Ya’alon: Biden should ‘rehabilitate’ the Iran sanctions coalition
‘Let's forget about the JCPOA, there is no chance to go back,’ the former Israeli Defense minister said on JI’s ‘Limited Liability Podcast’
Carolyn Kaster/Getty Images
Former Israeli Defense Minister and IDF Chief of General Staff Moshe “Bogie” Ya’alon called for the Biden administration to reconstitute a pressure campaign against Iran, including bringing together a coalition of countries to enforce sanctions. Speaking to Jewish Insider’s “Limited Liability Podcast,” Ya’alon said the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from the 2015 nuclear agreement with Tehran was a mistake, but not one that can’t be reversed.
“I call to rehabilitate the coalition. I call [on] the Biden administration: Let’s try to build again such a coalition by bringing all the elements, to include Russia and China,” Ya’alon said, while admitting the challenges in realigning with increasingly contentious adversaries. “I don’t ignore it. China has signed a strategic economic agreement with Iran for 25 years, but it is not the [lost cause].”
Ya’alon described how he and then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — at then-President Barack Obama’s request — convinced Moscow and Beijing to join the sanctions coalition. “After the U.N. Security Council Resolution [1929 passed in June, 2010], having a coalition led by the United States, not just on the United Nations [overall], [the sanctions] had become successful in 2012. The feeling in Tehran was that they [had] to make a decision whether to go on with their activities, or to survive as a regime. The choice was clear for me, survivability.”
Despite the pressure on the Iranians, Ya’alon said, the United States committed a “historic missed opportunity” by not pressuring the regime further, noting that the Obama administration could have pressed for Iran to dismantle its centrifuges, forfeit more uranium and end its missile-development program.
“The problem in the engagement between the P-5+1 [world powers negotiating the 2015 agreement] and the Iranian regime, approaching 2016, to my mind, was an American political clock,” he said on the podcast. “The Obama administration at the time, after almost three years of political engagement… seemed to be in a hurry because of the elections,” Ya’alon added of the administration’s attempts to seal the deal before the end of Obama’s second term.
Still, Ya’alon considered the withdrawal a mistake. “Because of the withdrawal from the JCPOA, now the Iranians are close to the ability, first of all, to have enriched uranium in a capacity to produce a bomb,” he argued. “Because of the withdrawal, the U.S. administration destroyed a coalition, the P5+1; they are not on board.”
Read a full transcript of the conversation below.
Rich: General Ya’alon, Bogie, as they call you, thank you so much for joining the podcast. Welcome.
Moshe “Bogie” Ya’alon: Thank you for having me.
Rich: You told Jewish Insider a few weeks ago, and I’ll quote you, “The JCPOA was a historic mistake, but the withdrawal from it was even worse. At least in 2015, we had an international coalition. The P5+1 voted together in the UN Security Council. By withdrawing and going alone, the US lost Europe, Russia, and China. It was a tremendous mistake.” You’ve made those comments elsewhere as well, different conferences and press reports.
I want to ask you a lot of questions about that assessment, I think Jarrod does too, but before we get to the idea of leaving the Iran deal and whether it was a mistake, I do want to clarify your views on where we’re going from here. Because I think people have taken your comments to assume you do want to go back to the JCPOA or cut this what they’re saying more for less in Vienna, that’s what’s under discussion right now. Do you support either going back to the Iran deal today or cutting this more for less deal or do you support a different approach at this point?
Moshe: I will start by saying that for Israel, the Iranian regime is an existential threat, and I follow the development in Iran since I served as the head of the intelligence in the ’90s when we found at the very beginning that the Iranians are going to have a military nuclear capability. It was at the time of late Mr. Rabin as a prime minister, I was the head of the intelligence, and since then, we discussed this issue as a security challenge, as a strategic challenge, not just for Israel, for the Middle East and beyond; for America, for Europe, for any power party which does care about stability in the Middle East and all over the globe.
Now, when we reach the discussions with the Obama administration at the time, we participated in creating pressure on this regime because we believed, I believe even today that the only way to convince this rogue regime in Tehran which is calling to wipe Israeli off the map of the earth and to gain hegemony in the Middle East and beyond, as they call it, exporting the revolution, the Shia revolution, I believe that the only way to deal with this regime is to put the regime in the dilemma, whether to go on with the rogue activities. On top of it is the military nuclear project, but what about proliferation of arms and terror in the Middle East, abducting Lebanon as a state, influencing Syria by deploying, threatening Shia militias against Israel on Syrian soil.
What about gaining influence in Iraq, not allowing the legitimate government to govern the country. Yemen vis a vis the Houthis, the Hamas in Palestine, and Islamic Jihad in the Palestina arena, challenging those African countries, on top of them Morocco, by financing supporting certain terror organizations, challenge the regime, and so forth. I believe that the only way to bring this regime is to bring them to the dilemma whether to go on with the rogue activities or to survive as a regime.
That was the idea at the time of President Obama when he participated in creating the pressure. First of all, political isolation of the regime, which that exists today, then crippling economic sanctions. We were asked by President Obama to bring on board Russia and China. Prime Minister Netanyahu paid a visit to Moscow to convince Putin to vote for the UN Security Resolution on June 2010, for sanctions against the regime.
I paid a visit to Beijing to convince the Chinese at that time, and we did it. After the UN Security Council Resolution, having a coalition led by the United States, not just the United Nations, all over, it had become successful. In 2012, the feeling Iran was that they have to make a decision whether to go on with rogue activities or to survive as a regime. The choice was clear for me, survivability.
Another element in the strategy was demonstrating a credible military option. Three pillars strategy, political isolation, crippling economic sanctions, and credible military option. That brought Khamenei to the table on his knees, 2012, first of all, to be engaged with the great Satan, America, against all odds, against the ideology, he had to apologize for it by calling it a flexible [unintelligible 00:09:07], but he did it.
Then we came to the JCPOA, three years of engagement at the beginning, a bilateral engagement between the regime and the administration at the end, the JCPOA with the P5+1, but it was a missed opportunity, a historic missed opportunity. Instead of using this successful strategy to bring the regime to what we saw to believe should have been to give up the whole idea of centrifuges, not to allow the 300 kilograms of enriched uranium to put on table the missiles project, which is a violation of certain international resolutions. Of course, the whole idea of the proliferation of arms and terror, and even the military dimensions of the nuclear project were excluded from the JCPOA.
We call it [unintelligible 00:10:15]. Nevertheless, it was reached, it was a done deal. When President Trump started to sing about withdrawal from the Resolution, I published an article calling him not to do it. First of all, because it will give the Iranian regime an excuse to violate, and that’s what they did. All experts claiming, and I agree with them, that because of the withdrawal from the JCPOA, now the Iranians are closest to the ability, first of all, to have enriched uranium in the capacity to produce a bomb.
We don’t know about whether they make any progress on the military dimension of the project. We believe that they still are very cautious, very careful not to do it because they are afraid of the response. Nevertheless, because of the withdrawal, the US Administration destroyed the coalition, the P5+1, they are not on board. Russia, China, the Europeans, and that’s why I rejected the idea to withdraw.
I thought about if you decide to withdraw, you should have a plan B. If you’re going to attack them, that might be this is a good idea, but if you don’t have a plan B and you do not demonstrate strength, even not responding to the interception of US intelligence [unintelligible 00:12:00], you demonstrate weakness. That’s why I criticize the withdrawal. What I claim now we’re talking about the current situation, I call to rehabilitate the coalition. I call Biden administration. Let’s try to build again such a coalition by bringing on board all the elements to include Russia and China with all the challenges, I don’t ignore it. China signed an agreement, strategic agreement with Iran for 25 years, economic agreement, but it is not a lost case.
[Rich: To be clear, General, you’re saying bring them on board to return to a pressure campaign, not bring them on board for some deal where you cut some- they get to keep 60% of this amount and we’re going to give them more sanctions, really, if there’s more for less. They’re going to call an interim deal or something like that.
Moshe: Let’s forget about a JCPOA. There is no chance to go back, but now to create pressure, again, based on political isolation of the regime as well as crippling economic sanctions and United States is still very powerful to impose sanctions. It might affect Chinese interests. Why did the Chinese decided to vote for the sanctions in the US Security Resolution of June 2010? When I visited Beijing, of course, I put on the table all the information about the project and I said, If it is seen like a duck, it flies like a duck, it swims like a duck, it is a duck. It is a military nuclear project. You can’t argue about it.
