Briefing on Iran Deal with David Menashri

NGP Event Reference: 

David Halperin:  Thank you Operator and thank you everyone for joining us. We apologize that we are beginning today a little bit behind schedule. We’ve had some technical issues with the sound quality with our guest line but we expect that to be resolved momentarily.


            I do want to take the opportunity now to introduce our guest speaker as he joins and of course our Moderator as always Professor Steven Spiegel, IPF National Scholar who you all likely were able to read in the New York Times I believe it was just yesterday on a proposal for reassuring U.S. allies in the region regarding the aspects of this interim arrangement reached with Iran.


            Our guest today is Professor David Menashri. He is really a leading scholar on Iranian Modern Studies and Iranian History. He is currently the President of the Academic College of Law and Business position he was appointed to in 2011, a leading expert on Iran, on Shia Islam, the Persian Gulf and the history of education in the Muslim world.


            Professor Menashri in the late 1970s on the Eve of the Islamic Revolution spent two years conducting research and field studies in Iranian universities and of course he was the founding Director of the Alliance Center for Iranian Studies at Tel Aviv University where he has served as a Professor and a Department Head of Middle Eastern and African Studies for many years.


            An old friend of the Israel Policy Forum who we’ve turned to for analysis on the Iranian issue time and time again and certainly this moment is as timely as ever.


            I want to thank you all for joining. We will have a question and answer session on today’s call which is on the record. And we welcome those questions.


            Now I will turn directly over to Steve Spiegel to get the conversation started. I believe Professor Menashri has now joined us.


            Steve, off to you and thank you all again for joining.


Steven Spiegel:  Thank you very much David. And welcome David. By mutual agreement before the phone went dead, David is going to give us about a five minute quick opening. Then we will - to give us a sense of where - or how he sees current and rapid moving developments on the Iranian Foreign Policy front in terms of Iran’s relations with the rest of the world.


            And then he and I will have a short conversation and we’ll open it up to all you. I know many of you have critical questions.


            So David Menashri, the floor is yours.


David Menashri:  Thank you. And thank you for hosting me for this. I think it’s a very important time in the life of Iran, you know, in relates with the West and the situation in the Middle East.


            I think that since the election in Iran in June and probably before we have been witnessing a desire for change in Iran.


            And actually the result was the election of Rouhani. And I don’t want to go into how much moderate diplomacy is. I could have, you know, chosen more reformists in Iran. But he was the consensus of people who wished to bring about a change in Iran.


            If you examine the passion in Iran on the government and in the election and the desire for change, I think it was a general real desire of the young generation of Iranians. And the reason for they’re willing to go to a new face was disappointment with the realities of life in Iran after almost 35 years of the Islamic Revolution.


            The revolution was not about the rule of the Ayatollah. The revolution was about gaining three main goals. It was mentioned here that I lived in Iran the last two years before the Shah rule, the collapse of the Shah rule. And I can tell you that I don’t believe that this was about Islamic Revolution. It was about guaranteeing better life of the people, the young generation for the children of Iran on three issues.


            Better welfare, greater freedom and dignity for the people of Iran. And I think it’s not, you know, an example that one of the slogans of Rouhani in the election was that I’m going to give you back to the people of Iran the value of the real, the currency of Iran and the value of your passport. I think it’s very interesting that he speaks about the value of the passport.


            Iran was - it has been isolated in the world. There was tremendous pressure and the sanctions were really making life bitter and bitter for the people of Iran.


            And since the election of Rouhani’s election, we could see that they signaled that they want change. Not everyone, everybody, not - certainly not Israel, believed that the desire for (Iranian) change but I think we now can see the policy of Iran. The government it was - that Rouhani sworn, is really a government that is willing to go to new direction.


            And Rouhani’s visit to the UN, to General Assembly in September, again showed it’s not - of course it was a charmed diplomacy to convince the world we are nice, but I think that they’ve shown that they are willing to go a long way.


            Many people would not appreciate but for the leader of Iran, although not the leader but the President of Iran even to speak over the phone with President Obama was a great step forward.


