Jewish Leader Ronald Lauder on the Iran Conflict 'Put Yourself in Israel's Situation'
Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, speaks to SPIEGEL about the conflict between the West and Iran, Israel's threat of a preemptive strike against Tehran and why he believes unilateral action without Washington's support would be "disastrous".
SPIEGEL: Mr. Lauder, the United States and Israel have been arguing for weeks over how to deal with Iran. Speaking at the United Nations General Assembly, Prime Minister Netanyahu used a diagram of a bomb to show the growing danger. Where do you stand in this dispute?
Lauder: I am an American and a Jew, so I represent both sides. And I'm sure that the United States and Israel are completely united in their goal: to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear bomb. The question is how to get there. The current discussion is on sanctions, which do have a major effect, but I belong to the camp that believes all the sanctions in the world will not stop Iran's nuclear program.
SPIEGEL: Not even the US military believes that Iran could soon build a bomb. Still, Israel is speaking of preventative strikes.
Lauder: Perhaps the pace of the program is being underestimated. Maybe the bomb will come sooner than expected.
SPIEGEL: Netanyahu wants President Barack Obama to draw a clear "red line." But this line has existed for a long time: no nuclear weapons for Iran.
Lauder: True, but it's not that simple. Does the American guarantee take effect five minutes before the first explosion? Or five minutes after? It's a difficult question ...
SPIEGEL: ... over which Israel seems to have abandoned diplomacy in its harassment of the United States. Should the government in Jerusalem not leave American foreign policy up to the Americans?
Lauder: Put yourself in Israel's position. If (Iranian President Mahmoud) Ahmadinejad were to say, "I don't like Germany, I'm going to obliterate the country with my nuclear bomb -- would German foreign policy not become more aggressive? Would Germany say, "Everything's alright, our American friends will certainly help us"?
SPIEGEL: Netanyahu's behavior has worsened Israel's predicament. The US won't let itself be pushed around, and has always made its positions clear. What more does Israel want?
Lauder: Clear statements are good, but actions speak louder than words. As an observer, you can clearly see that Western countries are war-weary and don't want to be pulled into new conflicts. They always proclaim their will to fight for Israel in an emergency, and Germany does that too. That's good -- but what if that's not at all true when the time comes?
SPIEGEL: Do you doubt the reliability of France, Germany, Great Britain or all of Europe? Of America?
Lauder: No, I don't think that at all. I'm just saying that no one can ask Israel to place its own fate into the hands of others.
SPIEGEL: Does that mean that you support an Israeli military strike on Iran, even a unilateral one?
Lauder: If Israel were to act without the support of the United States, it would be disastrous. A military strike at this time would delay the development of an Iranian bomb by only two years, and it would alienate Israel from its partners. But it remains an extremely delicate trade-off.
SPIEGEL: Is an Israeli military attack imminent?
Lauder: I don't know any more about that than you do. I don't know all the facts. Will it be as soon as November when Iran puts its enrichment centrifuges so far underground that they're invincible? I don't know. And the estimates by intelligence agencies of how long they could need to build a bomb -- are they correct? We've been wrong before.
SPIEGEL: Like in the case of Iraq, when fictitious weapons of mass destruction served as justification to go to war.
Lauder: That's right. Back then, everyone involved was absolutely sure that Iraq possessed WMDs, but there weren't any. So if everyone was wrong back then -- could it be that everyone is wrong today? That is quite possible, absolutely.
SPIEGEL: Now you are sounding skeptical of unilateral Israeli action.
Lauder: The question is what is proof. Nuclear rockets pointed in the sky would be undeniable evidence. But we can't wait for that.
SPIEGEL: Would a pre-emptive attack by Israel bring the region, or the whole world to war?
Lauder: The First World War began because one man was shot. The Second World War began because of a mad German dictator. Who knows how a third could start. There are also people who think that the war has been going for a long time.
Interview conducted by Ullrich Fichtner and Christoph Schult