“Former Israeli National Security Advisor” – with Uzi Arad
Andrew Hammond: Welcome to "SpyCast", the official podcast of the International Spy Museum. I'm your host, Dr. Andrew Hammond, the museum's historian and curator. Every week we explore some aspect of the past, present or future of intelligence and espionage. Can we ask a favor? Can you please consider leaving us a five-star review so that other listeners can find us? Coming up next on "SpyCast".
Uzi Arad: To sit in front of an arms dealer, an Iranian arms dealer, with some clergy sitting in front of you and refusing to look you in the eye. He simply lowered his eyes to show his disdain for me, while his military personnel at the side did the bargaining on specific weapon systems that they wanted.
Andrew Hammond: "SpyCast" is excited to announce its first annual month-long deep dive on a single country. This year marks the 75th anniversary of the State of Israel and the 50th of the Yom Kippur War. Last week was an overview of Israeli intelligence, what it is and how it came into being. Well, next week, we'll look at the intelligence failure that was the Yom Kippur War. Make sure you subscribe to the show so you don't miss any of these installments. This week's guest is Uzi Arad. He was formerly the National Security Advisor to the Israeli Prime Minister and Chair of the National Security Council between 2009 and 2011. In fact, the Prime Minister he served is once again the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu. Uzi was also formerly the Foreign Policy Advisor to Netanyahu between 1997 and 1999. Uzi has also advised the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, but between 1975 and 1997, he was in the Mossad, rising to become Head of Intelligence, that is, the analytic arm of Mossad. He is a big get for the podcast, and I'm glad we can bring you his insights into intelligence and policy at the very highest level. In this episode, Uzi and I discuss where intelligence meets policy, the importance of alliances at the strategic level, how proximity to power affects your ability to shape it, and the politicization of intelligence. The original podcast on intelligence since 2006, we are "SpyCast". Now sit back, relax, and enjoy the show. Okay, well, thanks ever so much for taking the time to speak to me, Uzi. I really appreciate it, and I'm looking forward to discussing Israeli intelligence and your time as the National Security Advisor with you.
Uzi Arad: Well, it is a pleasure to be with you, and these are subjects which are close to my heart, so I'm glad to be talking to you about them.
Andrew Hammond: And I just wondered if you could tell us about your very first day as the National Security Advisor. So this is something that the vast majority of us will never be at the very senior level of government making foreign policy decisions, influencing foreign policy decisions, informing the decision makers, and so forth. So yeah, what was that like?
Uzi Arad: Well, I must explain the background. It is very true that the role of National Security Advisor is critical, and it exists with the same name, of course, in America and in other English-speaking nations. Britain has adopted the same terminology and other countries, and they have been functioning with this mechanism for a long time. The Israeli exceptionalism has been that in spite of Israel's very heavy agenda in foreign and defense issues, there was not a National Security Council in place until very late. In the very first, say, 50 years, the Israeli leadership had operated without such an organism. And the big question is, how come? What caused it? The absence was glaring. The answer is very technical, and only if you look at the organizational charts of security systems you would understand. The other Israeli exceptionalism has been, for the first 50 years of Israel's existence, that the Prime Ministership and the Defense Ministry were combined. It is the same person, initially it was Israel's founder, David Ben-Gurion, who held the defense portfolio and at the same time the Prime Ministry. So the integration here was accomplished by the simple overlap between those two positions. And things proceeded presumably normally. The matter became clear and much more difficult at a time in which the Prime Minister was not Defense Minister. So he did not have the full machinery of the defense community at his disposal, and he suddenly became naked at the top. Then there was a need.
Andrew Hammond: When did that first happen? When was the first time the roles split off from Prime Minister and Defense Minister?
Uzi Arad: On the eve of the 1967 war, when the Egyptians had marched into the Sinai, the Israelis had mobilized, we were ready. And there was a very strong outcry in the nation to have the Prime Minister Eshkol take on the Defense Minister. And of course he chose Moshe Dayan, remember this military hero, to assume the role. And it was the need of the time. From that moment on, in most times, the positions were separate. But when Rabin held the job some 30 years later, he also took advantage. And for a minute or two, I mean more than a minute or two, he held both positions.
Andrew Hammond: So when was the National Security Advisor role? Who was the first? When did it begin?
Uzi Arad: Well, you know, people looked at it almost from the first time that things like that were operating in America. Everybody looks at America. We look up to America. And we look up to American experience and professionalism. But actually it was after the inquiry into our intelligence failure in 1973. There was what is the equivalent of a Royal Commission of Inquiry in Israel. And they found out that the absence of a coordinating body, policy body, at the top that would integrate everything policy-wise was noticeable. And they recommended the creation of such a body. But that did not happen because there was resistance from the other institutions. Because, as you know, there is no vacuum in bureaucratic life. So when the National Security Council did not exist, others have filled the vacuum. So now if you want to create an NSC at the top, other institutions have to relinquish some of their powers.
Andrew Hammond: Which almost never happens.