Then Professor Stanley Fischer, who came with me, explained them the implications of not joining the sanctions and being sanctioned by the United States, and they were convinced. The United States is still an economic power and you can make it. Then regarding the credible military option, based on US demonstration of strength, Israeli demonstration of strength, I believe it is still relevant to bring harmony again to this dilemma and in two cases in history, his choice was survivability.
It was in 2003, in the time of the Bush administration. That time after going to the US offensive against terror, phase one was in Afghanistan, phase two in Iraq. The main question in [unintelligible 00:14:54] leaders in the region was who might be targeted next? Muammar Gaddafi of Libya decided to give up his project without a single shot. In 2012, this is the case that I mentioned in the time of Obama administration, Khamenei came to the table because he chose at that time survivability. We should try to make it again.
Rich: Okay, so let me recap for the listeners. You were against JCPOA, historic mistake. You were against leaving JCPOA, historic mistake, but now today, as we enter 2022, and National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan says, “The Iran talks in Vienna are not going well.” Who could expect that? We should not go back to JCPOA. We should try to reconstitute the international pressure campaign so that we, once again, get an opportunity to do what we should have done back in 2015, which is a better deal.
Jarrod: General, so I find it really interesting when you talked about visiting the Chinese and making the case to them. We were always told as people who were for the deal at the time, that the deal, the JCPOA was the best deal that the Chinese and the Russians would sign on to, and that the reason it wasn’t perhaps better in 2015 is that that was as good as it was going to get with the P5+1. Now, that’s what we were told. Interested as somebody who was in those meetings with the Chinese, do you take issue with that or think that that is not a fair representation of what was actually going on, on the part of the Chinese in particular?
Moshe: The problem in the engagement between the P5+1 and the Iranian regime approaching 2015, to my mind, was the American political clock, not the Russians, not the Chinese. The Obama administration at that time, after almost three years of political engagement, as Obama’s administration demonstrated by Secretary of State Kerry, whatever, the other members of the team, seemed to be in a hurry because of the elections.
Now, Khamenei, he is a leader forever until his death. He wasn’t in a hurry. When the Iranian regime thinks about strategy, they think in terms of decades, even centuries. The US administration thought at the time, it is the case almost always, about the term, the presidential term. The administration seemed to be under pressure, political pressure to reach any kind of agreement before the elections. That was the main source of pressure. It wasn’t of refusal of the Russians or refusal of the Chinese to bring about a better deal. It was, to my mind, the American political clock.
That’s why I claim we should be in hurry now, we have now three years before the presidential elections, don’t allow the Iranians to earn time. They are playing with the time. We should be in a hurry now. We should put this pressure upon the regime, we should prepare a military option to waive this as a credible one to convince the regime. So far, you know the case. That’s what I claim now, pressure, pressure, pressure, as soon as possible.
Rich: I do want to go back in time a little bit. As you know, I served in the Trump National Security Council on the maximum pressure file–
Jarrod: General, I still like him anyway. Even though he served in the Trump administration, Rich Goldberg is still my friend.
Rich: I wasn’t there in 2018 when the decision was made, though I did support it on the outside and I stand by that.
Jarrod: I want our listeners to hear me say that in the spirit of national healing and reconciliation. Go ahead, Rich, sorry.
Rich: Okay. Thank you. I do want to take back because I remember very vividly and I look back and in some of the press reports, February of 2018, United States is still in the Iran deal at this time, there’s lobbying going on to get Trump to leave and we don’t know what the President is going to do. The Europeans are freaking out. A couple of United States Senators, go to Israel [unintelligible 00:19:32], Lindsey Graham and Chris Coons, a Republican and Democrat, and they go to the northern border of Israel.
I remember the headline of defense news, “Graham returns from Israel, we must stop the Assad Iran machine.” Senator Graham says, “Anytime you leave a meeting where the request is ammunition, ammunition, ammunition, that’s probably not good.” Then, Senator Coons is quoted saying, “The tempo in terms of the potential for conflict in Syria has gone up, the technologies Iran is projecting into Syria and southern Lebanon has gone up. Iran’s willingness to be provocative, to push the edges of the envelope to challenge Israel has gone up.”
