Former spies discuss Israel, Iran and Middle East at Zionist Federation dinner

Two ex-spies: Sir Richard Dearlove, left, and Efraim Halevy

Two ex-spies: Sir Richard Dearlove, left, and Efraim Halevy

Israel faces a series of extreme challenges in the changing Middle East but can overcome the threat of a nuclear Iran, former intelligence chiefs have claimed.

Efraim Halevy, former Mossad director and ex-chief of Israel’s National Security Council, and Sir Richard Dearlove, former head of MI6, discussed a wide range of issues affecting the region at the Zionist Federation annual dinner.

Mr Halevy said: “Iran is misleading the world, but Israel is not only indestructible, it has many means at its disposal to do something to take care of the Iranian threat beyond the use of diplomatic channels.”

He said there was proof that the Iranian regime was “scared of Israel” and the country’s military capabilities.

“We should not discount the negotiations and do not underestimate the President of the United States. He understands the rules of the game. The British, French and Russians know what they are doing. We should not enter into fear and trepidation,” added Mr Halevy.

Sir Richard said: “Iran is not a powerful giant. Its political system is fragile. There is a way through this crisis. The route the international community is on is the most practical.”

At Sunday’s event in central London the pair discussed the Arab Spring and the current destabilisation across north Africa.

Sir Richard said Iran had a clear interest in President Assad remaining in power in Syria but said he saw “no signs of the regime going down” despite the ongoing civil war.

Israel would be forced to deal with the challenge of its Syrian border becoming less peaceful than it has been for decades, said Mr Halevy. But he suggested that the claims of Syrian rebels that they would reclaim the Golan Heights should not be taken seriously.

Both men agreed that Egypt’s role in the ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinians at the end of 2012, and the country’s subsequent efforts to flood the tunnels used for smuggling between Egypt and Gaza, were a sign that what President Mohamed Morsi’s government said in public, and did in private, were very different.

Sir Richard said parallels could be drawn with the secretive diplomacy between Britain and the provisional IRA before the Good Friday peace agreement in Northern Ireland.

Mr Halevy said he believed there was little chance of a peace deal with the Palestinians in the next five to 10 years, largely because of the political and geographic division among the Palestinians, and partly because of the need to “seek practical understandings” and arrangements on the ground.

Dinner guests gave a standing ovation to Claire Lomas, the horse-rider who was told she would never walk again following an accident in 2007.

Ms Lomas went on to complete the London Marathon with the help of a remarkable Israeli invention last year.
She made the main appeal, walking into the hall in the ReWalk, the exo-skeleton created by Israeli entrepreneur Amit Goffer.

The event was attended by 450 people, making it the organisation’s largest ever dinner.

Paul Charney, ZF chairman, said: “The ZF is inclusive and embodies the Jewish state. We welcome every person who stands up for Israel alongside us and everybody who is pro-Israel, pro-Palestinian and pro-peace.”

Last updated: 3:45pm, March 14 2013