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‘A changing Middle East with increasing threats’
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‘A changing Middle East with increasing threats’

QUESTIONS FOR...Yaakov Katz

As the military correspondent and defense analyst for the Jerusalem Post and the Israel correspondent for Jane’s Defence Weekly, Yaakov Katz has contacts deep in Israel’s military establishment. His access has enabled him to write Israel vs. Iran — The Shadow War, a 2011 book that will be published in the United States in May by Potomac Press.

On Wednesday evening, Feb. 29, he will speak on “Difficult Truths in a Dangerous Neighborhood” at Temple Beth Shalom in Livingston.

His talk is sponsored by the synagogue, the Community Relations Committee of United Jewish Communities of MetroWest and Central NJ, and CAMERA: The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America.

The Chicago-born journalist was interviewed by phone on Feb. 8 from his home in Jerusalem.

NJJN: How do you view the military problems confronting Israel?

Katz: Israel is facing the reality of a changing Middle East with increasing threats it has never faced before. I think that it is a time that is critical for Israel’s security and stability. This is primarily a result of Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapon, but not only that. It also has to do with the ongoing upheaval in the Arab world, the so-called “Arab Spring.” We are still seeing its effect every day with the growing numbers of civilians killed in Syria, the ongoing demonstrations in Egypt, and the threat to regimes in countries like Jordan and Saudi Arabia. For Israel, this increases the chance for conflict. Israel is greatly concerned with Syria’s arsenal of chemical weapons and ballistic missiles. Syria has one of the largest stockpiles of chemical weapons in the world.

NJJN: What do you foresee happening in Iran?

Katz: What makes Iran such a critical threat today is the fact it has reached the nuclear threshold. It is just one decision away from creating and building a nuclear weapon. For the past decade, Iran has invested greatly in developing the capabilities it would require to one day building a nuclear weapon. It has overcome all the hurdles. That is why there is this great sense of urgency.

NJJN: Do you believe the sanctions against Iran are working?

Katz: The indications I get are that the sanctions are having an effect, but not the desired effect. Iran is going ahead with the nuclear program. But is there a tipping point when the sanctions will hit them so hard they will decide to crumble? I don’t know if that will happen. After overcoming all of the difficult obstacles they have faced, the temptation to walk away from developing a nuclear weapon will be too great.

NJJN: At what stage might Israel take preemptive action against Iran?

Katz: It could come in one of two scenarios. In one, Iran starts building the bomb tomorrow, and Israel will look to see if the United States will stand by its commitment to stop Iran. If Israel sees the U.S. is not taking action, there is a good chance Israel would launch a strike against Iran.

In the second scenario, if Iran stays at the place it is right now and the world continues to stand by, there could be a window of opportunity that if Israel doesn’t take, it would never be able to take in the future.

NJJN: How would the world react toward Israel if there were such a strike?

Katz: The world understands the gravity of the Iranian threat, but countries in Europe are only talking about diplomacy, not military options. I think that — especially in the U.S. in an election year — a strike against Iran could see a skyrocketing of the price of oil and that would severely upset the current administration.

NJJN: Might Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu be waiting for the U.S. election results, and if a Republican wins, might that not give him more of a mandate to take action against Iran?

Katz: I think that is definitely a possibility. It is no secret that Netanyahu is a right-leaning politician and may see eye-to-eye more with someone like Mitt Romney than with President Obama.

NJJN: So much seems to be changing in and around Israel. How do you view its future?

Katz: From a threat perspective, there is an increased possibility of deterioration on Israel’s military fronts — whether it is Lebanon with Hizbullah, Syria with the upheaval there, Egypt with the rise of Islamists, Hamas’s increased capabilities, and on top of all that, Iran with its nuclear program. That unique combination creates a reality with more cycles of violence and more wars in Israel’s future.

But if Iran comes back to the negotiating table and opens up with the West and abandons its weapons program, if Syria falls and a democratic element takes over, if Egypt decides to retain its peace treaty with Israel, if the Hamas-Fatah unity government moderates Hamas and it leads to peace talks, there are different windows of opportunity.

But my hunch is none of that will happen.

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