Former Israel Defense Force Chief of Staff Dan Halutz is being shepherded around the United States to talk about the international crisis with Iran. The anti-Netanyahu group J Street is promoting Halutz as critical of Israeli policy and supportive of their position of opposing military action.
But at the first two talks given by Halutz, one of which was attended by a Jewish Press reporter and the other of which can be can be viewed online, it appears that Halutz’s positions are far more complex and nuanced than J Street and their fellow promoters understand.
What is Halutz saying?
On negotiations: “negotiations have failed”; on diplomacy: “enough Viennese coffee without results”; on sanctions: without the participation of China, Russia and India – all of which have been given exemptions by the US government – the sanctions will take too long to work; and on the issue of “red lines,” the problem isn’t that they are too bellicose, it is that they give the enemy an advantage you don’t want it to have.
On Tuesday, September 11th, Halutz spoke at the Saban Center For Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution. On Wednesday evening he spoke at a large suburban Philadelphia Conservative synagogue. Thursday night the former IDF Chief of Staff spoke at a synagogue in West Chester County, New York, and he is scheduled to speak sometime soon to the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the coordinating body for local Jewish community relations organizations.
Lt. Gen. Halutz is actually making the argument, in an admittedly very circumspect manner, that it is the international community – that is, everyone besides Israel – which is to blame for the current cataclysm precisely because the actions taken thus far are inadequate and it is that failure which may result in Israel, alone, having to take military action against Iran. And that is a situation no one wants.
According to Halutz, the international response to Iran’s nuclear activity has been inadequate on just about all fronts. With respect to sanctions, there aren’t enough countries participating and there aren’t enough products on the banned list. In particular, without China, Russia and India’s full participation in sanctions – all of which received exemptions from the United States — the impact on the Iranian economy has been too small to encourage the regime to cease its path to nuclear weapons.
Halutz told the Brookings audience that despite some reports to the contrary, the sanctions are not really having an impact on the Iranian economy. “It was just reported,” he said, “that the Iranian currency dropped by 8 percent compared to the dollar.” The Iranians are “not yet convinced that there is a real cost imposed upon them because their leadership has chosen to move forward on a project which is unacceptable to the world.” Unless they are forced to do that, to choose between “bread or nuclear weapons,” the sanctions will not work.
An additional reason sanctions are not working is because not enough products are involved. Halutz explained that there need to be many more products, “thousands of them” placed on the sanctions list. He offered two examples. The Iranian airlines and the Iranian shipping lines are still operating in the world and, if they weren’t, the Iranians would be seriously impacted. Right now they aren’t.
In other words, sanctions only work if they cause sharp pain. Right now there’s barely a mild caress.
Halutz believes that diplomatic efforts must continue, but he is contemptuous of the public versions taking place. “Enough Viennese coffees,” he said, referring to the rounds of talks that have already taken place, after each one of which the Iranians have refused to cease their nuclear activities.
However, he was quite supportive of one diplomatic effort that he believes, if only more countries would join in, could be fruitful. The bold shuttering of the Iranian Embassy in Canada by President Stephen Harper is exactly the kind of diplomatic effort that needs to be undertaken, but “others must follow.” Again, as with sanctions, unless many countries – diplomatically important countries – join in, weak diplomatic energy will bear no fruit.
Publicly, J Street repeatedly states that Halutz is against the drawing of “red lines,” that is, the line in the sand beyond which military action against Iran must be taken. This is significant because President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu have engaged in a public spat over the US refusal to set red lines. The Israeli government is claiming that without them, it cannot rely on the United States and Israel will have to take action on its own. There are commentators who crow that Halutz’s opposition to red lines reveals a reluctance to use force against Iran, and that it is an explicit criticism of the Israeli prime minister.