Ohan Hosrandi, spokesman to Israel embassy in India, says that Israel is not so much worried about its own isolation as about threat to global peace by Iran emerging as a N power after deal with P5+1 at US’ bidding. He didn’t rule out attacking N Iran either, when asked a specific question. Europe has opened up to explore business opportunity with Iran. Even Saudis who made a common cause with Israel over N deal seem to have been persuaded by US to sing a different tune. Shitanshu Shekhar Shukla speaks to Ohan Hosrandi.
Excerpts of the exclusive interview:
Q. US Jews appear divided over support to Iran N deal. Steven M Cohen supports the deal. But American Jewish Committee director David Harriss opposes. According to a survey, 57 % of US Jews want Israel to start a negotiation with Iran. Majority supports the deal.
A. The Jews in the US are as divided over the Iran’s Nuclear deal as the Jews in other country. The Jews are also as divided as any other community in the world. The Christians or Muslims in W Asia or any other country are divided over this deal.This deal was called by many including the media and several political analysts as a dawn of new era. I can agree with their view that the deal is dawn of new era. But I don’t think that this will necessarily be anerafor good, in that sense. Israeli Government believes that this is a bad deal. Ofcourse the opinion is divided across the world. The deal only partially freezes Iran’s N plan. The deal will render Iran completely free and independent to develop N weapon after 10 years. Iran is not forced to dismantle any centrifuge developing site it might have. The deal unfortunately for the first time recognises Iran as capable of N military activities inspite of several examples in the pastabout Iran’s defiance of world community, UN. Iran has been found capable of N military capabilities at undisclosed sites, underground sites like Fordow.
Q. Like Parachin…
A. Yes, Parachin, Natanz. Iran doesn’t enjoy confidence of the world community. It will have implication not just on Iran’s N ambitions but also on regional security, its proxy wars in the region. We see Iran giving major fillip to terrorism across the world such as Assad in Syria, Houthis in Yemen, Hezbollah in Lebanon. Just a couple of days ago, Iranian Government pledged to keep providing help to its friends in the region.
Q. Iran Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khameini has also reiterated …
A. Yes, Khameini did say that. Unfortunately, Iran has done this in past too when they have sanctions forced upon them. I can’t imagine what they will do when the sanctions have been lifted and billions of dollars have found their way to their coffers. They will be free to do whatever they want to.I don’t believe the region will be peaceful.
Q. So Israel doesn’t want to make peace with Iran even if majority of US Jews want it according to a survey.
A. Our problem is with the regime in Iran and not with the people there. They have repeatedly threatened Israel. It is a regime that every a few days, every a few weeks chanted death to Israel, death to US. Just when the negotiations were in final stage, Iran supreme leader Khameini led a huge rally where the people chanted death to US, death to Israel. It is a regime that doesn’t encourage stability. It will be extremely reckless of the world community to facilitate or allow this kind of regime, not necessarily now but 10 years later, to develop N weapons.
Q. There are some voices from within Israel itself like Avigdor Liberman who criticised Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s handling of Iran N deal. He said that Netanyahu is incapable of stopping Iran N deal and that he should be replaced. He claimed that he could make a better Prime Minister than Netanyahu as far as preventing Iran from getting a N deal or weapon is concerned. Is it a plain politics?
A. Israel is an open, free society. Every person has a right to express his opinion. Avigdor Liberman is a former foreign Minister and a part of the former Government. Now he is in the opposition. He is more than free to express his opinion. There are 8 million people and everyone in Israel is entitled to his view not only over Iran N deal but also over any other issue. As a politician he may have felt it wise to say so. There is a strong consensus in Israel over this deal. Whether it is the opposition or the previous or current government, Israel is one in believing that Iran can’t have N weapon capabilities. We understand it well that Iran will develop N weapon capabilities and graduate to N military capabilities. That is a threat not only to Israel but also to region and the whole world.
Q. So, Liberman is a cry in wilderness. Does he represent any sane voice in Israel?
A. (Smiles) I didn’t say that. He represents a lot of people. He is part of the opposition. There may be people in agreement with him. Since we are in the power with support from majority of the people in Israel, we have our own policy and view. But I am confident that Liberman supports view that Iran is a threat to Israel and Iranian regime is looking for N weapons.
Q. Now that the deal has been agreed to, European countries are making a bee line to explore a business opportunity with Iran. For example, France, Germany and Italy have all started visiting Tehran. Saudi Arabia, sworn enemy of Iran, and Israel had made a common cause against Iran N deal. Persuaded by US, even the Saudis have mellowed and sung a different tune. Do you think Israel is getting isolated over the deal?
A. It is quite true that several countries are looking to tap into the opportunities in Iran. Looking at the Middle East, I can see every country concerned over Iran’s N capabilities. Every country understands it pretty well that if Iran gets N capability, they will get N weapon later, a danger to entire region. Some countries like Israel are vocal. Some have taken a different approach. Not representing those countries, I can’t speak on their behalf. But it is quite clear that there is a strong combination of forces in the region facing a threat from Iran as anN power consequences of which will not be limited to Israel but other countries and beyond too.
European countries rushing to Tehran to explore a business opportunity is an important development. Iran is controlled by a regime that is fundamental. Iran Revolutionary Guards are a key player in the Iran government. They control financial institutions and economy in Iran. They stoke terrorism across the world, directly or indirectly. So, money flown into Iran coffers when the sanction is lifted and money made through business partnerships, collaboration with the European countries, will go to the Iran Republican Guards. Money will travel from there to the terrorist organisations or the regimes, not known for democratic or humanitarian values. It is going to have a far reaching effect.