I remember there really being this feeling in meetings in Israel that we’re on the brink of war on the northern border, because the Iranians were flush with cash and because Hezbollah was flush with cash, and everybody’s moving freely in the region in Syria and Lebanon as a result of the JCPOA. My question is, does that issue not factor in to the thinking of, to get out of the deal to unshackle the sanctions, to be able to put more pressure? Did that decision in any way influence whether or not we had a northern border war between Hezbollah, Israel, and Iran, which did not happen after Trump left the deal?
Moshe: In 2013, I wasn’t in any official capacity. I heard that Prime Minister Netanyahu actually convinced President Trump to withdraw from the JCPOA. If this is the case, he’s responsible for it. Now, I’m not talking about the situation in retrospect. Because of that, and I heard about discussions to withdraw from the JCPOA, because of that, I published an article at the time. I was a research fellow in the INSS in Tel Aviv.
Now, the Iranian economy was and still is in shambles, still. The economic situation is a critical element where the leader, Khamenei, has to consider a strategy. I can tell you that in 2012, his economists approached him saying, if you go on with this strategy which caused the sanctions at that time, the political isolation as well as being threatened by a military option, his economists claimed we are not able to survive another year or a year and a half, and that’s why he came to the table.
In 2018, with the Trump administration, of course, we know very much about what was going in Lebanon or in Syria, but Israel knows how to deal with it. Here and there you can hear about Iranian targets or Shia targets in Syria which are targeted by certain Air Force. We know how to deal with it, but this is dealing with arms, not with the head, and the head is in Tehran. Even where we are, we have to deal with Hezbollah in Lebanon. Lebanon has been abducted. The decision to wage a war against us from Lebanon is not going to be made in Beirut, it’s going to be made in Tehran.
In strategic thinking, we have to direct the efforts to Tehran. The only way which was successful twice in 2003, Khamenei, the same leader, decided to suspend the project. He stopped all the activities in 2003. Why? In order to avoid the sad phase of the American offensive, as Muammar Qaddafi decided to give his military nuclear project. When we stand on the Lebanese border or the Syrian border, we should think about Tehran, how to bring this regime again to such a dilemma, to survive, or to go on all these rogue activities. The other entire issues are even tactical and not strategic.
Rich: General, You mentioned a moment ago that the JCPOA and it getting done when it got done, had a lot to do with the American political process and President Obama trying to show progress at least ahead of running for reelection. I wonder if you could talk for a minute about what role, if any, Israeli domestic politics has had on this conversation. You mentioned a moment ago also that Prime Minister Netanyahu convinced President Trump to leave the JCPOA. What role did Israeli politics have then, and what role, if any, does it have now on Israel’s approach to Iran and other threats?
Moshe: Henry Kissinger said that Israel doesn’t have a foreign affairs strategy, we have internal political discussions. I’m not sure, it’s phrasing his saying and unfortunately, that was the case. I was very critical to what Netanyahu decided to do at the time and to actually to initiate conflict between the government of Israel and the administration by certain steps.
I didn’t like the idea that the Israeli government didn’t follow, which should have been our strategic interest, keeping bipartisan relationship and not supporting any side, whether it is in the presidential elections or by going to the Congress or whatever. In real-time, I saw that it was a tremendous mistake. Unfortunately, because of that, in a certain point, we were not involved in the negotiations between the P5+1 and the Iranian regime.
We were excluded from being updated and because of that, President Obama decided even not to allow certain corporations, and I’m familiar, of course, is what we have United States and Israel regarding our defense establishment and this is a strategic asset for both, with all modesty. I consider Israel as a speedboat and of course, the United States as a aircraft carrier, but nevertheless, we enjoyed talking about many administrations, very good cooperation between our defense establishment. Because of these Israeli political activities, which were because of Israeli internal political considerations, we have lost one of our strategic assets, the cooperation. The very deep, the very intimate cooperation between the United States and Israel. That’s why I considered it in real-time as a mistake. That’s why even now I claim we should cooperate with the US administration. We can argue, we can have many disputes, we have the right and certain wounds to discuss it in closed doors.
I understand from the Potomac, from Washington, it might be that the Iranian threat is seen very different the way that it’s perceived here. This is existential threat. That’s why we are so anxious to do the right things. I believe that we are on the same page although we are in different places. We are on the same play page because just thinking about a military nuclear Iran, what about the Middle East in this case? What about Saudi Arabia? What about Turkey? What about Egypt? They are interested, I believe that the American interest, as well as the European interest, is stability in the Middle East. It doesn’t go with the military nuclear Iran. That’s why we should do our at most and incorporate in order to prevent it.
Rich: General, I want to go back again to the decision to leave the JCPOA. As somebody who supported that decision, I want to give a couple of thoughts in my mind and have you respond to it how you would’ve thought about it. One, of course, is that May or really late April, we had Prime Minister Netanyahu reveal to the world in a press conference, famous press conference, that the Mossad had stolen the nuclear weapons archive out of Teran and started revealing some of that information turned some of it over to the IAEA, et cetera.
That led to what we’re still seeing today with Rafael Grossi at the IAEA and ongoing investigation into undeclared nuclear activities and sites and materials. Unfortunately, that pressure has pulled back over the last year under this administration but the Trump administration really pushed forward on that investigation. It was a real focal point at the IAEA board of governors that could have potentially led to a referral back to the Security Council for noncompliance with the NPT.
If Trump had not left the deal, and I saw this in Vienna with the Europeans because the fear is that pushing this investigation could collapse the JCPOA. If Trump had not left the deal and the political pressure from Europe and everyone was still stay in the deal, keep the deal going, don’t you worry that there would never have been an investigation at the IAEA? What happened in 2015, was sweeping PMD under the rug, the prior military dimensions or possible military dimensions of the program would have just happened again with the nuclear archive, and instead, now we still have this active investigation at the IAEA. Isn’t that a benefit of leaving the deal?
Moshe: The IAEA is under pressure, under Iranian pressure, as well as pressure led by the United States, that’s the way that I know it and understand it. Now, there were certain cases in which we asked very tough questions, the IAEA inspectors. If the Iranians made a test in Parchin, why don’t you insist to go into the facility and to check it? If not, more sanctions, but you have to challenge the regime.
As I learned, in certain cases, the IAEA operated according to the Iranian pressure. If this is a game, to what pressure the IAEA is ready to obey? Without going to details, according to my experience, when the West led by the United States was determined and pushed and pressured the IAEA inspectors, they were ready to challenge the regime. Now, it is not just the IAEA, and we’re talking about pressure, it should have been a pressure created by a coalition led by the United States, the Europeans on board. In certain cases, when we talked about the nuclear project, the French and the Brits were tougher than the Americans.
Rich: That’s true, especially the French, especially the French.
Moshe: In other cases, the German played their own game because of economic business considerations. The administration, of course, in this case, the American administration held and have the power, the political powers, the economic power, as well as military power if it is needed to put the pressure not just on Tehran, on Western capitals, as an example, regarding economic interests.
Rich: One last question on JCPOA from me, and then I’ll turn it back over to my co-host. If Trump doesn’t leave the Iran deal, if the United States today is still in the Iran deal, December 20th, 2021, there are a couple of things that would’ve happened already, right? The arms embargo would’ve expired last October and had the United States threatened sanctions as President Trump eventually did, he issued an executive order with sanctions threatening Russia and China, if you try to transfer arms, we’ll impose sanctions, and we haven’t seen that happen yet because of those sanctions are still in place today, and that’s been one point of ambiguity on the Biden administration so far, whether they would enforce those sanctions.
The Iranians could have said, if you impose those sanctions, if you threaten interfering with the arms embargo lifting, we’re going to enrich uranium. You’re breaking your side of the deal if you don’t let the arms embargo expire, so we’re going to do what we’re doing today anyways in response to not allowing the arms embargo to expire. Then the follow on of that is of course everything Iran’s doing today is allowed under the JCPOA just after a few more years. That’s the craziness of this whole thing. If they hold onto the sunsets, everything they do today which is listed is actually perfectly allowable in just a few short years.