            Now I don’t think that Iran is willing to give up everything and go entirely in a new direction. But I think the signal is that we want - and that’s what Iran, the President was saying to the people in United States and in Geneva. We want change. We are serious about our desire to go in new direction. We have their permission from the Supreme Leader to go to this direction. But we don’t have much time. Second, all people are expecting (full result).


            And what they meant by result is lifting - easing the sanctions. This desire of the Iranians was meant with a desire by the Western Country to try and give diplomacy, a chance to try and solve the problem not by military means but diplomacy.


            And I don’t have to remind you people in America that President Obama was elected in the first place, in the first round, in November, 2008. His dialogue with Iran was on his agenda.


            So it’s not a new thing for him. Now given the experience of America with nuclear operations and more recently in Afghanistan and Iraq I think it was clear that not only the President but the - great deal, large parts of the public opinion were not willing to go to war.


            And that it was made even clear - more clear when you saw the approach towards the Syrian Crisis when the British Parliament did not endorse going to war. Public opinion didn’t want it. President Obama didn’t want it although he didn’t say it openly and was looking for alternatives.


            So what you saw what happened in Syria, there was no - Iran could not and (second, the thing) that they didn’t want to go to war in Syria but they will go to war on Iran.


            And I think what’s happened here is that the fact that, you know, until now in the history of the Iranian/American relations whenever Iran was weak they suggested dialogue with Iran. Even having Arms Deal, was called Iran-Contra in the mid-80s. When - and then again in 2003 when the American troops are marching towards Iran came with its ((inaudible)). When America was asking the dialogue and Iran refused.


            I think what we witnessed recently is two sides were weak. And I think that Obama, President Obama and President Rouhani found each other and they have mutual interests to try and solve the problem peacefully.


            So to conclude I would say that for me as an observer of the Iranian policy and the Iranians are now, you know, demonstrating their happiness and how great they are, that they are already - (secondly) the Iranian newspapers after the day or two we can start hearing also criticism. Not everyone is happy but I think that the people who voted for Rouhani want results.


            Now we don’t know the results. We know that there is agreement. We don’t know what are actually the results because this remains to be seen in the next six months.


            And I think right now it is more important that the details of the agreement is the fact that there is an agreement. And I would just summarize one other point.


            I think for me it was important and I say it publicly and not publicly to my American friends. It wasn’t signing an agreement with Iran. What is important that this will be a common policy, joint policy by Iran and the - and its Western allies. I think what was let the Iranian to agree to make some concessions is that they were faced with some (funded) alliance. The sanctions could not be successful.


            And I think Iranians were looking for a way. Maybe one of the European countries would step back from the policy and this war in ((inaudible)) would be shaken and broken. This is what happened. I think this also a lesson from the Iranians. That they are not dealing with one country but they’re dealing with the ((inaudible)) alliance.


            So I think that more than the details. For me the fact that there is an agreement is important. But the agreement is an interim agreement. It’s not sufficient for us to go now into the real world of finding a solution to this issue. 


            So if I ask myself who gained more from this agreement, I think that the Iranians gained more because they made some concession on the nuclear program that is by and large reversible. 


            The concession that the West has done towards Iran with the sanctions, with unfreezing assets, it (will) be much more difficult to reverse.


            So I think that the Iranians are having good reasons to be happy and when they see the Israel (anti)-statements they are even more happy because if they needed any reason to believe that they gain something, the public diplomacy of Israel convince them that they’ve made a good deal.


Steven Spiegel:  Well let’s talk for a minute about the Israeli public diplomacy. It has been - (it’s almost at) first that some have even suggested that Mr. Netanyahu is going a bit overboard as a favor to President Obama for that very point that you’ve just made.


            How is your analysis which coincides to some extent with the conventional Israeli analysis but not totally, how is it - why is it different from the Israeli government? And is the Israeli government in your opinion going overboard?


David Menashri:  Well I tell you let me - I can understand the government of Israel and Netanyahu personally. I think he really is very concerned and mostly it’s the Israelis are, almost all Israelis are concerned with the possibility that such radical regime would hold in the other hand a nuclear weapon. That I think here you will find concern is in Israel.


