It’s still possible to convince Iran’s supreme leader to “discontinue” its nuclear program, which could lead to nuclear weapons, without the use of military force, Yaron Sideman said.
Why does Israel’s consul general to the Mid-Atlantic Region believe that? Because it’s happened before.
“In 2003, Iran did put a halt to several aspects of its nuclear program; that was after the U.S. invasion to Iraq and Afghanistan — where Iran was certain that it would be hit next,” Sideman told the Chronicle last week during his first visit to Pittsburgh.
“So there is a very recent historical precedent that validates the assumption — the claim — that a credible military option actually will put the Iranian leadership in the dilemma of military program versus personal and political survival,” he continued.
“Putting [Ali] Khamenei [Iran’s supreme leader] in that dilemma is possible and it’s possible to achieve that if we take the right steps, and the right steps have to include both sanctions — economic and diplomatic — as well as a very credible military option that he would actually believe would be carried out,” he added.
Sideman visited the region for bridge-building meetings with area political, professional, academic and Jewish leaders. But he took time to discuss foreign and domestic issues related to Israel.
• Natan Sharansky’s plan for egalitarian worship at the Western Wall:
Sharansky, chair of the Jewish Agency for Israel, has proposed expanding the Kotel plaza to include Robinson’s Arch, making that a space for men and women, including Women of the Wall, to worship freely.
Despite opposition, Sideman said he is optimistic about Sharansky’s proposals.
“I think they were relatively well received by all parties,” he said. “Of course, you will find people who object, but I don’t think they belong to the main parties concerned. I’m actually encouraged that the initial recommendations of the Sharansky committee were accepted and endorsed by all concerned.
He warned though, “There has been a status quo at the Wall for many years; it won’t take a day or week to change it; it’s a process. The purpose for Sharansky is to present a road map for the process and he is doing it.”
Don’t look for Israel to take sides in the civil war that has claimed thousands of lives and destabilized an Arab country on Israel’s northern border, but Sideman said Israel would intercede to counter any threat to the Jewish state, such as the transfer of sophisticated weaponry to Hezbollah.
“[Syrian President Bashar] Assad should step aside and cease ruling Syria,” he said. “Beyond that, anything Israel does would obviously not be beneficial to any side Israel chooses to support, so we’re not in the business to take sides. We’re in the business of responding to the grave challenges Israel faces or could potentially face.
“What’s happening in Syria is tragic,” Sideman added. “The Syrian leader is basically massacring his own people, and that’s certainly a tragic situation, which could have potential ramifications for the whole region.”
• Better Place bankruptcy:
Israel’s bid to become a world leader in the field of electric car technology and infrastructure hit a major pothole last month when Better Place, a company promoting a series of stations across Israel where electric car batteries could be switched out to improve vehicle range, declared bankruptcy.
Sideman said the news about Better Place was disappointing, but it did not spell the end of electric car infrastructure in the Jewish state.
“It’s too soon [to know] whether and how Better Place can be salvaged,” he said, “but what I can tell you for sure is the drama and inspiration and technology and innovation and know-how and experience … in the areas of energy conservation developed in Israel are all there,” he said. “It’s disheartening that such a futuristic venture has run into troubles, but the potential is very much there. I’m sure great things will happen in the fields of electric vehicles in Israel as they do in so many other environmental sectors and fields.”
(Lee Chottiner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)