NEW YORK – If North Korea abandons its nuclear weapons, credit belongs to President Donald Trump for his aggressive rhetoric and increased sanctions — and a similar policy would defang Iran, a senior Israeli minister said.
Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz said Iran is even more vulnerable to such pressure than North Korea because it doesn’t yet have nuclear weapons, while its people are less cowed by their leaders and wouldn’t passively accept tighter economic sanctions.
“If it happens in North Korea, it’s proof that this way works and will work with Iran,” Katz said in an interview in New York. “Whether through fixing the nuclear agreement or nixing it, such a policy could even lead to the fall of the regime. Now is the time to be very tough against Iran.”
Israel has been seeking support amid growing tensions with Iran that have raised concerns about a direct military conflict between the countries in Syria. Israeli leaders have lobbied against Trump’s proposal to pull U.S. troops out of Syria, and sought to persuade Russia not to send state-of-the-art air defenses there. Iran has been backing President Bashar al-Assad and the Shiite group Hezbollah, a longtime Israeli enemy, in the Syrian civil war.
Katz, 62, a member of Israel’s security cabinet who promotes himself as a potential successor to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was critical of French President Emmanuel Macron for his attempt last week to persuade Trump to stay in the Iran nuclear deal.
“Macron made a big mistake. He should have gone to Iran to persuade Iran to change, not to Trump,” he said.
Macron and other European leaders have been promising add-ons to the accord that will address U.S. concerns about issues including Iran’s ballistic missile program and its regional interventions. Trump is threatening to pull out of the deal May 12 if those fixes can’t be agreed.
While many analysts — including within Israel’s own security establishment — say such a step will turn a spurned Iran into a dangerous foe, and send a message to North Korea that it can’t count on the U.S. to keep its word, Katz sees things differently. He argued that Iran’s government is weak and its economy deeply troubled, giving it few options if the U.S. were to ratchet up pressure.
“Iranians aren’t willing to go hungry like North Koreans,” he said.
Earlier this month Israel carried out a predawn airstrike said to have killed several Iranians at a military base in Syria. Katz described such action as “backing a red line,” and said Israel will keep Iran and Hezbollah away from its borders. He said Russia, Iran’s ally in Syria, is aware of Israeli concerns.
He called Russian President Vladimir Putin “very smart,” and said he doubted Russia would follow through with delivery of S-300 missile-defense systems to Syria, which Israel has strongly opposed.