiations and get down to doing. We have been saying that for the past ten months since we established the government, that a year has been wasted by the Palestinian attempt to impose preconditions on starting the talks. Something that never happened before since the advent of the Oslo process, some 16 years ago. And this has just wasted a lot of time. I think that there was [consensus] in international understanding that its time for the Palestinians, who’ve climbed up onto a tree, sometimes I think it’s a eucalyptus tree, to come down and begin to talk. And I think that this is, to the extent that they see there is a common position on this and that increases the chance of them to launch talks … in the near future. And I encourage President Medvedev, as I will today also Prime Minister Putin, to have Russia put that position very clearly for Mr. Abbas.

Q.: Palestinians are split into two warring faction…

A.: At least…

Q.: Yes, at least. Does it mean that having talks with one of these factions, I means these talks, lead to nothing, they can last for ages, and that is why Israeli is ready to conduct this kind of talks leading to nowhere.

A.: Well, you know. No. There are views wh ere people say ‘we should not have talks anyway, what’s the point? There is no partner on the other side’. There are those who say we should have talks in order to achieve an interim settlement, because the Palestinians are incapable of making, from their side, the concessions. And giving up the idea of flooding Israel with refugees or giving up claims of the Israeli Arabs and so on. They’re incapable, therefore we should only have partial agreements. And then there are those who say ‘no, let’s try a full agreement’ and the real question is will the Palestinian leadership evolve into the kind of bold and courageous leaders that we saw in the case of the late Anwar Sadat of Egypt or King Hussein of Jordan. Hamas was dismissed often before, Sadat totally dismissed [them] and proved to be quite a surprising leader of vision and courage. But without leadership you cannot move. And so at least let’s try. But these are the debates that occur within the Israeli political system, including in my own cabinet, do we have a partner? And clearly up to now what we’ve seen is that Israel has taken steps towards peace. The removal of hundreds and hundreds of checkpoints, earth ramps, barriers to facilitate the flow of Palestinians, this has changed in the last ten months. We facilitate tremendous movement and as result we see tremendous growth in Palestinian in the West Bank economy. And also we made an unprecedented gesture in our own cabinet decision about this, a new construction, not an existing construction. And what we see on the Palestinian side unfortunately is the precondition for the talks, trying that is to deprive us of our continued right to self defense and also to incite the national media of the Palestinians. So, do we have a partner or not? This is the question. All you have to do in the case of Israel is to challenge the Israeli population with a real leader like a Sadat or Hussein and the result is peace. Every time we met a genuine leadership for peace from an Arab side we made peace. Whether it was opposite government led with Anwar Sadat or a labor government led by King Hussein the result is always the same. The reason why we’re not in right now is that they’re climbed up a tree, they haven’t demonstrated this kind of leadership. I think Mr. Abbas has to choose and ask himself is he an Arafat or is he a Sadat or is he a King Hussein or is he something else. I think this is an answer he must give for himself. This is the debate. Once this debate was settled and they said well here, here’s a Palestinian leader who is ready to break ground for peace many of the debates in Israel would disappear.

Q.: There are reports…

A.: Because all of Israel wants peace.

Q.: …that last year you had a talk with the Russian authorities Russian scientists that were helping Iran to develop its nuclear program, is it true, did we really have such a Russian scientists?

A.: I don’t know about it.

Q.: This year had a huge celebration for the 65th anniversary of WW Actually I have two questions connected with this date. Have you received any invitation from the Russian side to send a delegation to this event and the veterans of WW II living now in Israel planning to go to Moscow for this occasion? And the second question is: Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko has recently nominated nationalist Stepan Bandera with the tile of Hero of Ukraine. Would you comment on this?

A.: Number one, I did discuss this. The guests of the delegation have been invited to attend what I think is a tremendously important historical commemoration. I discussed with President Medvedev and as a result of this discussion Shimon Peres, even though he is planning to visit Russia. Anyway, this a historically poignant and important event and we should be represented by the highest level. The Soviet army contributed a tremendous contribution to stopping Nazi, and we are concerned about the attempts to deny the story of the Holocaust and the victims, the true victims of the Holocaust. I‘m full sympathetic to the desire of Russia not to have the tremendous country, the Russian soldiers and the Russian people, who defeated Nazism and the sacrifice that was made by Russia to defeat Nazis. We are living testimony to because a lot of the veterans in Israel, and I think this commemoration is important for history and it‘s important for justice.

About your third question: any glorification, recognition given the people who participation in vile action, that‘s people, innocent people, my own people, it something we cannot accept, it‘s simply unacceptable.