The Cable

Netanyahu envoy: Our position on red lines has not changed

Israeli leaders remain intent on acting to degrade Iran's nuclear capabilities, probably within 6 to 8 months, and Israel believes it has the capability to succeed in such a mission, an envoy of Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu told The Cable Friday.

Following the battle of words between the U.S. and Israeli governments over Israel's call for Washington to set "red lines" for Iran that, if crossed, would trigger a military strike, the public discord between the Netanyahu and Obama administrations has been dialed down, former Israeli ambassador and Special Envoy for the Israeli Prime Minister Zalman Shoval said in an interview.

But the basic disagreement over what the threshold should be for striking Iran remains, as does the disagreement over how to communicate that threshold to the Iranian regime, he said.

"The good news is that war didn't break out between Israel and America. Things have abated a little bit, the verbal part of it, which is good," Shoval said. "But the basic strategic view of Israel has not changed. We still believe that setting a red line, in terms of benchmarks, is the important step right now."

He rejected out of hand the reported deal offered by Iran, in which Iran would gradually suspend the production of uranium but only after a full suspension of sanctions. He also said that the Obama administration's red line -- that Iran would not be allowed to possess a nuclear weapon -- was insufficient as far as Israel's security was concerned.

"Israel doesn't set dates, but if by a certain point the sanctions have not achieved the desired results, than other measures will have to be very practically considered," he said. "We talk in terms of 6 to 8 months."

The red line for Israel is when the Iranians have produced enough fissionable material from which they can produce at least a dirty bomb within a short time, he said.

Israel would welcome the harsher sanctions that the United States and Europe are reportedly considering, but the Israeli government doesn't see any evidence that those sanctions would convince Iranian leaders to change course on the nuclear program, Shoval said.

Even the collapse of the Iranian currency is not going to cause the Iranian regime to abandon its pursuit of nuclear weapons, he argued.

"This will not be enough with an ideological fanatical regime in Iran where they don't care so much, unless it endangers their own survival... [A]s long as they can they will do all sorts of things but they will not stop the nuclear effort," he said. "They see this as a life preserver for themselves."

Israel is confident it can achieve success in a solo strike on Iran's nuclear program, Shoval said, as long as the term "success" is correctly defined.

"Israel doesn't pretend that it can totally eliminate Iran's nuclear program," he said. "But the general view in Israel is that we could stop the Iranian effort for 3 to 5 years. Well, in the Middle East 3 to 5 years is not such a short time, as we have seen. And the Americans could get into the game if they want to, within that delay."

U.S. participation and leadership in any military strike would increase the likelihood of success, but that's for the United States to decide, he added.

Shoval also commented on the perceived cool relationship between Netanyahu and Obama.

"Personal relationships are important but they are not the number one criteria. The number one criteria for both countries are interests," he said. "On a day to day basis, on a technical and professional basis, the contacts are very friendly and this has been going on for a long time."

Shoval also argued that Netanyahu's controversial bomb graphic at the U.N. General Assembly was a great success.

"It was in order to get attention," he said. "[Netanyahu] didn't go to the U.N. General Assembly because he expected a pro-Israel vote. Shakespeare said, ‘All the world is a stage,' and the U.N. is a stage for the world."

Mario Tama/Getty Images

The Cable

Clinton urges Ivanishvili to respect the rule of law

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Georgia's new power broker Bidzina Ivanishvili directly that the United States is watching to make sure he plays by the rules as his Georgian Dream coalition assumes power following their surprise victory in this week's elections, the State Department said Thursday.

International observers praised the Oct. 1 parliamentary elections in Georgia that unseated President Mikheil Saakashvili's United National Movement (UNM) party for the first time since the 2003 Rose Revolution brought a measure of Western-style democracy to the former Soviet bloc state.

Ivanishvili, the eccentric billionaire who led the opposition Georgian Dream coalition to victory while accusing the ruling party of fraud and abuse of the system, is now struggling to figure out whether to work with the UNM -- or continue to rail against it. Ivanishvili's party will take over parliament, but his bitter rival Saakashvili will remain president for one more year.

In a long, rambling press conference after the vote, Ivanishvili called for Saakashvili to resign immediately. He later sounded more conciliatory notes, rescinding that call, pledging to work constructively with the president, and promising to make Washington, not Moscow, his first trip abroad.

But on Thursday, the Georgian Dream coalition alleged voting improprieties in 12 provincial polls and called for a series of recounts. Ivanishvili also called for an end to street protests and said that disputes should be handled through legal channels.

Clinton spoke separately with both Saakashvili and Ivanishvili on Thursday. She praised Saakashvili for presiding over open and competitive elections and for his "statesman-like" response to the results, State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.

"You know well that the views of this coalition were and still are fundamentally unacceptable for me. There are very deep differences between us and we believe that their views are extremely wrong, but democracy works in a way that Georgian people makes decisions by majority. That's what we of course respect very much," Saakashvili said in his concession speech Oct. 2.

To Ivanishvili, Clinton conveyed congratulations for his coalition's victory and for participating in what was largely a peaceful election. But she had another message for him as well.

"The secretary also thanked Ivanishvili for his pledge to work with his political opponents and underscored the importance of continued respect for the rule of law and democratic norms," Nuland said.

Earlier this week, Sens. John McCain (R-AZ), Joe Lieberman (I-CT), and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), issued a joint statement expressing similar sentiments.

"We urge Georgia's newly-elected leaders to be as magnanimous in victory as their opponents have been in defeat. They must abide by the rule of law, not use the instruments of the state for political retribution," they said, adding that they were "disappointed and troubled" by some of Ivanishvili's initial remarks and by the statements of Georgian Dream leaders, some of whom have called for trials of current government ministers.

Irakli Alasania, Georgian Dream's lead negotiator in forming a new government, responded to reports that Justice Minister Zurab Adeishvili and Prime Minister Vano Merabishvili have left the country by saying, "We will dig all criminals out, whenever they go, and bring them to justice."

His negotiating counterpart, National Security Advisor Giga Bokeria, called Friday for an end to the inflammatory rhetoric.

"We have received a great deal of information about violence and threats of violence. We consider these to be major problems on the path to peacefully concluding the electoral process within the constitutional framework," he said.