I guess the fundamental question is because of the historic mistake of the JCPOA of leaving them with the enrichment capabilities, leaving them with the sunsets, wouldn’t all of this crisis happen sooner or later anyways? Then the question is when do you want the crisis to happen?
Moshe: It might be, Rich. It might be that you are very light because JCPOA allowed Iran within a decade or so to go on with the project. I was very supportive to the Trump idea to impose more sanctions but to keep the coalition, not to withdraw from the JCPOA. JCPOA was given. Now, from that point, let’s go on in imposing pressure. Let’s wave with a credible military option, let’s respond. We don’t allow the Iranian to challenge us by any military means whether it is in the Palestinian arena, from Lebanon, from Syria.
In the time of Obama, an American frigate, USS Mason, was targeted three times by Iranian-made land-to-sea missiles. Of course, the missile missed the frigate, not because of the Iranian intention, because of the defensive measures taken by the USS Mason, but there was not any American response. Unfortunately, that was the case with Trump. After the interception of the intelligence UAV, I saw to believe this is an opportunity to demonstrate strength in the Middle East if you don’t hold the big stick and use it properly when it is needed. There was an opportunity to use a big stick, to demonstrate strength, to respond to this provocation.
What was the Iranian conclusion after ignoring the interception, not doing anything by the American side? Wow, Trump is ready to impose sanctions, to talk, but is not ready to do anything on the military arena. It was a mistake. Soleimani, the assassination of Soleimani was something different, but it was too late, and it didn’t enable to bring, again, the coalition that I believe is still relevant, that my proposal to the Biden administration, let’s go back to this kind of pressure, political, economic, and military, to bring the regime to the right choice.
Rich: To pivot a second, because we’ve been talking around for a while now, and it is obviously the major existential threat to Israel at the moment, the UAE’s national security advisor recently visited Iran and met with Iran’s president. One Israeli official was quoted as saying, “They’re running through the drops without getting wet. They’re doing so with expertise and skill, and the strangest thing is no one is mad at them. We know about their relations with the Iranians, we know about their relations with us, and everyone accepts it.” My question is, how do you see the Abraham Accords affecting Israel’s dynamic with Iran, and in the region generally?
Moshe: The Abraham Accords is a very significant strategic achievement. First of all, and it was a case even before exposing the Abraham Accords, I was involved in the relationship, creating the relationship, building the relationship between Israel and the Gulf states, as it was under the table before exposing it. There is no Israeli Arab conflict. Wow. It is an achievement. There is an Israeli Palestinian one, and the Arab regimes realized that Israel and themselves, we are on the same boat. First of all, we share common enemies. Iran is on top of it, the Jihadists, Turkey claiming to have an Ottoman empire, it’s not an enemy but it’s a rival for our interest, for the Gulf states or the Arab interests as well.
Of course, interest based on economic corporation, they understand that the oil is not anymore an economic or political asset as it was in the ’70s. The United States is independent regarding energy. They need high tech, they need water, they need sophisticated agriculture, we have the know-how. That’s why we enjoy relationship based on interest. I am a great believer on relationship based on interest, not on accords written by lawyers. Forgive me. Interests.
Rich: Forgiven, forgiven.
Moshe: [chuckles] Nevertheless, they have their own considerations and I believe that the– I understand that the Gulf state regimes are especially after the US withdrawal from Afghanistan after creating pressure on their regimes regarding human rights. They’re not social about the US administration. This is the case. This is a great change, not to compare to the time of the Trump administration. In this case, they have to open channels, not just with Israel as they do, and we enjoy it and we encourage it, we welcome it. They open channels even with Iran to be on the safe side because of both are afraid of certain development in the Middle East from America.
Jarrod: Bogie, it’s a very rare opportunity I think for our listeners to speak to a former IDF Chief of Staff, let alone a former Defense Minister of the state of Israel. You are one of the few people who have been in that seat to have that bird’s eye view of all the security threats as Isreal, sees it, from the Curia and Tel Aviv. What is it like the day in the life of an IDF Chief of Staff or a Defense Minister? What do you do on a daily basis? What is that like for you? Are you just never sleeping? Is it like Churchill during the war and you’re taking 30-minute naps? What is it like?
