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Opinion Israeli defense minister: Iranian nuclear agreement is ‘a very bad one’

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon arrives for a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem last year. (Gali Tibbon/Agence France-Presse via Getty Images)

Lally Weymouth is a senior associate editor for The Post.

In an interview at his Tel Aviv office last week with The Post’s Lally Weymouth, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon discussed his concerns about the U.S.-led Iran nuclear deal, said Bahrain may be the next target for an assertive Iran and suggested that common interests with Arab countries can be more important to his country than “accords written by lawyers.” Excerpts:

Q: Regarding the proposed Iran agreement, what are your major concerns?

A: We consider the deal a very bad one.

There is no doubt that the Iranians’ intention and all of their activities in the last 20 years were in order to reach a military nuclear capability.

The deal is going to allow Iran to actually become a military nuclear threshold state. No facilities are going to be shut down, including underground facilities. No centrifuges will be destroyed. They will be able to go on with their research and development to have in the near future — whether it be 10 years or whatever — advanced centrifuges with a better capability to enrich uranium. They haven’t exposed [that] there was a weaponization part of the project. We have hard evidence about it.

At the Parchin [military complex] or where?

It is not just Parchin. They say very clearly, “We’re not going to allow inspections of military facilities.” Parchin is a military facility, and we have hard evidence that it was used for weaponization after 2003.

We understand that the Security Council sanctions are going to be relieved at the very beginning of the implementation of the deal. And that the E.U. bilateral sanctions will be relieved in parallel to the Security Council sanctions. The only part that they’re not sure about is the U.S. sanctions, which is under the Congress. That’s what they want — to have sanctions relief in order to rehabilitate the economy and to spend more money on rogue activities.

While we witnessed the negotiations about the number of centrifuges in the deal, the Iranians took over Yemen by proxy — by the Houthis — and they tried to open a new front of terror against us in the Golan Heights.

Why are they focusing on the Golan?

Because Hezbollah is deterred from operating from Lebanon because they understand it’s not going to be worthwhile to absorb our response. So the only option is to use the vacuum in the Golan Heights.

What about Iran’s activities in Iraq and in Syria?

We are afraid that this rogue regime in Iran is ready to sacrifice a lot in order to export the revolution and to gain hegemony in the region by being active in Afghanistan and in Iraq.

In Syria, they support Bashar al-Assad, and in Lebanon, they support Hezbollah. In the Gaza Strip, they support Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. In Yemen, they support the Houthis.

What’s next on their list?

Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Dhahran, the area of the oil resources of Saudi Arabia, which is dominated by a Shia population. Iran is active over there undermining these regimes. They already control the Hormuz Straits, and now they are trying to control the straits of Bab-el-Mandeb in the Red Sea. The Iranian idea is to dominate the region.

The last element that is [left] out of the deal is the missiles. They have missiles that can cover all of Israel. It is not discussed.

What we’re going to see if the deal is concluded is a stronger Iran, ready to spend more money in sponsoring proxies to challenge and undermine moderate Sunni regimes in the region.

How do you see the moderate Arab regimes like Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan?

You have the Sunni Arab camp, and Israel shares with the [Sunnis] common interests. Iran is a common enemy. If we share common enemies along with other common interests, there is room for cooperation.

How strong is the king of Jordan ?

He’s strong. He’s not threatened. He has a strong security apparatus.

What do you think of the new regime in Saudi Arabia?

In a short time, this regime has demonstrated determination to deal with Iranian challenges. In Yemen, by creating a Sunni coalition, they acted, going to war against Iran.

So you might have relations with some of these Arab states.

I am a strong believer in interests, rather than ceremonies and peace accords written by lawyers.

Some say that Syrian President Assad’s regime is losing.

Generally speaking, Bashar al-Assad is losing ground. He governs or controls less than 25 percent of the former Syrian territory. He’s concentrating along the shore — the Alawite enclave — Damascus, and a couple of towns. But he lost the eastern part of Syria. The Kurds enjoy autonomy in the northeastern part of Syria. He lost Aleppo, and Latakia is threatened now. We have ISIS [an acronym for the Islamic State] now in the eastern part of Syria.

The problem with the Sunni rebels — they are divided. They are ready to cooperate against Bashar al-Assad, but when it comes to their own interests, they fight each other.

Our policy is on the one hand not to intervene, on the other hand to keep our interests. We have three red lines: One is not to allow the delivery of advanced weapons to any terror organization, whether by Iran or by Syria. Second, not to allow delivery of chemical agents or weapons to any terror faction. The third is not to allow any violation of our sovereignty, especially in the Golan Heights. When it happens, we act.

What would you like the U.S. to do?

If I had to give advice to the U.S. administration, it’s not to allow the jihadists to take over. And from the moral point of view, a leader who used chemical weapons against his own people shouldn’t stay. He’s a butcher.

How do you defeat ISIS?

By fighting it.

Some military people in the U.S. say that some boots on the ground are needed to crush ISIS, not just airstrikes.

In the end, you need boots on the ground, but it’s better to have local boots on the ground.

You see the ISIS as a big problem?

It is, but Iran is a bigger one.

If they were able, the West Bank might be exploding.

Are they trying?

Yes, sure. Hamas is financed now by Iran. [Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei said publicly that terror by the Palestinians should be supported in order to fight against us.

Can Assad still call the shots in Damascus today, or does Iran?

He give the orders to the Syrian armed forces, but he doesn’t give orders to Hezbollah, which is fighting for him, or to the Shia militias, which are in Syria in order to save him. [Iranian General] Qassem Soleimani is giving those orders.

What’s going to happen in Iraq?

It’s not going to be a unified, solidified Iraq again. I think we should learn lessons from what we see — the collapse of the nation-state system.

Read more on this topic:

Moshe Yaalon: Current Iran framework will make war more likely

An interview with Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon