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"Apocalypse Now" McCain: An Israeli opponent

“What hasn’t been tried, and it won’t be easy, we shouldn’t be under any illusions, but hard direct bargaining between America and Iran. Not through European intermediary, not with the IAEA, but hard direct bargaining was taken off the table. Senator John McCain slammed the door shut on that option.”

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Story Transcript

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, THE REAL NEWS NETWORK: I’m with Daniel Levy of the New America Foundation. And not too long ago, Senator John McCain made a rousing speech to a rapturous audience at the AIPAC meeting in Washington. And here’s a little clip of his speech and what he thinks is coming for Israel.

(CLIP BEGINS)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, US PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (R): The world will have to live indefinitely with the possibility that Tehran might pass nuclear materials or weapons to one of its allied terrorist networks. Armed as well with its ballistic missile arsenal, an Iranian nuclear bomb would pose an existential threat to the people of Israel.

(CLIP ENDS)

Now Daniel Levy on John McCain. Thank you for joining us, Daniel.

DANIEL LEVY, NEW AMERICA FOUNDATION: Pleasure.

JAY: So is Iran an existential threat to the state of Israel?

LEVY: I think if you combine the suspicion that doesn’t only exist in Israel of an Iranian effort to pursue a nuclear program that could [inaudible] into a nuclear weapons program with the rhetoric of the current Iranian president, then I think, yes, the perception inside Israel is that this constitutes a serious threat. But at a policy level, do the Iranians willy-nilly kind of start handing out nukes like it’s a candy store, that’s nonsense. It’s irresponsible to suggest that. The Iranians are well aware of the consequences should that reality ever emerge. But at a policy level, to say that a nuclear Iran, even if one got to that place, could not be deterred through a conventional deterrent is also not particularly strongly backed up. But yes, I think that one has to accept that there is a perception in Israel that this is a threat not to be taken at all lightly.

JAY: A perception. But based on the National Intelligence Estimate of the American intelligence agencies, the reports of the UN atomic agency, there’s no evidence that there actually is a nuclear weaponization program. There still seems to be just a nuclear energy program. And people that are immersed in this subject, especially from the UN—ElBaradei is saying stop all this rhetoric. You’re actually perhaps even pushing them further into it. So here’s my question. Is the kind of language of John McCain at the AIPAC meeting and the position supported by many of the AIPAC leadership, which more or less is for some kind of an attack on Iran or some kind of regime change, is this in the interests of Israel?

LEVY: I think not. Look, the saber rattling, the beating of the war drum, has strengthened the hardliners in Tehran. Ahmadinejad has not overseen a stunning success when it comes to economic policy, for instance. That goes into the background when the issue is "Are we defending our national right against a prospective American attack?" So I think, number one, the hard-line rhetoric does a favor, strengthens the hardliners. Number two; the policies that this administration have pursued have strengthened Iran regionally. The war in Iraq clearly took away Iran’s major regional competitor and balancer. Similarly, Afghanistan has strengthened Iran regionally. So we’ve had years of a policy that has strengthened Iran’s regional position. Now, coming ahead to what next, the policies at the moment of threats combined with sanctions, combined with a refusal to engage in direct diplomacy have failed. What John McCain promised in his speech today was more of the same failed policies. That was the bad news today. What hasn’t been tried, and it won’t be easy—we shouldn’t be under any illusions—but hard, direct bargaining between America and Iran, not through a European intermediary, not with the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency]. But hard, direct bargaining was taken off the table. Senator McCain slammed the door shut on that option. That’s the option that hasn’t been tried. He promised more of the same failed policies.

JAY: Is it possible the reason for this sense of urgency now is precisely because the war in Iraq has handed Iran a place as being a regional power, which it didn’t have in any way to the same extent, and now that it’s a regional power, the real issue isn’t the bomb; the real issue is we don’t want another regional power there, namely, Iran, which is not within the US sphere of influence?

LEVY: Well, I think that in that respect, when you look at the situation in the Middle East, the inability to try and get one’s head around the need to build a comprehensive regional security structure that includes Iran I think has been one of the failings over a number of years. In terms of how far out Iran might be, if indeed it’s pursuing a nuclear weapons program—and we don’t know that it is, and as you say, the National Intelligence Estimate published last year came out in a particular place which suggests that it was not. Now, some people may contend with that, but that’s the best info that one has at the moment to work on. So why is one raising the tempo of the debate? Perhaps it’s a political thing in the context of the American election campaign. I don’t think it’s doing anyone any favors to raise the heat of the rhetoric. The other thing I would say is, you know, people shouldn’t be misled by the rapturous response that Senator McCain received today at the AIPAC conference. When you do polling, the vast majority of the American Jewish community is against the war in Iraq. The majority of the American Jewish community is not supportive of a military option in Iran; they prefer the diplomatic option. And I would venture to suggest that the vast majority of the American Jewish community will not be marking John McCain on their ballot come November.

JAY: Thank you very much. And thank you for joining us. And please join us for the next part of our interview with Daniel Levy.

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