Major General Danny Yatom has had a distinguished career serving his country both in the IDF and in the political arena. He served as head of the Israeli Central Command, and later, under Yitzhak Rabin was the prime minister's military secretary, involved in negotiations with Syria, Jordan and the Palestinians. Between 1996 and 1998 he served as head of the Mossad Intelligence Service, subsequently serving as chief of staff to Ehud Barak during his terms as Prime Minister and Defense Minister. He was elected to the 16th and 17th Knesset for the Labor Party. Maj. Gen. Yatom addressed the Middle East Forum in Philadelphia on November 14 about the implications of the current turmoil in the Middle East for Israel's national security and international relations.
Mr. Yatom commenced his talk by discussing Israeli perceptions of the Egyptian situation. Most Israelis viewed President Husni Mubarak as a moderate despite his maintaining a merely cold peace, since they believed that a cold peace was better than a hot war. The Arabs had no real experience with democracy and democratic practices, and elections could readily yield grave results as evidenced by Hamas's 2006 electoral victory. He therefore expected Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood to win the upcoming elections, a prognosis that has since been fully vindicated. In the meantime, Washington was seen throughout the region as a "broken reed" due to its betrayal of its allies.
Yatom felt that Israel ought to maintain its peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan at all costs and avoid any unnecessary tensions with the two countries. In that vein, Israel should put an offer on the table for the Palestinians so as to allow negotiations to resume, and should do so in collaboration with the U.S. administration. As for Syria, he believed that Basher Assad's regime was doomed, though he had no idea whether his successor would another Alawite, a Sunni moderate or a Sunni Islamist. Either way, Israel had to brace itself for all eventualities.
Yatom was deeply concerned by the shift of world attention from Tehran's nuclear buildup to the Arab uprisings. In his view, Iran had passed the point of no return and it was only a matter of time before it obtained nuclear weapons. As head of Mossad, he had warned the CIA as far back as 1997 about Tehran's nuclear ambitions but the agency had evinced no interest at that time. Thus far, sanctions have failed to stop Iran, leaving Israel with the agonizing decision whether to go it alone.
Yatom advocated the immediate imposition of crippling sanctions because an Iranian nuclear bomb would destabilize the Middle East and trigger an arms race, with the Saudis and the Turks, at the very least, likely to seek nuclear weapons. Should this option fail, it would be better to hit Iran rather than to allow it to obtain the bomb.
What would happen if Iran was struck by Israel or the United States? Yatom expected no world oil crisis since Iran produced only 4% of the world's oil. At the same time, he anticipated a barrage of rockets raining on Israel, estimating the attendant Israeli fatalities in the hundreds rather than the thousands. An Israeli response to such an attack should be fierce, yet he doubted whether the neighboring Arab countries would get involved in the conflict.
Summary written by MEF intern Stefan Kirschner.