Moshe I was asked several times, “How do you sleep as a chief general staff, as a Defense Minister?” I said, “I sleep like a baby, waking up every two hours and crying.”
Moshe: As I know our strengths, I know all our secrets and I’m confident about our ability, the ability of the state of Israel to defend ourselves by ourselves. We are lucky to have young generation. This morning, I spoke with a Israeli youngster before being drafted into the military about the motivation, about taking responsibility, and this is our well-known secret. I claim this is a spirit, the Jewish Zionist spirit, which brings many youngsters in Israel, to be ready to take responsibility, even to sacrifice their lives for the country. It’s a source of strength.
This is the spirit and the knowledge. This is our secret. State of the art when it comes to excellence, technology, high tech, whatever, of the youngsters, but it is based on the Jewish Zionist spirit. That’s why I’m so confident in our ability, first of all, to stand against all odds. A tiny country in this Middle East hostile environment until recently, Israeli Arab conflict. This is not the case anymore because of our strengths. Not because all other parties in the region have become Zionists. Because of our strengths and our ability to cooperate.
The Middle East is short of water. We went to desalination, we are not short of water anymore. We don’t have to fight for water. Recycling water for agriculture. We provide water to Jordan, to the Palestinians, of course, the know-how to certain countries in the region who are ready to desalinate or to recycle water for agriculture. We have the know-how. First of all, it’s a great responsibility to be Chief of General Staff and or Defense Minister. I still remember the day after accomplishing my term, you feel like you are full lying in the air, removing tons of responsibility from your shoulders.
Rich: Is there one that’s better than the other, one job? Was IDF Chief of Staff better than Defense Minister?
Moshe: The only advantage of the Chief of General Staff is not to be a politician.
Moshe: In the military, you have the ethics, the values, the enemy is in front of you.
Rich: [laughs] Not behind you.
Moshe: Politics, you’re surrounded, but you have to deal with certain issues which I prefer not to deal with. Internal political, whatever, all kind of combinations and manipulations and spin doctors. Being a chief general staff, it is clear than being politician.
Jarrod: To sum up, we typically do something we call the lightning round where we ask our guests to give us- answer a few short questions which give us a little bit of a better sense of who they are when they’re not working. My first one is your favorite Hebrew or Yiddish phrase. It’s okay if it’s profanity. It just can’t be English profanity.
Moshe: In Hebrew, [foreign language]. If I’m not to myself, who will be for me? In Yiddish, [foreign language]
Rich: That’s a classic. Do you have a favorite Arabic phrase?
Moshe: You know what is IBM in the Middle East? It is the abbreviation of Inshallah, Bukra, Malesh. Inshallah is, the God will take care. Bukra is, let’s do it tomorrow like mañana. Malesh, never mind. That’s IBM in the Middle East. Inshallah, Bukra, Malesh.
Rich: IBM. I like that. Do you have a favorite military operation from IDF military history?
Moshe: When it comes to Special Forces operation, of course, I was responsible for the assassination of Shehadeh in Tunis, which was done smoothly because of very good preparations. When it comes to war, the most unforgettable war for me is Yom Kippur War in which I participated as a reservist as a paratrooper with the first brigade to cross the Suez Canal. For me, from being in the bottom, after unfortunately being surprised by the Arabs, the coalition of Egypt and Syria which was, of course, an Israeli failure, political as well as senior military Islam failures, I realized that the troops on the ground, I was there, turned all situation. First of all, by the Spirit.
We knew at that time that there was no choice. The Yom Kippur achievement in terms of Israeli wars to me and even in retrospect was more significant the six-day war in ’67 because of the mistakes that we did at the beginning and turning the whole situation to our favor to threaten Cairo, to threaten Damascus from the rock bottom, to climb on the hill. It was the main challenge that I still consider, not just myself, many expert consider it as a great achievement.
Rich: General “Bogie” Ya’alon, Moshe Ya’alon, thank you so much for joining the podcast. It’s not an honor to have had you today.
Moshe: Thank you, Rich. Thank you, Jarrod, for having me.
Jarrod: Appreciate having you on, General. Thank you so much.
Moshe: Thank you.