What Israeli and Other Western Officials Really Think About Iran

Listening to many politicians and pundits in the US and Israel, you may be led to believe that there is a consensus around the ideas that Iran is irrational, that it poses an existential threat to Israel, that it's currently trying to acquire a nuclear weapon, and that a military strike can help buy time to prevent such an outcome. But what many former and current top Israeli and other Western security officials are saying is precisely the opposite. We've collected some quotes to show you what these officials really think.

1. Iran's leadership is rational.
2. Iran does not pose an existential threat to Israel.
3. Iran has not made the decision to acquire a nuclear weapon.
4. Attacking Iran would make Iran more likely to acquire a nuclear weapon, not less so.
5. Attacking Iran would ignite a regional conflict.
6. Attacking Iran would not be in US or Israeli national interests.
7. There is time to pursue non-military options.
8. The West needs to talk to Iran.


1. Iran's leadership is rational.

"I think the Iranian leadership is composed of very rational people."

- Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, Israeli Chief of Staff, Haaretz, April 25, 2012

"The regime in Iran is a very rational regime."

- Meir Dagan, Former Israeli Mossad Chief, CBS 60 Minutes, March 11, 2012

"We are of the opinion that the Iranian regime is a rational actor."

- Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Fareed Zakaria GPS, February 19, 2012 [Dempsey was challenged on this remark by Rep. Tim Price at a House committee hearing. Read why he thinks it's important to recognize Iran's rationality.]

"We judge Iran’s nuclear decision-making is guided by a cost-benefit approach, which offers the international community opportunities to influence Tehran. Iranian leaders undoubtedly consider Iran’s security, prestige, and influence, as well as the international political and security environment, when making decisions about its nuclear program."

- John Clapper, US Director of National Intelligence, February 16, 2012

"I don't think the Iranians, even if they got the bomb, (would) drop it in the neighborhood. They fully understand what might follow. They are radical but not totally crazy. They have a quite sophisticated decision-making process, and they understand reality."

- Ehud Barak, Israeli Defense Minister, AP, February 26, 2010


2. Iran does not pose an existential threat to Israel.

"Iran poses a serious threat, but not an existential one."

- Dan Halutz, Former Israeli Defense Force Chief of Staff, YNet, February 2, 2012

"Does Iran pose a threat to Israel? Absolutely. But if one said a nuclear bomb in Iranian hands was an existential threat, that would mean that we would have to close up shop and go home. That's not the situation. The term existential threat is used too freely."

- Tamir Pardo, Israeli Mossad Chief, Haaretz, December 29, 2011

"It is not in the power of Iran to destroy the state of Israel … [Iran is] far from posing an existential threat to Israel."

- Ephraim Halevy, Former Israeli Mossad Chief, YNet November 4, 2011


3. Iran has not made the decision to acquire a nuclear weapon.

Iran "is going step by step to the place where it will be able to decide whether to manufacture a nuclear bomb. It hasn't yet decided whether to go the extra mile."

- Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, Israeli Chief of Staff, Haaretz, April 25, 2012

"[Iran has] not yet decided to manufacture atomic weapons.”

- Ehud Barak, Israeli Defense Minister, AFP, April 25, 2012

"And we also know -- or believe we know […] that the Iranian regime has not decided that they will embark on the effort to weaponize their nuclear capability."

- Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Fareed Zakaria GPS, February 19, 2012

"We assess Iran is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons, in part by developing various nuclear capabilities that better position it to produce such weapons, should it choose to do so. We do not know, however, if Iran will eventually decide to build nuclear weapons."

- John Clapper, US Director of National Intelligence, February 16, 2012

"Are they trying to develop a nuclear weapon? No."

- Leon Panetta, US Defense Secretary, CBS Face the Nation, January 8, 2012


4. Attacking Iran would make Iran more likely to acquire a nuclear weapon, not less so.

“[Israeli leadership] presents a false view to the public on the Iranian bomb, as though acting against Iran would prevent a nuclear bomb. But attacking Iran will encourage them to develop a bomb all the faster.”

- Yuval Diskin, Former Head of Israeli Domestic Intelligence (Shin Bet), Jerusalem Post, April 28, 2012

"It is difficult to see a single action more likely to drive Iran into taking the final decision to acquire nuclear weapons than an attack on the country."

- Carl Bildt and Erkki Tuomioja, Foreign Ministers of Sweden and Finland, New York Times, March 20, 2012

"A U.S. strike would damage key Iranian facilities, but it would do nothing to reverse the nuclear knowledge Iran has accumulated or its ability to eventually build new centrifuges. A U.S. attack would also likely rally domestic Iranian support around nuclear hard-liners, increasing the odds that Iran would emerge from a strike even more committed to building a bomb."

- Colin H. Kahl, former US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Middle East, Foreign Affairs, March/April 2012

An attack would be a "sure way for Iran to go on a crash course to build nuclear weapons with the full support of the Iranian people ... and with the most catastrophic consequences for the Middle East and the rest of the world."

- Mohamed ElBaradei, former International Atomic Energy Agency chief, Reuters, March 28, 2012

"[An attack on Iran's nuclear facilities] has a very high propensity in my view of driving Iran into the direction of openly declaring and deciding... to make a nuclear weapon seemingly to defend itself."

- Thomas Pickering, former US Ambassador and Undersecretary of State, AFP, March 28, 2012

"When we talked about this in the government, the consensus was that [attacking Iran] would guarantee that which we are trying to prevent -- an Iran that will spare nothing to build a nuclear weapon and that would build it in secret."

