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A Conversation on Iran with Israeli Brigadier Gen. Eliezer Hemeli

The following was taken from  The article was written by Jspace Foreign Affairs Correspondent, Rob Lattin, who also blogs about Israeli and Middle Eastern foreign policy for Foreign Policy Blogs. 

A Conversation on Iran with Israeli Brigadier Gen. Eliezer Hemeli

Brigadier General (res.) Eliezer Hemeli

I recently had the opportunity to catch up with Israeli Brigadier General (res.) Eliezer Hemeli, who spent a large portion of his life on the battlefield in Lebanon and Syria. I asked him a few questions on his views toward the Iranian nuclear dilemma. Over the last year Israeli leadership, both political and military, have been divided on how best to handle Iran. Major figures such as the previous military chief of staff Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, former defense minister and military chief of staff Shaul Mofaz, and the previous head of Mossad Meir Dagan have all expressed concern over the way the current Israeli administration is handling things. General Hemeli generally agrees with the aforementioned leaders, and told me that while war might be necessary, there are other non-violent ways at this point to force Iran to comply.

Rob: Do you think an attack on Iran is imminent?

General Hemeli: I don’t know. There is a goal which is to convince Iran to stop its military program, and they are trying to fool the whole world. It really is an issue of the whole world, not just of Israel. It’s a threat to everyone in the Middle East, Europe and the United States, and all of their interests.

There are more ways than just force to stop the program. Practically speaking, the Iranians don’t believe that anyone is serious about stopping their program. No one is really putting forward a serious ultimatum, “Guys, stop the program, and abide by international law, or face the consequences.” The world could deliver a powerful message by doing something like what JFK did against Cuba in the 1960s. He didn’t use force, he blockaded Cuba to get the Russians’ attention and understanding. He said, “Listen, the United States won’t tolerate nuclear missiles 100 miles off its shores.” It took the Russians less than 48 hours to respond by pulling out their missiles.

Rob: Do you think a blockade of Iranian shores is feasible?

General Hemeli: For sure. It is declaring a war, but it is non-violent and without using an attack style force. You can still push diplomacy, albeit to the edge. It does leave a short period of time for diplomacy and discussion, and if that fails, it will lead to the outcome that was always on the table anyway.

There are also some other ways to send the same message. The sanctions could of course be increased. One problem though with this is that Russia and China prevent unified actions by the world and the United Nations when it comes to sanctions.

There also needs to be more sessions between the superpowers to decide a hard final date of when they’ve decided that diplomacy with Iran has failed. If that date is passed with no progress, then you up the sanctions so as to basically cut Iran off from any kind of interaction or trade with the world. What the world is doing now gives them problems, but it’s not crippling. They can still function. If these further crippling sanctions don’t work, then you have to take it one step further and install the blockade on Iran, which as I said before could turn into a full-scale military operation. You have to be ready for that.

Rob: What do you think of the way the government of Israel has handled the situation with Iran?

General Hemeli: I believe that for years the government had a policy of handling it as a closed conversation with the United States and some other major European powers, doing everything on every level to put an end to the problem. It is clear that it has not been successful. The Iranian program is moving forward and expanding, but Israel cannot live with such a threat in its neighborhood.

I totally agree with the words of Shimon Peres, who recently said that whatever happens, it has to be 100 percent coordinated with the United States. There are limits to the capabilities of Israel and to deal with this threat, which is also a threat to the free world. Coordination is necessary to really reach a point where the Iranian program can be stopped.

Rob: At the AIPAC convention this past year, all the presidential candidates, including Mitt Romney and President Obama, stated that if Iran were not willing to comply with international law that military options were available. Do you think that the US realistically is going to either unilaterally or in coordination with other powers and/or Israel attack Iran?

General Hemeli: I don’t know. I’m sure that the U.S., together with the U.N., will try to do everything possible and take any means to convince Iran that they are stepping into a dead end with this program. If worse comes to worse, military action is also possible. In such a case, I’m sure that the U.S. will try and get a U.N. umbrella to support such a decision.

No one can know if the U.S. will actually do it, we can just hope that they will. They say that they are not going to allow Iran to become nuclear, and I trust the leadership of the United States that they mean what they say, and will follow up with their declarations. Once Iran has a nuclear weapon, it will start a nuclear arms race: Turkey, Saudi Arabia and more. It will create huge instability for the whole world. Like I said, it’s a global problem, not just an Israeli one.

Rob: I agree with you that an attack on Iran, whether it is a blockade or an aerial strike, should be coordinated between world powers. That being said, do you think Israel will act unilaterally?

I hope that it will not, because we don’t have the power ready to destroy the problem. The only power we have is just to withhold it for a period of time. It will only give Iran international support to continue and build their program, because they will show the world that they were attacked and need a deterrent.

To answer your question, there is an imbalance between those who support and those who reject a unilateral strike. They might make the decision that after an analysis of all the intelligence and options, that that is the best option. I don’t have the information to say whether it will be the best option at the time, if they do decide to act.




Rob Lattin

Rob Lattin recently completed his Master's in International Affairs at the City College of New York, where he won the Frank Owarish prize for graduating at the top of his class. His thesis explored Democratic Peace Theory and its applicability to small powers, and used the relationship between Turkey and Israel as its case study. Rob received his B.A. in Near Eastern Studies and Political Science, graduating from the University of Arizona with honors.

Rob has traveled extensively throughout the Middle East and has lived in Haifa, Israel. In addition to blogging for FPB, he is the Foreign Affairs Correspondent for He currently splits his time between Washington D.C. and New York City.