Sallai Meridor is the Ambassador of Israel to the U.S.. He served as the Chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel and the World Zionist Organization from 1999-2005. Prior to this, Mr. Meridor served as the Treasurer of the Jewish Agency and WZO and as the Head of the Settlement Division of the WZO. During the years of his chairmanship, the Jewish Agency underwent a major transformation. The strategy and activities of the Agency were focused on dealing with the Jewish future - the young generation of Jews. Major initiatives included the Masa national effort to bring 20,000 young adults per annum from the Diaspora for a year-long formative experience in Israel, focusing the activities of the Agency in Israel on young Israelis and young Olim, special Aliyah efforts from FSU, Ethiopia, Argentina, and France, and strategic preparations for dealing with the future challenge of Aliyah choice. In response to the war of terror against Israel, a global Jewish mobilization effort and a major emergency campaign was launched. Internally, the budget of the Jewish agency was balanced, agreements to eliminate $700M in debt (which put the agency at risk) were reached, and the Agency took a historic step by restructuring its governing bodies to include significant nonpolitical representation from Israeli society. Finally, with a view towards the Jewish future, the first ever Jewish People Policy Planning Institute was established.
Prior to his work with the Jewish agency, Mr. Meridor served as an advisor to the Minister of Defense and the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the State of Israel. In his governmental service, he was involved in the designing of Israel's foreign and defense policies, played a role in the peace process leading to the Madrid Peace Conference, participated in the negotiations that followed as the representative of the Ministry of Defense, and led Israel's Inter-Agency Steering Committee on Arms Control. Born and educated in Jerusalem, Mr. Meridor earned his B.A. degree at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He served as an Intelligence Officer in the IDF. He lives in Kfar Adumim with his wife No'a. They are the proud parents of three daughters.
Sallai Meridor: Well first, as things stand today, Iran is playing against America and Iraq. And a perceived American failure in Iraq could, God forbid, strengthen Iran both in Iraq and in the entire region. And I assume that every American leader – regardless of the fact of whether he was for the war or not for the war in the beginning – would look at the ramification of one outcome versus another outcome in this battle ground that now takes place in Iraq. Iran is the most serious threat that the world has faced since World War II. This combination, as I mentioned before, of religious fanaticism and a messianic layer of religiosity, terror, and the danger of nuclear bomb . . . if ever allowed to take place, would make the world an entirely different place for our children. Just think about what . . . knowing what they do now, what they would do directly when they have a nuclear power. Under which circumstances may be extreme, but still not impossible, they might even use a nuclear bomb. But even if you leave that aside, the proliferation move that is going to take place if Iran is led to continue could create a situation in five, 10, 15 years that you have such a capacity in five, 10, 15 places in the world in the hands of regimes and maybe even not states – non-state organization like Al-Qaeda or Hezbollah that would create a situation of a nightmare for our children. So we certainly hope that America will continue to lead the world to defend itself. It would be, in my view, utterly irresponsible for all of us to leave our children with all those genies out of the bottle with no recipe in heaven or hell to bring these genies back into the bottle. What will they do? What will they do if Al-Qaeda has a nuclear bomb? Hezbollah may have something. Regimes that who knows who will be there in 10, 15½, 15 years. I don’t know about potential transport of such capacities to _______ in America. Not all the regimes there are friendly to you and us. So look. Even if we are standing in this bell together, and sometimes we feel alone – America and Israel – we are standing for the right values and for the right cause for us; but not only for us, but for the future of the world. Question: What will it take for Israel to intervene militarily in Iran? First of all, all I’m going to tell you is based on assessment. And we should all be humble enough to know that we may not know everything. So what I’m telling you is what we assess; and we assess that the Iranians is not as advanced as they want us to believe they are; but they are more advanced than what we want them to be. And they’re on the rush to get there. The estimate now is that they have not yet crossed the threshold of mastering the technology, which is like if you are learning to ride the bike. Once they do that bike riding, it’s in their hands. You will never be able to take it from them. It’s like swimming. You know how to swim, then you can change the depths of the water. So if you know how to swim one meter depth, you know how to swim any depth. So what they are now trying to achieve, which we believe they have not yet, is crossing this technology mastery. And then once they do that, it may be a matter of a year or two if they decide to rush. So I think that worst case scenario – and I think that we should act on the assumption that there could be a worst case scenario – we may be talking about something plus minus in the vicinity of two years . . . maybe two years plus. But there is much to do. So what I’m suggesting is yes, there is little time; but yes there is still time. the question is what the world is going to do with this time before we need to consider other options. And there is much to do. If the Iranian regime and people see a united and determined America on this matter . . . if they see a world that is more responsible . . . if they see a world that is not continuing the madness – sorry for the expression; that is non-diplomatic – of funding the Iranian regime . . . Iran’s economy . . . or if I should say Iran’s stability is based on the regime’s ability to use profits from oil sales – oil’s export – in order to bribe and buy quiet inside. Their oil infrastructure is deteriorating. Who is helping them to upgrade their oil infrastructure? Not Iranians. The world. Iranian gasoline is 40% import. There, if you want . . . Nuclear scientists are driving every morning to work with gasoline that somebody out of Iran decided to sell to Iran. So the world should get their act together. For Iran, the trade with Europe is 33% of Iranians’ trade. For Europe it’s only 1%. Is it too much to ask from Europe for the future of the world to act more responsibility on 1% of the trade? So there is much to do that could have an influence on Iran, especially when they know that all options are on the table, and that no matter what they will not be allowed; but the world should act. And if the world decides not to act, it would leave only two options on the table. Either to accept a nuclear Iran, or to take a military option to prevent it. And we still hope that we can prevent ourselves and the world from the tough decision of choosing between the two. Recorded on: 7/3/2007 at The Aspen Ideas Festival