‘Obama Should Clearly Say He Will Not Allow A Nuclear Iran’


elliot-abramsElliott Abrams, who served as Deputy National Security Adviser for Global Democracy Strategy under former U.S. President George W. Bush, and as Washington’s resident Middle East adviser, is very concerned. Not only is he worried about the latest developments in the region, but also about the current U.S. president, Barack Obama. Currently, Abrams is a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington. This week, Abrams came to Israel to take part in the 2012 Presidential Conference in Jerusalem and in a conference at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies – headed by Professor Efraim Inbar – and agreed to share his views on regional developments.

During the Bush administration, Abrams was sent to Egypt to promote democracy. “We urged [recently deposed Egyptian President Hosni] Mubarak to begin the reforms. Not in one day, but to start having free elections,” Abrams says. “I think that this trouble is really the result of his failure over a period of 30 years to move at all in the direction of democracy. Thirty years is a long time, if you start very small steps of reform, over 30 years you get pretty far. He did nothing, so the whole system collapsed.”

“In September 2010 [when Obama hosted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Jordanian King Abdullah II and Mubarak at a peace summit], nobody said anything to Mubarak about democracy and reform. It was as though it had all been forgotten. I think that was a mistake.”

“I think that if one or two weeks before the end, Mubarak had gone on TV and said ‘I am 82 years old. I’m not running for president again. My time is coming to an end,’ and ‘this is not Syria: my sons are not going to take over. We’ll have an election.’ I don’t think any of this would have happened. I think this was a reaction to the sense that he was not giving an inch, and Egypt was facing another 30 years of the same thing with [Mubarak’s son] Gamal. That, I think, people were not prepared to accept. I think we made a mistake during the Bush administration in not pushing the reform agenda harder, and I think that Obama made a mistake in essentially abandoning it.”

The results starting to come out of Egypt as the second round of presidential elections draws to a close, is actually encouraging, Abrams argues. “First of all, as I understand the results, [Egyptian presidential candidate on behalf of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohamed] Morsi, is winning by a couple of percents. What that will show the Muslim Brotherhood is that this is essentially a fifty-fifty vote. Half of the people of Egypt didn’t want them. I think that strengthens the army. It gives a boost to their morale.”

“We know that the army wants to keep this treaty [with Israel]. The brotherhood has signaled that it will keep the peace treaty. I worry a lot about Sinai, I think the security situation in Sinai is very dangerous, but I don’t think they will abrogate the treaty.”

“The treaty will remain. But, they have a terrible problem in Sinai. You have Bedouins, you have jihadis, you have criminals, you have Hamas, it’s going to be a mess, and Israel is going to have to be dealing with this for a long time.”

In Syria, where a 15-month uprising against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has already taken thousands of lives, Abrams urges immediate American intervention. He reverts to Cold War terms in describing the battle Russia is waging against the U.S. via Syria’s “axis of evil” – Iran and Hezbollah.

“I agree with the view that this is essentially a proxy war, in the sense that you have Russia, Iran, Hezbollah and the Assad regime. This is a real axis of evil. We cannot allow them to win. One country is arming this regime, and not just over the past decade, but now, now, [Russia is] continuing to sell arms. So in my view, here the strategic and the humanitarian go together.”

“We (the U.S.) should have more sanctions – for example: No planes can go to or from Damascus International Airport and land in Europe. Cut them off. And I think we should be arming the Syrian rebels. I think we have to do it secretly, for only one reason: You have to get the arms to them through neighboring countries, and the neighboring countries are likely to either not cooperate, or only cooperate if it is done in secret.”

“I don’t accept the objection that we don’t know the opposition well enough – this is how you can get to know them. When you work with them, when you give them money and arms you’ll find out who is a thief, who is competent and who is not competent. We do need to find that out, but you can’t find it out by making speeches in Washington.”

“I’m told that there is a presence of al-Qaida and other jihadis [in Syria]. It should not surprise us. In this situation you have Sunnis being slaughtered by people they consider to be Shiites, essentially. So of course these jihadis will be attracted to go to Syria. Many of them have already been to Syria, because they went through Syria to get to Iraq in the first place. They want to fight this fight [for Assad]. The more this becomes an Alawi-Sunni fight, the harder it will be in the end to have any kind of reconciliation, so we should try to get this over, soon.”

