Everyone knows Israel regards Iran as an “existential threat”. Yet Efraim Halevy, a career intelligence official, former chief of Israel’s famed spy agency Mossad, the Israeli National Security Council, and former national security adviser, doesn’t see Iran or any other country as a mortal threat to Israel. While he does not accept the possibility of allowing Iran to aquire nuclear weapons, Halevy is pushing for non-violent means to resolve the conflict.
In the hard-nosed world of Israeli politics, with the likes of Premier Binyamin Netanyahu “invoking Auschwitz twice a week”, Halevy’s approach is unusual. Just as rare for an Israeli official is his referencing of historical events that are often suppressed in such conversations.
In 1953, the British born Halevy reminds us, the U.S. and England “threw [Iran] to the wolves” when they overthrew Iran’s democratic leader, Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh. The enormity of this “humiliation”, he says, is still felt — and, he warns, a war with Iran is likely to produce a similar outcome. “Because an attack on Iran is liable to foment a generations-long war with Iran”, adds Halevy, a 40 year veteran in his field, “it is our duty to do all we can to prevent a bomb and prevent bombing and resolve the crisis creatively.”
What’s interesting is that those who advocate a diplomatic solution to the Iran nuclear impasse are often labeled “apologists” or even “lobbyists” for the Islamic regime. Individuals such as Mohamed ElBaradei, for example, have been routinely trashed by his detractors for emphasizing engagement over war. By this logic, people like Efraim Halevy, Meir Dagan, Dan Halutz and other Israeli officials who differ with some of the standard talking points vis-a-vis Iran must be shills for the Iranian government, too. Or perhaps these figures are merely putting their frontal lobe to full use, and exercising what Halevy refers to as “political courage”.
“On Iran, you have to go much deeper. You have to understand what it is that makes Iran tick.
Iran in the past did not have a religious regime. It was a secular regime. The source of power was the shah and he was a secular ruler. Mossadegh in 1951 became prime minister. He tried to nationalize the oil industry. He was overthrown by a coup initiated by the British and CIA.
Mossadegh was not a [radical or fundamentalist]. He was the scion of one of the leading royal families in Iran. [In a recent biography of Mossadegh, it notes that] Mossadegh’s wife was a devout Muslim. He one time joked with her, if you respect God so much, why do you bother him five times a day?
Major sections of Iran society were secular and for many years this is a stain on their history: that two intelligence agencies in 1953 kicked out their elected leader and threw them to the wolves. They treated Iran not even as a partner [against the Soviet Union in the Cold War]. This [resentment] runs very deep [in Iranian psychology].
What happened to the US in 1979, the embassy affair, was an outburst of indignation. Not that I justify it, at all. But to understand it is not to justify […] There’s a difference […] Many prefer not to know, the details confuse you.
[Politicians often prefer to have] a clear sound bite rather than a policy. "Axis of evil." Three words. Solved the problem. It would be fine if we could go in and overturn the [government, but we can’t]. The US is trapped by the way it treated Iran in the past and [...] it is limiting its options.”
“What we need to do is to try and understand the Iranians,” the former Mossad head says. “The basic feeling of that ancient nation is one of humiliation. Both religious Iranians and secular Iranians feel that for 200 years the Western powers used them as their playthings. They do not forget for a moment that the British and the Americans intervened in their internal affairs and toppled the regime of Mohammad Mosaddeq in 1953. From their perspective, the reason why, to this day, there is no modern rail network and no modern oil refineries in Iran is that the West prevented that. Thus, the deep motive behind the Iranian nuclear project — which was launched by the Shah — is not the confrontation with Israel, but the desire to restore to Iran the greatness of which it was long deprived.”
The Daily Show with Jon Stewart — April 24, 2006
Efraim Halevy’s appearance on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart to promote his book Man in the Shadows. Length: 7:27 minutes.
Iran, Palestine, and the Arab Spring: The View from Israel — October 18, 2012
Discussion at the Woodrow Wilson Center moderated by Aaron David Miller, introduced by Haleh Esfandiari and Rep. Jane Harman on October 18, 2012. Length: 1 hour & 19 minutes.