            What I am critical of the Israeli public diplomacy is that over the last few years and many years in fact we have become the local voice against Iran.


            And here is the Israeli dilemma. If we don’t speak about Iran going nuclear the world will forget it and let it happen; if we speak about it as we did we make the world believe that the problem of Iran nuclear weapon or nuclear capability is the exclusive problem of the state of Israel.


            Now speaking so much about it and I think that the problem is real. The question is making statement after statement and we have isolated ourselves, we’ve been only isolate roles on this issue. Take Saudi for example. Saudi Arabia is certainly more concerned than Israeli is for the Iranian nuclear problem.


            But they hardly speak. The Saudis let their - they try and convince the United States and the world in different means. They think that the problem with this public diplomacy is that we are not being taken very seriously.


            And I can - I don’t want to say that Netanyahu has done a great service to bring awareness in the world so (they may) confront Iran. He really was instrumental in establishing this coalition and pressure on Iran that ultimately led them to make some retreat.


            But we cannot eliminate this problem. You have to do what you can do to diminish the dark side of the Iranian nuclear problem. I can tell you. We know how Iran cannot be (liberated) anymore. There are many things that are (very impossible) and our statements didn’t really help.


            Let me tell you something which is I tell my friends. Imagine that Israel was now making statement how wonderful is the agreement. I can assure you that the reaction in Iran would have been different.


            Well I don’t want us to go all the way, it was very good for a second but we should use all our effort to convince the Western Countries that (ultimately) take the (posters could be taken) to present this regime (for) this ideology. Even the moderates are not very friendly.


            While they’re (looking in) Geneva you could hear Khameini speaking about Israel and not - I didn’t hear in the diplomatic language calling another country bastard.


            And this is a moderate guy compared with Ahmadinejad who asked to wipe out Israel from the space of (universe). And you heard this statement continually.


            Well if you want to be nice to the Iranians,  Iran has gone such a long way and they have two main enemies, two main tackles, the great Satan and the small Satan, America and Israel. It is very difficult for the Iranians that have raised these issues, the symbol of the revolution, the major efforts of the revolution, to retreat from them together but the fact remains that they continue to use this kind of harsh language. And I - unfortunately I didn’t see people in the West raising their voice against them while celebrating agreement in Geneva.


            One more point about Rouhani, the moderate, so-called. He gave an interview to NBC while he was in the General Assembly in September in New York and was asked to say something if he agrees with those, Ahmadinejad and Israel about the holocaust was a legend, he said that I’m not a historian. I’m a politician.


            So you don’t have to be a historian to know that there was holocaust. So we have many problems (with him). And the difficulty is what kind of policy we want to shape.


            And I think that the fact that we spoke so much about Iran did not do much favor to the Israeli interest.


Steve Spiegel:  All right, I want to ask you one more question David. And then we’re going to go to the group.


            And that is, how can the United States assuage Israeli concerns?


David Menashri:  Well I think that there are other ways to conduct diplomatic policy out of going to television and speaking to the media.


            And I think that it is important to make sure that the level of sanctions that have been removed or perhaps unfreeze would not be touched. That will really give the Iranian the opportunity to continue their policy.


            And the reason that is important that this, again, and I don’t think many people, even in Israel think about regime change. The regime in Iran is entirely in the hands of the Iranian people. They can have whatever regime they want. We are concerned with the policy of this regime.


            And I think that the United States and its European allies and the rest of the West have a lot of work to do to convince the Iranians to modify their policy actually.


            And one more point that I was missing in Geneva, I didn’t hear much about human rights in Iran.


            And it’s not something you have to do for Israel. You have to do for the Iranian people.


            Why does issue of human rights has not been, you know, stressed, raised, discussed during this negotiation?


            So you speak about the new mood in Iran, the new direction in Iran and for worse than democracy and (maybe United States) with our European friends, they should have shown their moral values confronting Iran and speaking also about the need to modify their policy towards their own people.


