Efraim Halevy, former chief of Israel’s spy agency the Mossad, said in two separate interviews on Sunday and Monday that President Obama’s approach toward Iran has been “courageous” and “brave.” Halevy told Al-Monitor that: “Obama does think there is still room for negotiations. It’s a very courageous thing to say in this atmosphere.” Halevy contrasted the approach with Mitt Romney’s:
HALEVY: Negotiating with Iran is perceived as a sign of beginning to forsake Israel. That is where I think the basic difference is between Romney and Obama. What Romney is doing is mortally destroying any chance of a resolution without war. Therefore when [he recently] said, he doesn’t think there should be a war with Iran, this does not ring true. It is not consistent with other things he has said.
Halevy also acknowledged the impact of recent sanctions. During a conversation on Israeli radio on Monday, the former spy chief attributed Iran’s recent economic problems to the sanctions passed by the Obama administration. He told Al-Monitor: “The sanctions have been very effective. They are beginning to really hurt.” These comments reinforce a speech that Halevy delivered at the Wilson Center in Washington, D.C. last Thursday, where he said: “The fact of the matter is the sanctions have not brought the end to the program but sanctions are hurting very much.” Ehud Barak, Israel’s defense minister, has also said that sanctions against Iran have been “effective.” Halevy’s statements undermine the Romney campaign’s claim that President Obama’s handling of the Iran issue has been ineffective and that Romney would be better at the “negotiating table.”
Halevy himself urged negotiations, saying to Al-Monitor: “I realized that dialogue with an enemy is essential. There is nothing to lose. Although the claim was, if you talk to them, you legitimize them. But by not talking to them, you don’t de-legitimate them. So this convinced me, that we all have been very superficial in dealing with our enemies. Not everything you try succeeds. But you have to be willing to try.” His comments come on the heels of a New York Times report that Iran and the U.S. have agreed “in principle” to direct negotiations with each other. When Romney was asked if he supported such an approach, he refused to answer.
Responding to the report, Moshe Ya’alon, Israel’s strategic affairs minister, said that Israel would support direct negotiations if they could halt the nuclear program in Iran.
The Obama administration, along with its European allies, believe that an Iran with a nuclear weapon is a threat and have implemented several rounds of crippling sanctions aimed at finding a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear crisis. The sanctions have resulted in an estimated loss of $48 billion a year in Iranian oil revenues. U.S., Israeli and U.N. officials have repeatedly pointed out that Iran has not yet decided to pursue a nuclear weapon.