Abrams was serving in the U.S. National Security Council when Israel reportedly bombed the nuclear reactor in Syria in 2007. “Any Israeli prime minister would have reached the same conclusion: That reactor has to go. The question was whether the U.S. should do it, or Israel should do it. I thought Israel should do it. This was 2007, a year after the [Second] Lebanon War – which many people in the region thought came out very badly for Israel [undercutting Israel’s deterrence]. This was an opportunity for Israel to show it was still in the game, still strong.”

Perhaps hinting at current Western diplomatic efforts to persuade Iran to abandon its nuclear aspirations, Abrams recalls that “I thought that the idea of a diplomatic outcome [in Syria] was absurd. The reactor was a secret, and the fact that we knew about it, and that Israel knew about it, was also a secret. Assad did not know [that we knew]. If we had gone to the IAEA in Vienna and announced that we know about this and that it had to end, what would he [Assad] have done? He would put a kindergarten next to it and eliminated the military option. I think it would have been very foolish.”

What about an Israeli attack on Iran?

“I do not advocate an Israeli strike on Iran, because I think that is a decision only Israelis can make. It is much too easy for me to sit in Washington, 5,000 miles away and say, yeah, attack Iran. Iranian missiles are not going to fall on my house and my family is not going to be at risk. I don’t think Americans should be for it or against it.” Abrams says Americans should either support whatever decision Israel makes, or say “we think the United States should do it … we should not leave this to Israel.”

“But I don’t want to be perceived as saying Israel needs to do this tomorrow. Only Israelis will pay the price, therefore the Israelis need to make the decision.”

Obama has already said that all the options are on the table.

“I think it’s not enough. We all want the negotiations [between the West and Iran] to succeed, but there is only one chance: If Iran’s Supreme Leader, [Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei] is persuaded that the United States is willing to attack, that he will never get a nuclear weapon. The president needs to make that clear. The president has said things that are ambiguous: he said to Israel ‘I have your back,’ he said ‘I don’t bluff,’ he said ‘all options are on the table.’ What’s missing? A statement that says very clearly ‘I will not permit Iran to get a nuclear weapon, if I have to use military force to prevent it, I will.’ The ayatollah needs to understand that he will never get a nuclear weapon while Obama is the president of the United States. And Obama hasn’t done that.”

Abrams gives his analysis of the U.S. political arena, saying that “clearly the White House would like the Iran issue to disappear until after the election. They’ve come to the conclusion that anything having to do with Iran hurts the president. [Obama] is saying ‘I’m getting us out of Afghanistan, I got us out of Iraq, war is receding’ and if there is some kind of attack on Iran, it makes it harder to assert that – I think that is wrong politically. I think that this would actually help the president. I think even an Israeli attack would help the president. I assume that like any president he would back Israel, as he said he would. If the president seems strong, and says to the Iranians ‘you’re not going to get a nuclear weapon; you’re not going to close the Strait of Hormuz; you’re not going to attack Israel, and the Saudis and the Emirates, and American bases in the Gulf,’ he would look strong and I think that the American people would support him. But apparently that is not the view of the White House.”

“I think that they would be having a better negotiation [with Iran] today if Obama had said things clearly to the Iranians. But it’s not too late. He has become tougher. It was only recently that he said ‘my policy is not containment, my policy is prevention.’ That was a good step forward, now take the next step and say ‘my policy is prevention, and I will prevent it.’ I hope he will do that.”

Abrams further speculates that there will not be any progress in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, at least not until after the upcoming U.S. presidential election this coming November. “I don’t think anything is going to happen soon. I don’t see any serious negotiations, at least this year, because you have the U.S. elections and everyone wants to see who the president will be and what the American policy will be. This is an issue for 2013 or for 2014.”

“I don’t think that Abbas today wants a serious negotiation. He’s waiting for the elections, and he’s waiting to see what happens with Iran, like everybody. I don’t see how he can make very big compromises, because Hamas will say ‘you’re a traitor’. Remember that [former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert made a big proposal in 2008. Why didn’t Abbas accept it? One of the main reasons was that he knew that Hamas would say ‘Arafat never gave anything away; you gave it away, you’re a traitor to the Palestinian people; you’ve abandoned the refugees.’ I don’t think he’s going to do that.”

{Israel Hayom/Matzav.com Newscenter}


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