Steven Spiegel:  I think the most controversial point we’ve had and maybe some of you can ask about this is that whether or not the sanctions, the alleviation of sanctions are irreversible. I think that many would argue that especially given the mood in Congress if these talks were to collapse six months or so hence or even earlier or even later, that there would be an extremely strong movement certainly in the United States to tighten the sanctions, to reverse whatever concessions have been made.


            And yes, the Iranians may earn 6 or $7 billion which has been promised to them and of long pros in assets. And as well intermediaries, business dealers, business figures who have been reluctant to deal with Iran would now be much more willing to deal with Iran.


            But at the same time they’re going to lose $30 billion in oil revenue over the next six months. And the United States is likely to come back very strong if these talks collapse.


            I’m not sure I completely agree on that point. David - do we have David Menashri back?


David Menashri:  Yes, I’m with you.


Steven Spiegel:  Ah great. All right, so Operator, do we have some questions from the group?


Operator:  Yes sir. We will hear from Frank Bamberger.


Frank Bamberger:  Thank you very much for this wonderful great analysis.


            My question, I don’t know whether you’ve seen Steven Spiegel, our Moderator’s OP-ED piece in the New York Times. If you do - if you have let me just go ahead and ask you what you think of it.


Steven Spiegel:  In the article I propose that the United States persuades the concerns of both Israel and the Gulf Arabs or any other Arabs that are worried about this deal by a network of treaties. It would not be the same defense treaty with Israel as with the Arab States. The Arab States might want guarantees. They might not want a treaty.


            But even though there will be some hesitations on the Israeli side I tried to point out that this would put Israel in a much stronger position and people could not be suggesting that the U.S./Israeli Alliance is in trouble.


            And it would indicate to the Iranians that we are very serious about maintaining our relations with our allies in the region.


            So it was - defense treaty with Israeli has been talked about ever since it’s Ben-Gurion first raised it in the early 1950s.


            But I think this is the time to seriously move in this direction. And David what do you think of that idea? We talked - we wrote back and forth but we didn’t really talk about the subject.


David Menashri:  (Really) Steve, I think that it’s really regrettable the situation between Iran with the United States, between the United States and Israel.


            I’m not sure that this kind of treaties are the main issue. I think that we have to (retain) the trust between the two countries and the need to speak with each other in - even discreetly but in - but the exchange of (word) on the - in the media were not good.


            Now you are right not to push - not pointing probably on Israel on this issue but other (countries).


            And I’m sure that people understand that (you and) other countries which are very concerned with the- this likelihood or possibility that Iran would go nuclear. As we mentioned Iran and Saudi Arabia but let’s think about Turkey. Think about Egypt. Think about other countries.


            And I think that many of them have come to realize that it’s easier for the United States to abandon their allies and then their enemies or reroute so the people who are in countries that have been against us.


            So let’s see what happened to the Shah of Iran, how we (did that with) (nine) American and (nine) American President. And then he was actually kicked out from the country. That perception and I think the reason for the revolution was much deeper.


            But in 1979, ’78, ’79 the policy of the United States was not friendly to the loyal friend, the Shah of Iran. Then you go and see what happened to President Obama. And so and then you can see what doesn’t happen to Bashar Assad.


            So I know the differences. I know the differences in time. And but I think that many people in the Middle East wonder what is the best way to deal with the United States because we - your allies and the United State is not guarantee (for legacy) for a long time.


            So I think that there are - I’m not sure but I think many countries in the Middle East are now rethinking the original and international policy. So what the United States should come out to is to make sure that they understand that America is behind them. The fact that we are going and dealing with Iran is not because we are abandoning our allies in the Middle East but because we want to make sure to bring stability to the Middle East for the best interest, that of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkish and Israeli allies.


Steven Spiegel:  I think that David’s answer is highly respected in all corners of Israel on the Iran question indicates United States has a lot of work to do. It’s not just persuading or building up confidence with Iran but we also at the same time have to build up confidence with our allies which as Secretary Kerry has recognized. He says right after Thanksgiving he’s heading for Israel.


            But one has to ask if that’s enough. And I think from what David Menashri is saying that it’s not.


Operator:  And David has rejoined us.


Steven Spiegel:  We have to try to use every moment we can with David. Are there any other questions Operator?


Operator:  Just a final reminder that’s star 1 to ask a question at this time. And we’ll pause for another moment.


Steven Spiegel:  I was just saying David from what you’re saying it certainly is clear that the United States has a lot of work to do with its allies. A lot of talk about the resurrecting of the old relationship with the Shah, I think it’s a bit premature to put it mildly.


            But certainly various countries in the region are concerned about this. But on the other hand what if the U.S. relationship with Iran did reverse and Iran was helpful with Syria, with Afghanistan? Would this be bad or good for Israel? Wouldn’t it be better for Israel if the United States had better influence on Iran and had a better relationship with Iran?


David Menashri:  Well it depends who you are. And I can speak only for myself.


            And I was speaking with a friend who has a connection - good connections in Iran. And he told me while I was in the States recently and he told me go back to Jerusalem and tell your government that we are not stupid to think that Iran can have good relations with the United States while Iran and Israel are struggling with each other.


Steve Spiegel:  That’s interesting.


David Menashri:  So that it means that even some Iranians understand that there is a limit, you know, there is some limit that America would not abandon its allies or its goal for - toward Iran.


            I personally don’t think that improving relations between Iran and the United States is necessarily against the interest of Israel. I think that on the contrary improving relations with the United States is a way to persuade them to (mend) their attitude, to modify their policy provided and that’s something that I take for granted that United States is not going to abandon Israel or Saudi Arabia or other of its allies.


Steven Spiegel:  Okay. Operator let’s get the next question.


Operator:  Absolutely. Next we’ll hear from Susie Gelman.


Susie Gelman:  I apologize because I joined the call late and perhaps this has been touched on in which case I’m sorry if I’m asking a repeat question or a repeat comment.


            Professor Menashri as I’m sure you know there is absolutely no end of (ankhs) in the American Jewish Community over what is going on. There are just as an example, three conference calls today. There’ve been several yesterday. It’s this issue and what the situation is and trying to understand it. It’s being dissected from all sorts of vantage points.


            And there’s great, great concern about what is perceived at least on this (idea notion) what is perceived as a real risk and even rupture and I’m not using these words lightly, in the U.S./Israel relationship. In fact yesterday on one of the calls Rob Satloff who I’m sure you know from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy describes this as the worst situation between U.S./Israel relations since the early 80s under Ronald Reagan.


            So if you agree with that premise and I hear from some of the comments that have been made that perhaps there’s not - (you to form even) opinion on this but my question is it was predictable and certainly we saw from Prime Minister Netanyahu’s remark including at the opening night of the GA which I was at, it was predictable that Israel was going to react negatively to the deal as it currently is being - has been formed.


            And moreover I think it was predictable that the American Jewish Community was going to then feel like the United States is throwing Israel under the bus.


            And so my question, I mean it is very serious what’s going on here. I don’t quite understand and I’m wondering how Israelis see this. I don’t understand why the United States would do something that’s so clearly sent a message to Israel that it is - it does not enjoy the special relationship that we have thought it did. I mean obviously the secret deal that took place for months that Israel was left out of as well as France and other allies, is all of great concern.


            We know that Congress is not going to sit back and just respond to this without perhaps taking some action.


            I just - I’ll stop talking and ask for your opinion about how you see this risk? Do you agree with those who are saying it’s a major, major and very troublesome risk and what is your interpretation please?


David Menashri:  Well I’m hesitant to speak about it when Steve Spiegel’s on the line. Steve, would you say something?


            I don’t know mind to say a few but I think that this is your field more than mine.


Steven Spiegel:  All right, let me just say that I do not think it’s as major a risk as is being portrayed. You have constant contact between the President and Secretary of State. If you go back to the early 80s that was not the case and the United States is not cutting off aid to Israel, not cutting arm sales, not denouncing Israel in the way it was.


            If you compare it to the Reagan Era or even to the H.W. Bush, parts of the H.W. Bush Era, there’s nothing like this going on. It’s the context of alliance. It’s a disagreement which I think can be resolved.


