Arieh O'Sullivan
The Media Line
February 10, 2011 - 1:00am

While America remains Israel’s strongest and most important ally, the Jewish state needs to explore widening its strategic partnerships to other countries in the Middle East and with the world’s emerging powers, Israel’s Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor told The Media Line.

“The world is changing and moving. China is growing we need to have good relations with them,” Meridor said. “China is beginning to play a more important role in foreign policy. India is an important country. We are no longer enemies with Russia, of course, and Russia is an important.”

In a wide-ranging interview with The Media Line, Meridor said America remained the uncontested dominant power in the Middle East, but that perception could change if the U.S. failed to live up to its image. A former justice and finance minister, Meridor plays a key role in Israel’s strategic affairs today, serving both as minister for intelligence minster and atomic energy. He is also a member of the inner security cabinet

“When we see signs of people thinking America is weakening, it is not good and we certainly hope and wish that America finds way to reinvent itself,” said Meridor.

The American-led campaign against Iran to stop its nuclear weapons program is an opportunity for the U.S. to demonstrate its power and commitment to allies in the region, he said. A successful campaign could also present opportunities for Israel to enhance its relations with moderate Arab states, Meridor said.

According to Meridor, Iran has produced three tons of enriched uranium and while Tehran has had setbacks in its nuclear program, they were still advancing toward getting the bomb. If America fails to stop them, the results could be disastrous, he said.

“This sends waves of shivers and shocks to the Arab world because Iran tries to export its revolution… and it threatens their regimes. If America isn’t able to contain this danger and protect the Arab moderate regimes, they may look in different directions,” he said.

“This is a battle that America must win,” Meridor said. “If there is leadership in America and resolve displayed outside and persistence and mounting pressure on Iran then it can do the job.”

“This is the test not only of the standing of Iran in the world, but of the standing of America in the 21st century. Can it deliver to its allies, the Arab countries mainly, or can’t it? Can it control the threat from expanding proliferation or can’t it?”

“I think the Americans are not that weak and the Iranians are not that strong. It can be done and it is the most important game in town,” he added.

He warned that a nuclear armed Iran could cause the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to break down by causing a domino effect across the Middle East, as countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia rush to get the bomb to serve as a counterweight to an Iranian weapon.

Meridor, who also holds the title of minister for atomic energy and has played a major role in drafting the country’s revised strategic doctrine, said Israel had reviewed its long-time policy of “nuclear opacity” and had decided not to change it.

“Nuclear opacity I think always worked for Israel. We never said we did nor did not possess nuclear weapons. We left it ambiguous,” Meridor said “I don’t think that anything we can add to this -- admitting we don’t or confessing we had -- will add anything.

Israeli leaders have been under strict instructions from Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu not to comment on the anti-regime demonstrations in Cairo and Meridor begged off questions on Egypt. Egypt is one of only two Arab countries that maintain formal diplomatic relations with Israel.

As minister of intelligence, Meridor did acknowledge, however, that Israel had been caught off guard by the outbreak of the anti-regime protests in Egypt and its intensity. Regarding the future prospects of the 31-year-old peace treaty with Egypt, Meridor cautioned that it was premature to predict its fate.

“This peace treaty is a mutual interest. We benefit from it and they benefit from it,” he said. “I do hope and believe that when this crisis is over the Egyptian government will go on keeping the peace agreement with Israel… Is it sure? Am I not concerned that something less may develop? We don’t yet know. We are now in the eye of the storm and I don’t think it is very wise to make definite assessments and clear predictions when the storm is not yet over.”

Meridor said current events had presented Israel with “new possibilities” to strengthen strategic partnerships with moderate Arab countries.

“New interests may bring about new connections, new relationships, some of them many of them still under the table because they are still somewhat afraid of talking to us publically, and some of it on the table,” he said.

“We need to be very attentive to the change we are in, not to be locked in the old paradigms of who are the bad guys and who are the good guys. Things are changing. Interests are shifting. We need to be very proactive here,” Meridor said.

Specifically, he questioned whether negotiations with Syria could make them “ready to jump from the bad guy’s camp to the good guy’s camp?” and whether direct peace talks with the Palestinians could resume.

“We need to go to every stone and try to turn it and see if we can add more stability and more allies to the moderate camp.”


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