Dr. Avner Cohen is an Israeli-American scholar who has written extensively on nuclear weapons. Dr. Cohen believes that Iran, like Israel, is conducting a policy of nuclear ambiguity. He has long been a critic of nuclear proliferation. His book, Israel and the Bomb made it difficult for him to return to Israel. He is currently a senior fellow at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterey, California and teaches in its graduate program of international policy and management. In a recent editorial in the liberal newspaper Haaretz, Dr. Cohen wrote: “What is seen by many in Israel as a clever policy of ambiguity vis-a-vis Iran is seen in the world as a dangerous and arrogant approach that is meant to conceal a bluff. The general assessment among experts is that Israeli talk of a military option is mainly empty words. Not only does Israel not have the military capability of striking at Iran over a period of weeks, not to say months, on end, but also such a foolish war would not only fail to improve Israel's situation - it would actually cause it mortal harm. Unless it finds itself in a genuine emergency situation, Israel does not have a genuine military option.”
Will Israel attack Iran's nuclear facilities?
I do not think that Israel will attack Iran anytime soon. Specifically, I believe there is low likelihood of an Israeli attack in the coming six months. But it all depends on how circumstances develop. I firmly believe that much of the current talk about Israel attacking Iran is just posturing.
Have you read the recent IAEA report and do you believe Iran is developing nuclear weapons?
Yes, I do believe that Iran continues to develop expertise in all aspects of nuclear weapons research and development, but I am unsure whether Iran is actually manufacturing nuclear weapons. Having said that, I can also say that I have looked at the IAEA Report and it is disappointingly flawed and outdated. It is like a long laundry list of all sorts of items, some trivial some significant; some very old, some not that old. No real technological assessment of the findings, apart from saying that they are “consistent” with nuclear weapons development is mentioned. It is not presented in any chronological order. As a whole, I have found little that is truly new in the report. It is disappointing. Again, this does not mean that Iran does not have the intention of acquiring nuclear weapons but this report, coming out now, mostly serves those parties who will derive political gain from it.
Considering that Israel, Pakistan and India have nuclear weapons, many people ask why not Iran?
Let me say explicitly why Iran has no right to nuclear weapons: because Iran has relinquished its right to possess nuclear weapons. Signing the NPT means relinquishing that right. Legally speaking, Iran is a member of the treaty on the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons, and as such it has no right to possess nuclear weapons. It is as simple and straightforward as that. You cannot have it both ways.
Many Israeli officials including the former Mossad chief are against such an attack. Do you believe that Netanyahu is just bluffing or does he mean it?
I believe Netanyahu and Barak are bluffing, to a large extent, but at the same time their bluff contains some element of truth. I believe that if Netanyahu would have a good opportunity, he would attack Iran.
What is Israel afraid of? Aside from Ahmadi Nejad’s rhetoric, Iran has not threatened Israel but Israel has overtly threatened to attack Iran. Israel also sold military weapons to Iran during the Iran-Iraq war. If selling arms was OK to an Islamic Republic then, why change tune now?
First, the Israeli government did not formally sell arms to IRI during the Iran-Iraq war but rather it was a few arms dealers who sold military equipment to Iran. Second, yes, Iran has not threatened Israel directly per se, but it has done so indirectly by giving arms and ammunition to Hamas and Hezbollah.
You were once not allowed to enter Israel; is that still the case?
No. I had legal issues after writing my first book, but those issues were settled, to my satisfaction, so now I have no problem going back.
What would you like to see happen in the Middle East as someone who is against the spread and the use of nuclear weapons?
I would like to see true progress towards peace in the region. This is the priority. And if that would happen, there would be a good chance for real progress on the WMD issue.
Considering that an Israeli attack on Iran would clearly cause regional tensions to escalate at a time of great instability, what should progressive people do at this juncture?
Put pressure on Iran to reverse course and work to prevent war. Diplomatic initiatives as well as sanctions (and other means) should not be ruled out. Sanctions on Iran’s Central Bank may create a firewall to safeguard Iran. Sanctions can work and Iran must be held accountable for its actions and words.
What is your take on the recent attack on the headquarters of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard killing a number of its high ranking members and most notably the main architect of Iran’s missile program? Some observers say that Israel was behind it. Do you believe that is the case?
Whatever I say is pure speculation. It could have been Israel, quite possibly it was. But it could also be others, i.e., forces inside Iran or perhaps foreign intelligence or a combination of all. Obviously, I do not have an answer that could provide anything new on this, but there is no question in my mind that this was not an accident but an act of sabotage.
Do you believe that Palestine should be accepted as a U.N. member?
Yes, I do, at least in principle, but that needs to be done in the right political timing. I think this is ultimately in the interest of Israel as well. Ideally, this should be done as part of the negotiation itself, and it is unfortunate that this effort was made by the Palestinians due to lack of progress.
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