Uzi Arad: True. But it took an uphill fight. And here, if you ask me personally, I was among those who from the very early phase, from '75 and '76, consistently urged the creation of that NSC. And mind you, my position could really be taken, I should say, as a national point of view. Because at the time of the Mossad, I was at the Mossad. And presumably I had a kind of sectarian role. But in spite of my being Mossad, I took the national point of view and argued that it is in the best interest of the Mossad to have an NSC in place as our top consumer. And I pursued that using my bureaucratic activities. And finally, the occasion we succeeded in that, when in 1999, Netanyahu, before leaving office, benefited from a unique occasion in which there was no strong Minister of Defense. And he pushed ahead, at my advice, an established cabinet decision that created the NSC. And you count the existence of Israel's NSC from 1999, me being there at the creation.
Andrew Hammond: You're there at the creation. You are fighting for this role. And then a number of years later, you find yourself inhabiting the role. So tell us what that was like. What was it like to envision a particular role and then to be stepping into it? Were you happy the way that it had been carved out thus far? Or did you want to take it in a particular direction?
Uzi Arad: I served in the Mossad. And my highest ambition from the beginning was not to become the head of the Mossad. I did not think I qualified to become the head. I was very satisfied becoming the deputy director of the Mossad for intelligence. That was my ambition. And in a way, I reached that position. And then I became foreign policy advisor to the Prime Minister. But once the NSC was created, and very much at my insistence, and with the law being drafted, at my advice, it was almost inevitable. It depended on only one thing. On Netanyahu returning to power. Because at the time, he was out of power. But once he succeeded in winning his way back, a major comeback for him, he himself said that choosing me was inevitable. And I was challenged by that. And I thought that my two primary objectives at the time, they were dual. One, to manage the NSC as one should, referring to the statement of missions. But at the same time, to make it stronger and to make it an institution that will last.
Andrew Hammond: Just to go back to what I mentioned earlier. Most people will never get to that kind of level within a government. So you're one of the 0.0001% of people who have been there. So tell the listeners, what was that like? Was it like the first day on the job?
Uzi Arad: I'll give you the answer. It will look, in a way, ridiculous. But that's the stuff of life. When it comes to power, and to the authorities in power, what matters is proximity and access to the top. The distance, the sheer distance. It is one thing to be located in an office which is two blocks away from the president or the prime minister. It's another thing to be located in another building. And it's quite another to be ten feet from his office and from the conference room. So the thing I had to do on the first day is to simply raid the emptying prime minister's office, because it was being vacated. And taking my troops and occupy by strength the offices I wanted, which were, as I said, ten feet from the prime minister and the conference room. And that is how we spent the first day, occupying much greater proximity. There is a point which people understand, the ability to be there -- to be there, present, each moment, the ability to enter his office, one minute, without having to knock on the door, is the essence of influence and the essence of being there. You know, the further away you are from that, your power is reduced exponentially. So that is how we did it the first day. And much to my delight, I succeeded in moving the entire NSC apparatus from its Tel Aviv located premises and to move the Jerusalem offices into what we call in Israel the Aquarium. And the Aquarium is like the Oval Office and the adjacent offices. And we were there. And that is not insignificant in terms of our abilities to dispense our duties.
Andrew Hammond: And when you were talking there, it reminded me of Brzezinski, President Carter's National Security Advisor, and the various memoirs that came out of that administration. Basically, Brzezinski used that proximity to circumvent Cyrus Vance, the Secretary of State and to circumvent other people. In his memoirs, he talks about being there, being proximate to the events, being able to constantly provide input is a game changer in terms of influencing the President or the Prime Minister.
Uzi Arad: That's very true. And as I said before, I observed always, I've been observing the American NSCs. Even when I was in Mossad, I started my Mossad career when Kissinger -- no it wasn't Kissinger. Kissinger was both Secretary of Foreign Affairs and Secretary of State and NSC at the time. And then when Brzezinski came to power, first I knew him. And second, I looked how he decided to plan his term of service. And we looked at each one of those American NSCs, I think, in terms of their functioning. Many of us thought that Scowcroft, for example, was the ideal NSC. He got the job right and handled himself correctly, which, for example, was my model for me. Not to do it as a high-profile function as Kissinger did it. But to do it quietly and very much behind the curtains as Scowcroft did. We looked also at the British example. The British example is very interesting. You're familiar with it, with all the British eccentricities and emphasis on consensus building and the way they managed it. I think there is also functions like that, look at each other collegially, secondly, are in touch with one another. There's a club of national security advisors, and they often handle themselves today with the means of communication very, very frequently. But also we look at how they perform, and we learn from one another. We certainly, as I said, we looked up, and I say that seriously, to the highest degree of professional management of the British and the Americans. But other NSCs, which are different, say the French or other countries, also serve as a useful model.
Andrew Hammond: And the American system is meant to be a coordination role. It's not meant to be formulating policy. Like you say, it has played out in different ways. We've got the Kissinger example, the Brzezinski example, Scowcroft and others. How did you play the role out? Were you mainly coordinating?
