You know, there is a tendency to connect this exercise to different political developments, namely the increasing pressure on Iran and the nuclear threats that were asserted by the Government of Israel. But I don’t think that this is a valid explanation because, as you said, the decision about this exercise was taken a long time ago. So, I would look at it mostly as a natural development of the relationship between Israel and the US Armed Forces that is focused on the issue of missile defense; and as part of the general policy of the Obama Administration since the beginning of his term at office which was to assure Israel as much as possible that it enjoys the support of the US in the area of security, in everything that concerns the security.
But definitely Israel can boast of the best antimissile defense system in the world. So, what are the aims of this particular exercise, the “Austere Challenge”?
Well, it is true. It has the best antimissile defense in the world but at the same time it is facing threats that other nations are not facing. Israel is actually the only state that is suffering attacks by ballistic projectiles, mostly rockets, almost every day on the Gaza Strip, and in the past it was also from Lebanon. So, the challenge is much bigger than in the other states. And probably we can say that Israel has a good missile system but it is not perfect and the US assistance is very welcome because of that. And there are things that Israel cannot do. I’ll give you an example. Israel cannot by its own means get a sufficiently early warning about a launch of missiles when they are launched from remote states, such as Iran. The USA is capable of doing it with its long range radars and with its satellites and because of that it complements the Israeli capabilities.
You said that Israel is now finding itself in an exceptionally difficult situation. And when I was preparing for this interview I looked up some figures and I was absolutely amazed discovering the results of the latest Israel project poll which says that 87% of Egyptians would be happy if their country had an A-bomb.
Well, I would say that it is a common phenomenon. The Arab states and the population at large suffered for a long time a sense of humiliation because of the nature of the regimes of their governments but also because of the feeling that when it concerns the relationship of the Arab states with the external world, and mostly with the Western world, they felt humiliated and denied the possibilities and capabilities that other societies enjoyed. And because of that a support for the steps to be taken to increase the power of the state, like acquiring a nuclear weapon, is a quite common phenomenon. But that doesn’t mean that the states will necessarily follow Iran because the governments have different considerations.
But what can be done about that, I mean id there any way to really calm the tensions that are building up in this region now? I know that the question is theoretical, perhaps it is a little bit abstract. But we cannot agree that war is the only option.
No, certainly not. I think there are steps that can be taken to calm the area. And I would say that it is a composition of two – steps that can be taken and steps that shouldn’t be taken. You know, it is not less important to say what shouldn’t be done. So, from the point of view of Israel it means that now as a result of all this turbulence in the Arab world Israel has to be much more cautious in what it is doing on its different fronts. And think actually adopted this policy because when you look at the way Israel reacted to the challenge of Sinai, to the chaos in Sinai and the attacks that are coming in Sinai, I think that the reactions of Israel were very calculated and very cautious. So, that’s the first thing – to be cautious and calculate – which means not to react harshly to everything that is happening. And what can be done is of course to try and revise this process which now is in a complete stalemate.
But Sir, I’ve also heard about an initiative which I personally considered quite idealistic. But anyway, it is still on the table and that is the creation of the zone free of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East. Do you think that Israel could get some additional score and perhaps disarm its opponents if it gets engaged in that initiative or is it still too vague?
Well, the dominant position in Israel is that under the current circumstances the establishment of the WMD-free zone in the ME is not something realistic because it is not going to solve the problem with Iran because the same way Iran is cheating the NPT, Iran is a member of the NPT treaty and nevertheless it is having an active program for the development of nuclear weapons. So, the same way it is cheating the NPT it will cheat the WMD-free zone agreement. And so the establishment of such a zone should be preceded by a real change in the political and strategic situation in the ME. And this kind of real change doesn’t feel very probable at the near future at least.
Sir, thank you so much. And just to remind you our guest speaker was Shlomo Brom – senior research associate at the Institute for National Security Studies.