- Gen. Michael Hayden, former CIA and National Security Agency Chief, Foreign Policy, January 19, 2012

"Paradoxically, the quickest way to insure that the Iranians decide to go for a bomb may be to bomb them. The most predictable result of a military strike would be Iran's withdrawal from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the ejection of International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors and cameras that watch every step of the Iranian enrichment process."

- Gary Sick, former National Security Council analyst and lead White House Iran expert during Iran hostage crisis, CNN, January 12, 2012

"A military solution, as far as I'm concerned ... it will bring together a divided nation. It will make them absolutely committed to obtaining nuclear weapons. And they will just go deeper and more covert."

- Robert Gates, Former US Defense Secretary, Reuters, November 16, 2010


5. Attacking Iran would ignite a regional conflict.

"If, God forbid, a war with Iran breaks out, it will be a nightmare. And we will all be in it, including the Persian Gulf countries and Saudi Arabia. No one will remain unscathed."

- Avigdor Lieberman, Israeli Foreign Minister, Huffington Post, April 3, 2012

"A military attack against Iran risks igniting a period of confrontation across the region with consequences that no one can fully predict. The turmoil could end up producing several nuclear-armed states in what is probably the most volatile area of the world. And there could be war both with and within the Muslim world."

- Carl Bildt and Erkki Tuomioja, Foreign Ministers of Sweden and Finland, New York Times, March 20, 2012

"The consequence could be that we would have an escalation that would take place that would not only involve many lives, but I think it could consume the Middle East in a confrontation and a conflict that we would regret."

- Leon Panetta, US Defense Secretary, December 2, 2011

"We are going to ignite, at least from my point of view, a regional war. And wars, you know how they start. You never know how you are ending it."

- Meir Dagan, former Israeli Mossad Chief, CBS 60 Minutes, March 11, 2012

"Any war with Iran would be a messy and extraordinarily violent affair, with significant casualties and consequences."

- Colin H. Kahl, former US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Middle East, Foreign Affairs, March/April 2012

"An attack on Iran could affect not only Israel, but the entire region for 100 years."

- Ephraim Halevy, Former Israeli Mossad Chief, YNet November 4, 2011

"An Israeli attack on Iran could ignite a regional conflict from Afghanistan to the Gaza strip. For the Americans and the Obama Administration, it will be a disaster."

- Bruce Riedel, Former Special Assistant to the US president and Senior Director for Near East Affairs on the National Security Council, YNet, November 3, 2011


6. Attacking Iran would not be in US or Israeli national interests.

"Now is not the right time [for a military strike] which may not lead to the right outcome that is needed to ensure the security of the State of Israel."

- Ehud Olmert, former Prime Minister of Israel, Jerusalem Post, April 29, 2012, April 30, 2012

"I don’t think Israel should use the military option. I don’t agree with some of my colleagues who support a military strike. An attack on Iran wouldn’t add anything to our security."

- Dan Meridor, Israeli Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Intelligence and Atomic Energy, Metro International, April 16, 2012

"Iran or surrogates could attack businesses, non-governmental organizations, missionaries and virtually every American establishment in the region and beyond."

- Thomas Pickering, former US Ambassador and Undersecretary of State, AFP, March 28, 2012

"Inside the Pentagon, civilian and military, I cannot find a single voice in favor of striking Iran. [...] Not only will we be mired in yet another interminable war, but from this one we might not recover for half a century."

- Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, former Chief of Staff for Secretary of State Colin Powell, Vanity Fair, March 2, 2012

"No one that I’m aware of thinks that there’s any real positive outcome of a military strike or some kind of conflict."

- Admiral William Fallon, former CENTCOM Commander, Center for Strategic and International Studies Address, February 23, 2012

"[If Iran were attacked,] the United States would obviously be blamed and we could possibly be the target of retaliation from Iran, striking our ships, striking our military bases. Fourthly – there are economic consequences to that attack – severe economic consequences that could impact a very fragile economy in Europe and a fragile economy here in the United States."

- Leon Panetta, US Defense Secretary, December 2, 2011

"[The possibility of an Israeli attack on Iran is] the stupidest thing I have ever heard."

- Meir Dagan, former Israeli Mossad Chief Haaretz, July 5, 2011

"After you’ve dropped those bombs on those hardened facilities, what happens next? [...] eventually, if you follow this all the way down, eventually I’m putting boots on the ground somewhere. And like I tell my friends, if you like Iraq and Afghanistan, you’ll love Iran."

- Gen. Anthony Zinni, former CENTCOM Commander, Think Progress, September 28, 2009


7. There is time to pursue non-military options.

"There is enough time to try different avenues of pressure to change the balance of power with Iran without the need for a direct military confrontation with Iran."

- Ehud Olmert, former Prime Minister of Israel, Jerusalem Post, April 29, 2012

“I think we still have time. It is not tomorrow morning.”

- Gen Gabi Ashkenazi, former Israeli Defense Force Chief of Staff, Jerusalem Post, April 29, 2012


8. The West needs to talk to Iran.

"The argument is not only about giving diplomacy a chance. It is about recognizing that diplomacy is the only alternative for those seeking a lasting and sustainable solution to the Iran nuclear issue and peace in the region. The other options are recipes for war and in all probability a nuclear-armed Iran."

- Carl Bildt and Erkki Tuomioja, Foreign Ministers of Sweden and Finland, New York Times, March 20, 2012

“We haven't had a connection with Iran since 1979. Even in the darkest days of the Cold War we had links to the Soviet Union. We are not talking to Iran so we don't understand each other. If something happens it's virtually assured that we won't get it right, that there will be miscalculations which would be extremely dangerous in that part of the world. […] I think any channel would be terrific."

- Adm. Mike Mullen, Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Address to the Carnegie Endowment, September 20, 2011