Uzi Arad: In Israel, it's slightly different. It is very much a policy role. Very much. But what does it mean, policy? It means that the bodies that decide, that make decisions in Israel, are the cabinet. Now, in our case, the cabinet is the body of the ministers. The ministers, the secretaries in American language. That is, defense, foreign affairs, treasury, and the like. They as a collective can decide. Israel, for example, if it goes to war, or if it wants to make peace, has the full cabinet decide on it by majority voting. The prime minister serves as the premise in the powers among them. He is the chairman, but he cannot do it single-handedly. Now, usually, we have two such ones. The full cabinet in Israel involves more than 20-25 ministers. That's too many. So they formed a subset, a subcommittee of the full cabinet, which in Israel is called the cabinet, but it is in relations only defense and foreign affairs cabinet, and it can count no more than half. Now, the way it is structured is that every decision has to get its final approval from that body. It is, in a way, the supreme commander of Israel, primarily on cardinal issues like war and peace and related activities. The role of the NSC is to be second to the prime minister in chairing the meeting. The prime minister chairs all those meetings. He is the final decision maker, but I sit at his side, and I help him in controlling the process through which this decision is taken. Now, what does this mean? We have bylaws in Israel as a result of failures, and less than some failures, how a meeting should be conducted. For example, it is a matter of principle. First, intelligence. Second, the problem. Third, alternative options, the objective. Then evaluating options. Then deciding on a course of action. Then who does what. Now, to take it through this process, the National Security Council is the one which is managing that process and making sure that all who need to be there are there. Often, for example, when I had very severe battles with my master, the prime minister, it is because every once in a while he felt like he did not want to have the foreign minister in the room because he always had all kinds of political and other considerations. I insisted. I said it is compulsory. So I was the one who was wise so for the sake of integration. Every stakeholder and everybody who had some responsibility, including to present alternative courses of action. So this is very much the integration of the decision-making process, the policy-making process, which the NSC does. We do not do intelligence integration.
Andrew Hammond: That's really, really interesting. I think a good way to bring the role alive would be, could you discuss the first crisis or the first major event that happened that you were involved in?
Uzi Arad: I think the Iran revolution, which changed the architecture of power in the Middle East, was a major event. But as National Security Advisor, which was many years later, this involved, well, the end of the Cold War. Look, I must tell you a story, for example. I was once visiting, in my Directorate of Intelligence Capacity, I was visiting the German Intelligence Service in Pulach. I was talking to a head of a division there, a very distinguished general. After we exhausted the business at hand, I had some free time to chat. So you know, without thinking much, I asked him whether there would be a time in which there could be German unification. Because East Germany was a few miles, scores of miles from the Pulach compound. Now, when he heard me, I could see him stiffened, because he knew that if he were to say that he is looking forward to that, that implies some sense of ambition. So very, very cautiously, he said, yes, I think this would come, but it would take 50 years for this to occur. So 50 years. Well, it happened six months later. This one, the collapse of the wall in Germany, and the end of the Cold War, is a high point in terms of how we pursued that, and how we had to interpret that, because then the major question was, what will be the new world order? How disorderly that will become, and how we should align our policies in accordance with the new circumstances.
Andrew Hammond: To help you digest this episode, here's a short interlude in something Uzi discusses -- why the end of the Cold War mattered for the Middle East. In 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, which led President Jimmy Carter to declare that any attempt to gain control of the Persian Gulf would be resisted by the United States by any measure necessary, including military force. The thought being that the invasion was part of an effort to do just that. It was so serious, in fact, that he called it the greatest threat to the peace since the Second World War. I raise this event to highlight the underlying strategic importance of the region for the Cold War superpower contest. Indeed, just after World War II, U.S. policymakers recognized that it was, "A stupendous source of strategic power, and one of the greatest material prizes in world history." The end of the Cold War mattered for the Middle East in many ways then, as the shift from a bipolar world to a unipolar world would end the superpower struggle for influence and control in the region. The flow of arms and other forms of aid, for example, to the region would be radically changed. If Israel had been the largest recipient of aid from the U.S. in the region, Syria had been the largest recipient of Soviet aid. This spigot for Syria was now turned off as the USSR dissolved, which in turn would affect the Israeli-Syrian relationship. The end of the Cold War would reduce superpower proxy conflicts in the region. In Yemen, for example, the country was divided into the Soviet-supported and Marxist People's Democratic Republic of Yemen in the south, but the U.S. had provided aid and support to the Yemen Arab Republic in the north. Changed geopolitical realities would likewise reshape the pattern of alliances in the region and change the nature of the Arab-Israeli conflict. For example, the Soviets backed the Arab states in the Six-Day War in 1967 and the Yom Kippur War in 1973. They also provided support to the PLO with diplomatic recognition and diplomatic support, financial aid, and military assistance. But when the Soviet Union became no more, this all changed and U.S. influence in the region was much more pronounced. One question that I find quite interesting, when you were the National Security Advisor, how important were relationships? I mean outside of the country, so international relationships, regional relationships, and were those things that you already had because of your previous positions? Just tell us a little bit more about how important relationships, partners, allies are to Israel, to the National Security Advisor role.
