Visiting Israeli Consul General discusses Iran deal, U.S.-Israel ties

BY ROBERT A. COHN, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

For the past two years, Roey Gilad has headed the Israeli Consul General for the Midwest, based in Chicago. That makes him the highest-ranking Israeli official in an 11-state Midwest region, which includes St. Louis. 

Gilad, 52, is a 25-year veteran of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He has served in various key positions outside of Israel, including as head of the Political Affairs Department in Israel’s Embassy in London; media spokesperson in Israel’s Embassy in Amman, Jordan, and the second secretary in Nairobi.

While in his native Israel, Gilad was most recently at Israel’s National Defense College. He holds master’s degrees in National Security from Haifa University and in Middle Eastern Studies from Hebrew University in Jerusalem and a bachelor’s degree in Middle Eastern Studies from Tel Aviv University. He served as a staff sergeant in the Israel Defense Forces.

The Jewish Light caught up with Gilad while he was in town last week for meetings, including a briefing with the Jewish Community Relations Council.

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Relations between Israel and its staunchest long-term ally, the United States, have been described as frosty or even hostile, especially between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Barack Obama.  Is that accurate, and if so what must be done to restore a harmonious relationship?

Indeed, we might have some differences, but those are natural in the relationship between two states. Overall, I would describe the relations between Israel and the United States as excellent. There is a very wide strategic alliance. We have any number of common interests, and a wide array of common denominators, democracy, we both believe in human rights, in the freedom of the media, and on women’s rights. Both states enjoy a strong Judeo-Christian tradition. Nowadays we have a growing economic partnership. Sometimes, even between good friends, there are some differences. These are what we call in diplomatic language “hiccups.” Those hiccups do not and will not adversely affect our overall long-term positive relationship.

Do you expect any change on Israel’s stance on the Iran nuclear deal? 

Yes, I think that is reasonable. I believe at the end of the day, Israel and the United States will share the same goal, that of preventing Iran from gaining the capability to produce nuclear weapons. There is some difference regarding the way to achieve that goal, the tactics to be followed. I believe that with dialogue between the U.S. and Israel we can reach a common ground, a wide understanding on this issue going forward.

Did the Geneva deal approved last month all but assure that Iran will develop nuclear weapons or will it end up being just a “turn of the screwdriver” away from a nuclear weapons capability?

We are indeed in a situation where we are a turn of the screwdriver away from (Iran getting) the bomb. I believe this is based on a political and not a scientific decision. I would compare it to a football game in the U.S. Iran is now about 10 yards away from the end zone. We have to push them back to 50 yards from the end zone. This can be done in two ways: preventing Iran from enriching uranium or from buying the technology to produce a bomb. 

Does the government of Israel continue to keep on the table the option of a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities — with or without U.S. backing?

The answer is yes, but it would be better to support the diplomatic option to prevent Iran from developing the capability for nuclear weapons. The continued possibility of a military option is to strengthen the diplomatic efforts to achieve the same goal. 

Why can’t Israel and the U.S. go ahead and recognize the Palestinian Authority as the State of Palestine and allow it to come into the United Nations as a full member?

In order to become a recognized state it must be a real state with the attributes of statehood beyond merely declaring that they have a state. We hope that there will be a Palestinian state sooner rather than later, but as a result of negotiations.

In view of the negative atmosphere created by the Israel-U.S. split on the Iran nuclear deal, do you think Secretary of State John Kerry has any chance at success in his current and quiet Israel-Palestinian peace.

I think the answer is yes. There is no connection between the Iran situation and the Israel-Palestinian track. A two nation-state solution should still be sought. The United States is very much aware of the challenges Israel is facing.

Netanyahu has already released 52 hard-core Palestinian terrorists from prisons in Israel, taking much criticism from his own coalition partners. Were those releases worth the risk, and what have the Palestinians done in return?

It is still too early to say. If the releases get good results it will have been worth it. I do not believe the idea of reaching a final status agreement in nine months is realistic. But we could reach a long-term interim deal, which would be a framework leading to a basis for a final agreement. If it does not work, then the release of the prisoners will not have been worth it.

In more recent years, the support for Israel among American Jews has been more diffuse, with a segment of young people and rabbis being highly critical of the Jewish State. Is that a fair assessment, and if so, what is being done to correct this problem?

At the end of the day, Israel enjoys very strong support among American people generally and the Jewish community in particular. The support in the United States is stronger than it has been in years and stronger than it is among many other countries in the world. We of course need to maintain a decent dialogue with the Jewish Diaspora in America. There is of course a small element in the Jewish community who may be radically opposed to a Jewish State in Israel. We of course cannot agree to a call for us to commit national suicide. But I believe that it is a small minority.