Q: Is Israel incapable of having a substantive impact on the Iranian program if nothing is done within the next six months, or year? Or three months?
A: All I can say is that our window is small, and it's growing much smaller....
Q: Do you share President Peres's public faith that the American administration will stop Iran from attaining nuclear weapons?
A: The issue is not whether we trust the United States, or don't trust the United States. They are a great ally. The issue is our responsibility as a sovereign state, as a sovereign Jewish state. Previous Israeli governments, in 1967, 1956, 1948, have faced very similar situations, where they were asked to wait for longer periods of diplomacy. And diplomacy wasn't succeeding. The leaders of the (Israeli) governments during those years perceived an existential threat to the country. And you know the Americans didn't agree to everything we did in 1948, 1956 and 1967, but we acted to defend ourselves, and to assure our continued existence as a sovereign Jewish state.
David, it's the reason why we came home, after 2,000 years — to assume that responsibility.
Q: I understand. And that makes it sound as though, holding to that determined, independent assertion of sovereignty, Israel could not allow its window of opportunity to close. That's the conclusion one might draw from this history.
A: One should never forget at the same time that no country in the world has a greater stake in resolving the Iranian nuclear threat peacefully than the state of Israel. We have the most at stake. My kids babysat for your kids, David. We have those kids to think about… We seek to exhaust all diplomatic options.
We've been preternaturally patient over the last 20 years that we've been warning about this program. It took the world 10 years to take us seriously, till (the uranium enrichment facility at) Natanz was revealed in 2002.
We waited for all these years. We've supported the sanctions. The sanctions have unfortunately not set back the Iranian nuclear program. According to the IAEA report of August, the program is speeding ahead. The 20% enrichment has tripled. The amount of centrifuges in the fortified underground facility in Qom has doubled. They are also building a plutonium reactor at Arak. All of this they're doing in the face of sanctions. And all of this they're doing in the face of diplomacy… There's been nothing whatsoever from the Iranians. Not a millimeter of concessions.
The question then is how long you wait? And those are profoundly weighty questions for the decision-makers of Israel.
Q: How do you defend this Israeli government's fairly empathetic policy on settlements to Americans — Jews, politicians — who think it is destructive for the prospect of resumed negotiations and progress?
History comes in handy. In 2000 and 2008 we made serious offers for the creation of a Palestinian state, and the Palestinians turned that down — not because of the settlements. You could say that Israel tried to create a Palestinian state in 1967, or an autonomous entity, right after the Six-Day War. There were no settlements. But the Palestinians turned that down too. They turned down the Partition Resolution of 1947 and 1937 (a reference to the Peel Commission). The settlements are not the issue.
On a personal level, I participated as a reserve officer in the disengagement from Gaza in 2005. And it was one of the most traumatic experiences not just of my military career, but of my life. And we did that to advance peace, and we didn't get peace. We uprooted 21 settlements and we didn't get peace. We got rockets.
It's not about settlements. We understand that settlements is an issue that will be determined within negotiations with the Palestinians. Prime Minister Netanyahu got up in front of both houses of the Congress and said that he understood that in the event of peace with the Palestinians there would be settlements that would lie beyond Israel's borders.