Uzi Arad: Well, it is singularly important and there is also some practice in the area that can be referred to. But just reflect on that in the following way. You know that the other NSCs, be it the British or the Americans, are in the habit of producing either an annual or a multi-annual document, usually called National Security Strategy. And if you look at the basic structure of all these documents and compare their methodologies or table of contents, you notice that when they're thinking about strategy, usually it breaks down into managing power or talking about power threats, and then there is a constant presence of the subject of alliances. Managing alliances is the stuff of statesmanship, and statesmanship is the so-called diplomatic, perhaps, pursuit of international activity. So the existence of alliances is a constant presence. Secondly, you notice that even the greatest superpowers cannot act unilaterally. None did. Even the United States, at the highest point, relatively, of its power, had and preferred to work with allies for the usual reason that alliances work. It is burden-sharing and improving the chances of success. Secondly, sometimes you create coalitions and they become fixtures. The Atlantic Alliance was such a fixture. Now, Israel is in a completely different condition. Israel is a relatively small country, and it had been isolated. It had been delegitimized at its very creation. There was a host of countries that wanted to see it evaporate. At the same time, Israel certainly could not have successfully survived without some friends, either informal friends or friends and comrades, or formalized as allies. And gradually, Israel did develop alliances on all levels. Because we're dealing on intelligence and policy, let me tell you that both have their systems of alliances. The national alliances are easily understood. It is those countries in which sometimes you have a defense treaty that regulates their relationship. So we're all familiar with the major alliances of the world. They have their multilateral structures, they have their pooling, they have their synchronization practices, and often they function very well. It is alliances who won the wars, and sometimes alliances who make the peace. Intelligence is different. Intelligence alliances are often parallel alliances that parallel the national alliances. So for example, if America or Britain or Germany or the Netherlands are national allies of Israel, it stands to reason that our intelligence communities would have their network at their level, so to speak, intelligence channels, or sometimes multilateral consulting. The Five Eyes system, for example, is such a structure. You would not be surprised if there were to be such networks at the intelligence level, which of course have their interconnect with the national. But here comes the surprise, which is clearly the case in Israel. We also have networks with our enemies. Because sometimes it is the role of those bodies which operate in secrecy and to engage in contact, sometimes with the enemy. Sometimes you have to dialogue with the enemy. Sometimes you want to break ice with the enemy through intelligence, discrete channels. So it should not surprise you that on one hand Israel, like other countries, has its intelligence network with allies which operate under the roles of identity of interest and proximity of values, and this is a coalition of friends. But every once in a while, we have our channels, including personal ones, because you ask the validity or the value of personal channels, with leaders of countries that we are in confrontation with, sometimes to compensate for the enmity. So that is to say at the level, at the national level, we are at war, we are at differences, but under the surface we sometimes interact to lessen or to control. And to give you just one example, which I often talk to with Israeli friends in my professional lecturing, to tell them how thankless and how, in a way, dirty that kind of relationship is, I said, if we were in existence during the Second World War, it is I who would have worked with the SS, with the Nazis, because indeed during the war there were some behind the curtain contact between even the worst and the very worst. To give you an example, Eichmann. Eichmann, the head planner of the Holocaust in Hungary and elsewhere, was willing to engage in a deal of saving lives against some lorries. So contacts like that were held, and representatives of the Haganah, before the war, Israeli soldiers, went to Budapest to talk to Eichmann, knowing that we're talking to a murderer who is perhaps a beast. But there was expediency that demanded it. So sometimes this is the role we do, and I had the pleasure sometimes of dealing with the enemy, and sometimes we became friends, as we could as human beings. But sometimes -- and that was not under the Israeli flag, that was done differently -- I handled even the worst of our enemies.
Andrew Hammond: Can you share an example?
Uzi Arad: Well, I think, terrorism I never liked to work with, that is to say, as a subject. As a phenomenon, of course, it is also a problem. But I came into contact, intelligence contact, with each Arab and Muslim country in one capacity or another, a collection capacity or a contact capacity. But sometimes, to give you just one example, the Iran Gate, which is a cause célèbre in Washington and is held against the president at the time who had to apologize for doing the Iran Gate, well, Israel was complicit with this thing. We were the ones who were in contact with the Iranian government at the time. And there was a proposal of arms for money that then went to Central America because of American needs. So this was a plan in which the American side wanted us to give our share in helping them supplying the Central American elements, and in which we brought to the table a capacity of doing some weapons deal with the Iranians at the time. Now, I was involved in that affair. So to sit in front of an Iranian arms dealer with some clergy sitting in front of you and refusing to look you in the eye -- he simply lowered his eyes to show his disdain for me, while his military personnel at the side did the bargaining on specific weapons systems that they wanted. Well, that was not a pleasant occasion. And it was done. And here you have an example of things like that. But the thing I like much better with these intelligence, and sometimes combined with policies, is when we allies are acting beyond the call of duty in being cooperative and in helping one another. The high point, if you wish, of such events are when you show even a degree of gallantry or chivalry. For example, when members of a fellow allied intelligence service is willing to put his life at risk of his own people for us, that is not to be taken lightly.
Andrew Hammond: I think one thing that would be quite interesting, so we spoke about this previously, Uzi, the difference between intelligence just at the level of intelligence, but then when intelligence connects with policy. So intelligence at the top. What did you learn? What was unique?
Uzi Arad: The highest risk that we have been seeing and that factor infects systems to varying degrees in different countries is the politicization of intelligence, because policy, almost by definition, is affected by politics because these are ideological, sometimes, issues. But intelligence, presumably, should be devoid of value and should be strictly professional. And much of the criticism, internal American criticism, of its own intelligence performance is that it was politicized. It was used, it was distorted for policy purposes or it was infested by political pressures. That is true all over the world. It simply takes form differently. In Israel, I regret to say that it is the political masters who sometimes corrupt the system, because they bring to the table their political ambitions, their political positions, and sometimes they want intelligence to suit their purposes or to serve, or sometimes they look at the intelligence naysayers as those who want to prevent them from taking action and there is that built-in tension. I have been, and I had battles over that, I have been of the view that we should be cognizant of the fact that political masters have political considerations which are legitimate. At the same time, while taking that into account, we should be as professional and as depoliticized as we can because it is a profession, a very difficult profession. In Israel, at this very moment, you see resistance from our current government and some antagonism from our government towards the defense establishment claiming that some of us, because I'm aware of, are either leftist or anarchist or renegades and you can look at it with historical distance, with a smile, but it is a very difficult position to be in.
Andrew Hammond: Let's talk about that for a second. Obviously, we don't want to stray into the realm of ins and outs of Israeli politics, but there are some quite interesting things happening in Israel at the moment, as you say. So I'm just wondering, how did you first meet Benjamin Netanyahu? Was it when you became his foreign policy advisor or was it previously?
Uzi Arad: Well, let me tell you, at that time I was stationed in Paris. And usually my practice on Friday, our embassy was very close to the Champs Elysees, to an American cafe that was favored of Americans. And I would go there because they had some American magazines, and I bought the New York Book Review. And I opened this, as you know, it's a high-quality magazine covering literature, foreign affairs and current affairs, and I opened the front page and there is a glorious review about a book written by Netanyahu. I was elated! Netanyahu was in Israel at the time, he was a rising politician, I was in Paris, far from the scene, and there I see in the New York Review of Books a critique, which is superb, of a book about the Inquisition, about the Spanish Inquisition. And I thought, at long last, we have a man who is capable of writing such high-level history. Only half an hour later, it dawned on me that it was not Benjamin Netanyahu, it was his father, Professor Benzio Netanyahu, who wrote the book. But that was the first time I noticed. I first met him when I visited Israel, and I first met him when I came to the cabinet decisions in my capacity of Director of Intelligence at the Mossad. That's when I met him. And I must tell you that I liked what I saw, and apparently he too, because within a year, he asked me to become his foreign policy advisor.
Andrew Hammond: What year was it you were in Paris when you came across the New York Review of Books? Just roughly.
Uzi Arad: I think '95, '96.
Andrew Hammond: '95. And then you met him when you went back to Israel?
Uzi Arad: I came to the cabinet, and you know, he tells the story differently. He says there was a discussion that everybody was given his view and I gave a contrarian view, which was the issue was Iran. He says that. And he asked people, who's that guy? And they said who I was, and he says that he was impressed because he thought the same and I was the only one who was close to his position. So that's very nice to say that, but there is a little correction to be made. The subject was not Iran. The subject was Iraq. But with this little difference, the experience is what has happened. And since then, I worked very closely to him because even when he was out of office, I stayed on informally as a friend and advisor. So I was with him for 15 continuous years.
Andrew Hammond: Wow, that's a long period of time. And how would you evaluate Benjamin Netanyahu as a consumer of intelligence?
Uzi Arad: As a consumer of intelligence? Well, you know, in the first place, as prime minister, it is the duty of the military assistant to the prime minister to be the channel through which intelligence is fed to him. It was not from the NSC. I was receiving the same intelligence that he was receiving, but through other channels. So I did not observe at hand how did he read, absorb, discuss intelligence matters. And I knew, and I insisted on that, I'm separating intelligence from policy. I did not interfere in that process. I think he used intelligence. He read intelligence, and he listened to intelligence. But if you evaluate a type of consumers, well, Churchill would be the ideal, because Churchill, for example, would write back his comments. There would be a two-way street. He not only consumed intelligence, he knew his stuff. He was a reader, and he was writing comments back, and that's the ideal consumer. Netanyahu would absorb, but not necessarily relate back or give feedback to the intelligence communities. And he took interest in various types of information, not necessarily intelligence. Remember that, for example, Netanyahu, because of his American background, had many contacts with key American congressmen, you know, chairmen of committees, some of those heavy lifting individuals, many seasoned senators and congressmen who came to Israel. And he would meet with them, and he would talk shop with them, and they would talk about global affairs. And Netanyahu loved it. His English was American, and when you listened to two or four or six of them talking, he looked like another prominent senator talking about everything, including domestic American affairs, including about other leaders, or learning. And that was a source of information to him, primarily, for example, since we do not have intelligence in America. As you know, our degree to which we can engage in intelligence gathering on Americans and in America is limited by mutual understandings. So Netanyahu had to rely on these private discussions, and often he would talk about third parties. So he had keen interest in that. But to what extent he was attentive to the little details, he is not a man of little details, Netanyahu. And he is a very fast-thinking, fast-consuming decision-maker. I wish that sometimes he would pay closer attention to details and facts and be a smart and sober consumer of intelligence, and not one who sometimes evaluates the intelligence on the merit, does it serve me or does it not?
Andrew Hammond: And over those 15 years that you knew him, did you see a lot of change in how he was, or was he really the same person all along?
Uzi Arad: Well, you know, Andrew, the older we get, we notice that people always change. People stay the same and at the same time change constantly. And they remain the same because in many forms, their personality, the personality itself, and some of their cognitive and emotional, say, psychology, are constant there being shaped by genes or culture and everything. So that may remain, but even that changes with time. But then much else is the product of experience and maturation and learning. So people change and then circumstances change and people change with circumstance. Only the other day, looking at the ranking of American presidents and noticing that those who rank as highest were Washington, Lincoln, and Roosevelt. And you cannot avoid noticing that they were all war presidents. So the very act of being there at the moment of war, people rise and develop and perform under the circumstance of events. Now, Netanyahu has a very long longevity. He's been around for a long time. So he has changed in many, many ways because of the events, other personalities, circumstances, his political fortunes. And so in many ways, he did change, or let's say the mixture of qualities in him changed. And now many people say that he has transformed into a different type of leader. I do not accept everything they say about him. For example, saying that he aspires to be a dictator, I think is wrong. He is not a dictator at heart. What has happened is that he has found himself implicit in corruption charges and battling those charges against him very much as Nixon did when he was found associated with the Watergate affair. That has changed his behavior, which became more desperate, and he took measures which are non-democratic, but that's because his personality is under his personal crisis and trying to extricate himself from that crisis. So in that way, he has changed. But in so many ways, some of his qualities could be observed even in his youth, and they were observed as such.
Andrew Hammond: When was the last time you spoke to him, Uzi?
Uzi Arad: I think ten years ago, exactly. I severed my ties with him once I finished my term, and then there was some residual need to do, but two years after that, because I confronted him, I had a big fight with him.
Andrew Hammond: Can you tell us what about?
Uzi Arad: Well, about the fact that we quarreled over the role of the National Security Council. I insisted on working by the law. I said, you must work by the law, and the law stipulates that, and we are responsible under the law. And he didn't understand. He called me a Boy Scout. He said that I did not understand his political needs, and he expected me not to work by the law, to which I, after two or three times, told him that I would terminate after two years. I wanted to cross that threshold of two years, but that was a bitter separation. He did not like that at all. He felt offended by that, and he acted accordingly. But the issue was this. The issue was, you know, I used to give him advice in English. For example, I would say, Bibi, always capture the high moral ground. Always. Whatever issue, always work by the law. Not because it is the worthy thing to do, but because it pays. Because you will be caught sooner or later. Why will you be caught? Because in Israel's history, there is always a commission of inquiry about some kind of a mishap. Every two or three years, something wrong happens, there is a commission of inquiry. Then when that commission of inquiry starts to look at your performance, what they look at is if you acted and performed under the bylaws and the laws. If you did procedurally wrong, then you're dead. And if you acted, you know, according to the procedural, then you get away with it. I said, so act under the law. He said, and his legal advisor said, but the law is bad. I told him, well, I think that income tax law is bad. So can I take liberties with that? I cannot. So change the law. If you have the majority, change the law, but do not break the law. What has happened? What is happening now is precisely what I warned about. He did break the law. He was caught. And now he's trying to escape, you know, the law. And so I had a good war in a way. I was on the right side.
Andrew Hammond: We hear Uzi mention Iran-Contra in this interview. But some of you may be asking, what was Iran-Contra? And indeed it can get highly complex. But here is my attempt to boil it down for you. Iran-Contra was a covert operation by members of Ronald Reagan's national security team. But it almost cost Reagan his presidency. Reagan came to office promising support for anti-communist insurgencies around the world, the so-called Reagan Doctrine. Central America was of a special importance to the Reagan administration, and during the 1980s, the region was beset by communist insurgencies, often supported by Cuba and the Soviet Union. In Nicaragua, a Marxist group had actually come to power when the Sandinistas seized control in 1979. Opposing the Sandinistas were a disparate group of counter-revolutionaries, the Contras. Reagan supported the anti-communist Contras, but because the Contras were largely funded by the cocaine trade, remember at this time, the U.S. was in the early stages of the crack cocaine epidemic, Congress passed the Boland Amendment in the early 1980s to ensure that no Department of Defense or CIA funding could make its way to them. Reagan's support continued unabated, and his national security advisor would look to Iran as a congressional workaround. National security advisors came and went in the Reagan administration. He had six, which some scholars have suggested reflected the chaotic nature of the National Security Council decision-making process during his presidency. You'll recall that in 1979, the Iranian revolution brought the Islamic cleric Ayatollah Khamenei to power, and that there followed a 444-day crisis where American diplomats were held hostage. Fast forward to 1985, and an Iranian-backed terror group was now holding Americans hostage in Lebanon. To cut a long story short, a deal was made that the hostages would be released, and the US supply Iran with weapons. Remember, at this point, Iran is in a long and extremely bloody war with its immediate neighbor, Iraq. At the time, there was also a trade embargo with Iran, and Reagan had said that he would not negotiate with terrorists. Essentially, the majority of the money from the armed sales was rerouted to the Contras, and we have three lines being crossed. The Boland Amendment, Reagan's promise not to negotiate with terrorists, and Reagan's own 1983 embargo on selling arms to Iran. In 1986, a Lebanese newspaper reported on the deal, and the fallout would last for the rest of Reagan's second term in office. There were indictments, convictions, and pardons, including for three CIA officers who were embroiled in the complicated entanglement that was Iran-Contra. The period that you were the National Security Advisor, you were there for the Arab Spring, is that correct?
Uzi Arad: Yes.
Andrew Hammond: Can you tell us a little bit more about that?
Uzi Arad: Well, the Arab Spring is relatively a simple thing. I will come back to your comment about how people, how Prime Ministers lose their job. You know, how they rise to power, and they lose power, is a process that can be looked at. But talking about the Arab Spring, look, I used to come to Egypt regularly under Mubarak, and of course, I would come there under the umbrella of the Egyptian Intelligence Service. And they're very good at their job. And we traveled often in Cairo. But I couldn't help noticing that they are always quite nervous. You could see the edginess. And I asked myself, why is that? It's because, obviously, they could see what is coming from under them. You know, the Islamic displeasure, and so forth. And this is the problem with revolution. Elections are regulated, so you know when a disruption can happen. Revolution, you know, can happen any minute. So they have to be constantly on watch. So I could see this in the air. Also, there was the case of Mubarak coming to his end, and the succession issue. But when all this erupted, it came as a surprise. And to us, it was a risk. Because we had peace with Egypt and Mubarak at long last. And as I said, we had some good relations. And now, suddenly, an Islamic revolution with a strong Islamic presence. So we feared for the continuation of our good relations. Luckily, even the new regime, when it came to power, maintained relations with us, which showed the durability of this. But at the time, it came as a surprise. But some of us, a former Israeli chief of Mossad said that there would be a counter-revolution, and that the military would come back. And he got it right. So now we have, again, an Egypt which is ruled by a military. So we look at those upheavals. Most of them, they call the Arab Springs, but they are upheavals, and sometimes they take a very, very wrong turn. What has happened in Syria, mind you, is a major catastrophe. We should have all known how cruel civil wars could be. The civil war in Syria had cost half a million casualties, in which Syrians killed Syrians. That's heartbreaking. Just take notice of the fact that in the entire duration of the Arab-Israeli conflict, if you go back to the 19th century, almost 150 years, the number of casualties that we sustained together is 50,000. And now, in this sad event of a civil war in Syria, you have half a million? And we also look back at the fact that none of these things turned into a democratic revolution. Nowhere. Be it Tunisia, nowhere. So these have been outbursts of different characters in different countries. Some surprised us. Also, our ability to divine the future course has been very limited. Sometimes we felt as if Assad was about to fall. Well, he's still around. Which shows you the limits of ability to predict, certainly to predict revolutions or their continuation or their backlash. But I looked at it with great interest.
Andrew Hammond: I guess democracy as codified disruption, where the disruption happens every four or five years, and everyone knows how it all shakes out. But if disruption comes in a different way, then it's very difficult to know how that's all going to happen.
Uzi Arad: But you know, we all need to see political change happening in the Middle East. And ideally, if there were cultures that could sustain it, it would be better that it would be towards democratic and more secular governments, which would be progressive in their policies for the betterment of their nationals. But we have a similar interest among the Palestinians. Look, it is not a state yet, but there is a Palestinian authority. It is now led by an elderly gentleman, Abu Mazen, who is neither democratic in his instincts and has also been less than the best type of leader to serve the Palestinian national interest. I wish there would be a process of transition of power from Abu Mazen to future leadership among the Palestinians, one that would be less militant and certainly less corrupt, and would be more democratic, responsible, and in such ability would be able to conclude with us a final peace agreement, one which also would reach, would provide the Palestinians with a statehood and economic and political security. So that is a transition yet to happen.
Andrew Hammond: And is there anything that you learned going from joining the Mossad to rising up to become a senior policy maker? So you get to see intelligence in all of its dimensions. Is there also things that people that don't get to the upper echelons of intelligence, is there something that they misunderstand about how intelligence actually works or functions in terms of making policy that you would like to comment on?
Uzi Arad: Well, you know, at the end of the day, the national security strategy of nations also reflects the political culture and the political heritage and legacy of its history and of its geopolitical predicament and the nation that is involved. And that is why policies and strategies differ from countries because, again, speaking when I worked in Germany, I could not fail to see that Germany has been shaped by its location, by its being outflanked from both sides. And Britain, being an insular island, has shaped everything in terms of its policies, orientation, and even culture, is a reflection of its history. And all countries have such elements which are either undercurrents of the view, but sometimes do take form. In Israel's, what is, I think, very much embedded into our national security strategy or attitude towards our security is the perils, the existential perils, that the Jewish people or the Jewish state have felt. To give you an example, in the '40s, the leadership of the Jewish community of the state not formed yet had been exposed to the possibility of extinction three times. One, 1942, when the German armies were moving up Northern Africa, were about to overrun Egypt, no one had expected there that, thanks to intelligence, superb intelligence, you know, they were blocked by the British in El Alamein and Al Amkhalfa and so forth. At the time, we expected them to move on just as they moved into Western Europe. And there was fear that this tiny Jewish community would be under existential threat. It did not happen. The second time was when the realities of the Holocaust dawned on us, which the full scope of the Holocaust was not known, but by 1945 it became known. We were flooded. I grew up -- my parents were resistant fighters in Europe during the war. All of us have that legacy. But many of those in Israel, you know, came from the concentration camps. And they did not look like Holocaust survivors we know now, who are very elderly. We saw children with their hands marked. We saw men and women in their twenties who came from the concentration, the survivors. The country was flooded by that. I think that realization that the Jewish people and its presence in Europe sustained such a deadly blow is a second time of understanding that we may face extinction. And the third time was when the Arab armies invaded us in what was to be our war of independence. Once Israel declared a statehood, once the British departed, we had armies invading us, not the Palestinians. We had an expeditionary force from Iraq who came close to the sea. We had an Egyptian expeditionary force. We had a Syrian force, and we had the Jordanians. And we were attacked from all fronts. Yes, we won the war of independence, but that's hindsight. At the time, it was touch and go. It was touch and go, and we could have lost that war. So we emerged of that war, having faced what we thought might be an existential threat a third time in one decade. I think the residue of this memory, and memory matters, is very much embedded in Israel's defense strategy. And it's some of the lessons that we were small. We were isolated. The Jews in Europe, did not have any friends who came to their rescue. And that is something that is not about to be repeated here. Israel, for once, has its defense capacity. It is self-reliant in so many ways. And it has done relatively well in some of those battles, but this is being done because of the conviction which is also translated into either our intelligence performance, our military performance, and hopefully our national strategy performance. The aim is existence, yes, and peace. Peace is actually the objective that we need to obtain.
Andrew Hammond: Are you hopeful for the future, Uzi?
Uzi Arad: My answer to that, as a man who has experience, is it depends. In the first place, that's a Jewish answer. I always say, if we will perform at our best form, professionally, nationally, humanly, as a society, and we did perform well, and sometimes extremely well, then I'm very optimistic. But, if we will fail, if we will blunder, if we will commit mistakes as we did at several instances of our history, then I'm pessimistic. So tell me which it is. I don't know, but we certainly must give it a chance.
Andrew Hammond: My star sign is a Libra, the scales, so I can understand that as well, both points of view.
Uzi Arad: Right. My scales are the same.
Andrew Hammond: Really? Okay. So it's been a pleasure to speak to you, and I'm just wondering, where are you speaking to us from now? Are you in Tel Aviv?
Uzi Arad: Yes, I'm in Tel Aviv. I'm in the house that I always lived in, believing that my home is my castle. And I'm taking part of some of these struggles to get our policies and our house in order, and to regain. And I believe that, again, I'm a strong believer that if those of us who are the public servants, be it public servants of the policy level, or public servants of the intelligence level, we should do our best professionally, and doing that gives us a better chance of success. You know, success is never guaranteed, but the odds of succeeding are greater if you do that. So I'm still, even in my retirement, active here and there in advancing those things with many, many colleagues who are former veterans of either the Mossad or the Shin Bet or the policy circles. So that's where we're in. But at the same time, I can see that we are in the same boat with other countries. We have, you know, these shortcomings of our democratic structures, and the malfunctioning of some of our governments is universal. And as you can see, personalities matter. Personalities matter. And I look again at Britain, and I ask myself, you know, this epitome of good government is now handling a major crisis in the health segment strike, major political disruptions, some questionable leaders. Is that the best that England can provide? And then I look at our friends in other countries. I don't know. These are very odd times. And yes, it is true that if you ask me what one man does in retirement, we all become more philosophical.
Andrew Hammond: Thanks for sharing your philosophical insights with me this morning and my fellow listeners. It's been a pleasure to speak to you, Uzi.
Uzi Arad: Thank you, Andrew. Thank you. And I'm delighted at the existence of your institution. There's something to be said in favor of PAG.
Andrew Hammond: Thanks for listening to this episode of "SpyCast". Please follow us on Apple, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. Coming up on next week's show.
Erez Maisel: The fact is that in many ways the Second World War and the cooperation, the engagement at the different levels for the British establishment, the British intelligence establishment, as you said, gave us our chops, gave hands-on experience, very, very important experience with British resources.
Andrew Hammond: If you have feedback, you can reach us by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @intlspycasat. If you go to our page at the cyberwire.com/podcasts/spycast, you can find links to further resources, detailed show notes, and full transcripts. I'm your host, Andrew Hammond, and my podcast content partner is Erin Dietrick. The rest of the team involved in the show is Mike Mincy, Memphis Vaughn III, Emily Coletta, Emily Renz, Afu Inokwa, Ariel Samuel, Elliott Pelzman, Trey Hester, and Jen Eiben. This show is brought to you from the home of the world's permanent collection of intelligence and espionage related artefacts, the International Spy Museum.