            But I don’t agree with Rob Satloff. But, you know, David you are our guest and what do you think?


David Menashri:  Okay. I don’t want to run away from this kind of question. I tell you I’m not that pessimistic. I don’t see that this process, although I was - it was not nice to hear the statements coming from Jerusalem and from Washington and along away by Secretary of State and others. Certainly an Israeli was upset. Definitely as an Israeli are not happy that pressure has been lifted and from the Iranians but I think the greater pressure and continued pressure could have led to better agreement with Iran.


            But the United States had some considerations. You don’t need - when you go and to have dialogue, try to establish dialogue with Iran it doesn’t mean that you have to abandon Israel. I don’t think this is going to send necessary outcome.


            I think that United States is facing crucial issues in the Middle East. And we own the Middle East.


            But I think that the experience and so that military solution usually does not solve the problem. It’s easy for people into the world ((inaudible)) now you don’t want this deal. And that can be another thing.


            And let’s make sure we understand. I am not happy that to see Iran marching one step further on the nuclear program. I live in the Middle East and I don’t want to leave in the shadow of Iran, with Iran with nuclear weapon.


            But and let’s assume there was a military strike. What you aim and I think one of your high officials that I met recently said the following, if you Israelis will go to military strike you would delay the nuclear program. If we will go to military strike we would delay even more.


            But all that we are speaking is about delaying the program. Now if there is a chance to speak with the Iranians and you have an agreement for six months, what worries me, it’s not the six months into the agreement, it’s the collapse of the Western willing to confront Iran if they don’t follow what they promised.


            And we have that experience with Iran. That they promised and they did not deliver. The President Rouhani who is behind this group in Iran was also behind the freezing, or supposedly freezing of the Iranian Nuclear Program in 2003, 2005. Where he was the head of the Iranian negotiations with the three European countries at that time and which came to be the 5 plus 1.


            And when he was asked in the middle of the election, he was challenged, would you stop the nuclear program? You know what he answered? Would I stop the nuclear program? I completed it. And he went step by step to show what has been done in Iran during (the freeze).


            So I think there was no one could avoid any such an agreement. The sign was on the wall. It was clear that this group was going to work agreement. One, you know, ((inaudible)) forward and backward, no concessions and more concessions there.


            If this deal is done, our aim is not to start criticizing for what has been done but rather regroup our forces. And make sure that Iran delivers and stands to what they promised. It’s not going to be easy. You have (a business) with very sophisticated negotiators. And they know how to bargain. Iran is a country with a long history of running an independent state.


            So I think my main concern would be not to start criticizing the past but rather say what can we do to make sure that Europe and the United States are standing one - along the other side by side, unified and they resolve to confront and not allow this Iranian ideology to possess nuclear weapons on the other side.


            So what we now have is six months at least for the short run, this problem is delayed. We want to make sure that after the six months there will be an agreement that will really change the policy in Iran on the nuclear program. Not entirely but I think sufficiently to allow me to sleep at night that there is no nuclear weapon in Iran.


            I don’t think it’s easy. I don’t think it’s going to happen tomorrow. But I think that this can happen.


            And if I go back to the first part of my talk that I - there probably is nobody on the line. I think that you have an ally, I mean you Americans and others. Your allies are the young people of Iran. And the young people of Iran are not going to give up the opportunity to establish this bridge with the West. They want the West even more than the West needs them.


            So it’s not going to be easy but given the agreement is there, the main concern now should be to regroup the - all these people who are concerned to make sure that the policy is such that after six months we get to a solution which not would allow Iran to develop nuclear weapon.


Steven Spiegel:  Okay, Operator next question.


Operator:  Thank you. And just a reminder ladies and gentlemen it’s star 1 to ask a question at this time.


            Next we’ll hear from Howard Sumka.


Howard Sumka:  Hi. Thanks for the call. I appreciate hearing Professor Menashri’s views on this.


            I want to ask a question that’s, you know, in a way a specific follow-up to the one that (Debbie) just asked although it wasn’t intended to be a follow-up.