Q. Your main concern is Iran’s behaviour with Middle East or rest of the world?
A. Iran has been able to prove for a good few years now that the regime and Iran Revolutionary Guardsare not necessarily focussed on improving the lives of Iranian people or neighbours for a prosperous and stable Middle East. Iran’s terror activities are spread its tentacles across world. Argentina, India. 3 years ago, Iranians attacked Israeli diplomat in New Delhi. Israeli embassy was similarly attacked in Georgia and Thailand.We see Iran supporting Assad in Syria, Hamas, an international terrorist organisation, Libya, Houthis in Yemen. Iran doesn’t want stability in the region. It is focussed on inciting communal, inter-faith violence in the region inorder to portray itself as an important player.
Q. Why do you think did US president Barack Obama tell celebrated columnist Thomas Friedman that he is not bothered how Iran behaves with the Middle East countries?
A. Obama is very much aware of Iran’s activities in the Middle East. The statement may have been made in the context of N deal negotiations. From Israeli’s perspective, Iran is a full package. Iran’s N deal cannot be delinked from its terrorist activities in the region. When you curtail an activity and allow to flourish another, you see Iran putting more effort and investing more resources into the terror activities into terrorism. It concerns us most.
Q. So you don’t seem to agree with Obama’s views?
A. On this specific issue, Israel Government has a view that is different from the US. But I can tell you out US president Barack Obama and US administration had a very good, open discussion during this period. We did raise our concerns. Relationship between both the countries is very close. Two close countries have sometimes disagreements. But we are very open. Obama himself said that he was very open and candid in his talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Q. A report has brought to light a side deal agreed to by Iran and IAEA. It is about Parachin and Fordow. Besides, this is not part of the document about Iran N deal which is given to US Congress for its review. Why do you think was it not given to US Congress for review?
A. I am not aware of the secret deal clinched between Iran and IAEA.
Q. US National Security Advisor Susan Rice herself has confirmed it.
A. I am not at all aware of it. You had better address it to US embassy. Still, I will like to add that despite of IAEA, Iran was able to develop sites like Parachin and Fordow and IAEA didn’t get a wind of it. We will have to be very vigilant..
Q. Not only that, the Republicans are very upset that the IAEA has almost allowed Iran to self inspect its N sites.
A. IAEA is an excellent organisation. It is doing a commendable job. It is supervising the sites across the world. But Iran was able to hide its N activities, warranting stronger mechanisms in place to ensure that Iran doesn’t develop any N capabilities.
Q. Do you expect that the US congress will shoot down the Iran N deal?
A. I don’t know what the US Congress will do. It is internal issue of US. But the voices to be raised in the US congress are very important. The US congress is able to ensure Iran doesn’t develop an N weapon.
Q. But Obama can veto the US congress, can’t he?
A. Again it is internal issue of US.
Q. Will Israel attack Iran if the deal is through?
A. For 67 years, we have been able to protect ourselves against all kinds of threats, terror attacks. We have been able to do that because we are accountable to ourselves. In this context, we are ensuring to protect ourselves and that Iran doesn’t develop any N military capability directed against Israel.
Q. India has come closer to Israel since Narendra Modi became Prime Minister in India. Both the countries have historical ties, starting right from Israel’s independence. Late Narasimha Rao was the architect of the bilateral ties dropping old pretensions. Prospects between two countries are exponential. In which areas do you see more…
A. India-Israel ties are completely different subject. Till 1992, we didn’t have full diplomatic ties. It was in fact at minimal level. In every field, our ties have improved year by year. We enjoy excellent rapport with Indian Government. One of Israel’s biggest embassies is in New Delhi. Trade has boomed from 80 million $ in 1992 to 5 billion $ today. Our ties are growing by leaps and bounds in the areas of defence, agriculture, water, science and technology. Indian students enrolling themselves as students in Israel universities is very important. In last 6 months, more and more Indian companies are looking at Israel for collaboration in science and technology, cyber security. It promises a much better relationship before long. We are looking forward to Indian President’s visit to Israel. It will be a momentous visit. Never before has any Indian president visited Israel. We are also waiting for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Israel. It will be a step stone no doubt. Israel president last visited India in 1996. So it is also long time since then.
It is also important to move away from New Delhi and enter into states like Punjab, Haryana, Bihar, Gujarat, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh where we are working in tandem with the state governments. Bilateral ties are not limited to the respective capitals but must extend to other cities and people to people contact. That is why about 40,000 Israeli tourists visit India every year. Last year the figure was 45,000.It is a significant number in view of our population of 8 million. It means that every Israeli has either visited or knows somebody, who has visited India. When you ask someone about India, he is not clueless. India is known well for its stand and culture. India is not a vague concept for an average Israeli. Students coming to Israel for academic pursuit is the most important step.
Q. Potential of tourism between India and Israel is not fully tapped. How much scope do you see for both the countries to promote tourism?
A. Sometimes lack of enough information or assistance Indians cut short the tours. This March more than 600 travel agents were roped to promote and help more Indians visit Israel. A lot is still left to do. There is only one flight between India and Israel. That too, three times a week. That is far from enough.
Q. What is in Israelis that defied all kinds of challenges and made Israel what it is today?
A. India and Israel are similar in many fundamental ways. Both Indians and Israelis are basically family oriented. They both live around their kids and parents. Secondly, they are both driven by education. They both give their kids the best education and see it as a ticket for better future. Thirdly, both are complaining society. They are both vibrant democracies. Fourthly, they have gone through similar painful political history and face similar challenges today. The only difference is the size of the territory.
Shitanshu Shekhar Shukla is a senior columnist. He has worked as a journalist with several media houses since 1997 and was Editor (Edit page) with The Gulf Time (UAE) till 2014.