            I mean we’ve just sort of started finding out that Deputy Secretary Bill Burns has been doing behind the scenes negotiations since June which shouldn’t have come as a surprise because for sure the Rouhani/Obama phone call couldn’t have come out of nowhere.


            And then we’ve learned more recently that the Israelis found out about this in September.


            And I’m wondering Professor Menashri what you think about how much the U.S. should have been engaging Israel over the deal behind the scenes negotiations and how much of that was really an essential part of U.S./Iranian diplomacy trying to get through in private the hard parts at least to get back to the table?


            Thank you.


David Menashri:  Well I know I cannot give advice to the American government.


            But I can tell you as an Israeli citizen and Iran scholar. It is important that the United States would operate and be in touch in a very discreet way about the situation in Iran and consult with the Israelis.


            I think that the knowledge about Iran and Israel is no less than it is in the United States. I think we are following Iran. We have concerns which are real.


            And I think that they deserve to be taken seriously. And Iran believe that this is - this can be the place of which - this is the case already but I think that more intimate relation is important not only between Washington and Jerusalem but I would say also with Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt, Jordan and other countries.


Steven Spiegel:  Okay, Operator next question.


Operator:  Thank you. And next we’ll hear from Herb Blecker.


Herb Blecker:  Hello. Thank you for taking the call. Do you think Professor that if the United States and the other members of the West had held out for more that we could have accomplished something more in this very first early stage that is could we have demanded and succeeded in getting at this time the - let’s say the destruction of some of the centrifuges?


            In other words could we have gotten a better deal in getting more concessions from Iran particularly in view of your description of how much the Iranians were suffering?


David Menashri:  Well, you know, it’s a legitimate question. It also is the question if you have your partner, your - Iran is weak and suffering, why won’t we want to take another step and humiliate them and involve them and so on and so forth. Because I think that ultimately you need to live with Iran in the region and because I do believe that the Iranian people are entitled to choose their own government, I don’t think that military attack necessarily could have resulted in better situation. It could be better probably and it could be worse.


            But I think in both cases the consequences of military attack even surgical, air strike, limited, on the future of the region on the relations between Iran and the West would have been devastating even if it was successful.


            And there’ll always when you go to air strike that something goes wrong. We - again we know how we start wars. We don’t know how they are - they ended. Just look around you in Afghanistan and in Iraq and you and I can look about other like the military operations in Lebanon and other places, the result is no guarantee.


            Now I think that what we are thinking is as though this agreement was a green light to Iran to develop nuclear weapon. If this was the case God forbid, I would not have any education to say no, it’s absolutely (not a factor). But there is I think a general sign by the Iranian people that they want to change. They want better life.


            They don’t - I don’t think that they wake up in Iran, Tehran every day and they ask well what can I do today to destroy the United States of America? They attitude of Iran, enemy of the United States and they want to be good to the United States.


            And the government has led this anti-Americanism and that’s a significant (status). Well is you start smashing this image and try maybe to, you know, one of the reasons that Rouhani did not want to shake hand with Obama, it was exactly like this. If you ask me what is more difficult for the Iranian to digest, to make concessions on the nuclear program or concessions or retreat from this anti-American policy?


            You know it may surprise you if I say that it’s easier for them to accept some concessions of the nuclear program than with the United - relations with the United States. One picture of President Obama shaking hand of Ayatollah Khameini, it’s not in the cards today but or even with Rouhani was very meaningful because his revolution has retreated from almost (every) ideological incident.


            Whenever Iran was faced with a challenge of deciding between interest and survival of the regime and the ideology of the revolution, they opted for their interest rather than the ideology. This is a rational government. They are not crazy. They are not suicidal.


            And again this is an opportunity for six months. And I - what I say my - I’m hesitant to say so because I am afraid that after six months it will continue without result. That is my concern. Not the agreement for six months.


            But after six months, you say I’ll give you another six months and the (same concessions) would continue and the Iranian program would continue. What I think is important today is to make sure that there is no step beyond what has been agreed in Geneva towards nuclearization of Iran beyond what they have agreed. That I think is the main issue. It’s not easy to accomplish it. But I think it’s for right now given what we’ve gone through, this is what we aim to wish for.


Steven Spiegel:  Well this is a very good question and answer I think. And I think we’re going to have to end at this point given the vastness of the topic, otherwise we’ll go on - go over.


            I think you’ve come to the heart of the matter and you’ve explained for us David Menashri a very moderate but realistic Israeli position.


            We have one more question so I’ll let that go. And then I think we’re going to have to end; Operator.


Operator:  Thank you. Next we’ll hear from Larry Zicklin.


Larry Zicklin:  Thank you very much. I’d like to put forward the following proposition that this agreement as dangerous as it could be is far more ripe with possibilities than continuing the past process of tightening sanctions while Iran develops more nuclear capability. At least this gives you a chance and it’s only for six months.


            Could you comment on that?


David Menashri:  Well yes, you know, I started and I can conclude with this that the main test is what will be the result after six months and what if there is (element) for another (type) of agreement. We don’t know. One has to be honest.


            And we don’t know what could have happened. But you have to weigh it between what you gain from this possibility of resolving the problem peacefully while you are watching what’s going on within the next six months.


            And if the Americans are saying the truth that they’re lifting the sanctions it’s very limited from what I’ve seen so far.


            So I think that you have to allow diplomacy to play its role. I am very appreciative and I heard from the questions and many of really I believe people are speaking from the Jewish - American Jewish organizations and movements and really I’m touched by the level of concern that I see in the United States for Israel and I don’t want it to appear as though the Israelis are taking it lightly. Not that - we really appreciate the support of the Americans and we’re also hopeful that between the two governments there is and should be better understanding and cooperation.


            Iran is a major problem. Its 35 years now that Iran is really destabilizing factor in the Middle East.


            If you ask yourself and I was - one Iranian Professor once told to me that you know we have - Iran has 15 neighbors and it doesn’t have good relations with any of them.


            So I told him, you know, you should ask yourself why this happened.


            And then he said it looks really speaking as an Israeli. So this - we also have a problem with this with our neighbors.


            And but I think that Iran is a country that it’s best and strategic ally is Syria. And we know what a big headache with Syria not only for the region but primarily its own people.


            And when I spoke about Iran and its domestic policy, about human rights in Iran, we know what happens in Iran on these issues. Rouhani again was elected by the more reformist (dynamic) element in Iran. So far he did not release from house arrest the two people who ran for presidency in 2009 and they are still under house arrest. Iran has a long way to go to satisfy the expectation of the Western World not only in the nuclear issue.


            The nuclear program is very crucial and I - again I don’t want to repeat myself. It’s not easy to digest this agreement. But you know what, we cannot change it. We cannot change the policy of the world.


            Did you see the UK willing to go to war in Syria? You saw their parliament debating this issue. You saw your own Congress. You saw your own Administration and there was a willingness in the West to give diplomacy a chance.


            The main challenge today is to make sure that the chance given to diplomacy is not being used by the other side to go directions that we don’t want them to go.


Steven Spiegel:  Well as I was starting to say before we took our last question is it’s a vast topic. We’ve gone - and we’ve just begun to talk about it.


            But I think that a lot of people listening to you, I, myself included, feel better hearing your analysis. So we thank you very much Professor David Menashri. And IPF of course will be continuing this topic and continuing these concerns as we go forward over the next six months. And of course the Israeli/Palestinian discussions are going on at the same time. So it’s a very, very electric period.


            But I think we can conclude by saying it’s better to be talking about these then to be fighting about these.


            At any rate and by fighting I mean military action. We’ll see and we thank all of you for your interest and for participation and we do apologize for the technical difficulties.


            In any case let me say as I always do in ending, good-bye and good luck.


David Menashri:  Thank you.


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On Wednesday, September 30th, IPF hosted a discussion on US-Israel relations, security challenges and diplomatic opportunities with MK Yair Lapid, Chairman of the Yesh Atid Party; Philip Gordon, Former White House Coordinator for the Middle East, North Africa and Gulf Region; and Jonathan Alter, of the Daily Beast and MSNBC.

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