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Interview: Israeli President Calls For Peaceful Iran Ties

Israeli President Shimon Peres says Iranian President Hassan Rohani disappointed Israel when he failed to mention Israel as a country with whom Iran should make peace.
On the occasion of the Persian New Year, Norouz, Israeli President Shimon Peres sent a message of peace to Iranians.

In an exclusive interview with Israel-based journalist Farnoush Ram for RFE/RL's Radio Farda in Jerusalem on March 19, Peres called for peaceful relations between Israel and Iran, insisting his country is against war.

The Israeli president also said Iranian President Hassan Rohani, who was elected last year, disappointed Israel when he failed to mention Israel as among countries with whom Iran should make peace.

RFE/RL: Mr. President, have you ever visited Iran and what do you remember of it?

Shimon Peres:
I have been to Iran twice. I was the guest of the king, and I was then impressed by the effort of the king to build a green Iran, or a white Iran, [an] Iran of peace. I think I saw the beginning and I could imagine the future. It was interrupted, as you know, with a change in the government. You can change governments, you cannot change history. History calls for peace. History calls that all people will live together, with the right to be different.

RFE/RL: In 1978-79, when Iran saw strikes and demonstrations against Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the Israeli government was busy with the peace process with Egypt. Do you think Israel could have done more to prevent the new Iranian regime from disconnecting relations with Israel?

Israel has never cut the relations with Iran. It was done, unfortunately, by the new regime in Iran. While we were making peace with Egypt -- and people didn't believe that is possible to make peace with the largest Arab country and the small state of Israel -- Iran was attacked by Iraq -- don't forget it. Six years, and many people were killed.

You think we liked to see the Iraqis killing Iranians? My God! We are against war, not only between us and Iran or anybody else, we are against war -- period. I see the bloodshed in Syria, I see the bloodshed in many other countries. When I see the refugees, the old women with their children without food, without a place to lay down their head, that can make a man happy? Is that necessary? Is that justified? What for? What is important today is science, not land. And science you don't win by wars but by education.

RFE/RL: You have just mentioned the Iran-Iraq War. There are some Iranians who say your country sold arms to Iran in order to allow the continuation of the war.

[It] never happened. Never did Israel sell arms of this sort. There was one [occurrence]. There were some prisoners who were hijacked by groups of Iran, and there were indications that if we shall give some missiles or something like that they will be released. It was a limited deal. And it was a very small collection of missiles and two of the prisoners were released. That's it, nothing else.

I want to tell you: why should we do it? What can Israel gain? Let's be logical. That Iranians will be killed and Iraqis will be killed. What for? You must be logical. We have to be logical. And by the way, we make our living not by selling arms, but by having science and technology all over the world. We don't make our life out of arms, we make our life out of science and technology, and we do it -- more than other countries -- [without] having oil or something else. We live on our brains, not on our guns.

RFE/RL: You always mention that Iran has a great people and a great history. Still, Iranians wonder why your country, Israel, wants to attack them. Why is it important for you to talk with the Iranian people when your government sends harsh messages every day to Iran and its people?

What do they think, we are crazy people? Why should Israel attack Iran? What for? What can we gain? I know what we can lose, because every war is extremely costly. We're not going to sacrifice our youngsters. We have to have a purpose. What are we going to gain?

RFE/RL: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says that the military option against Iran is on the table. Does it mean that Israel, sooner or later, will attack Iran?

I don't think that any Iranian should be worried about Israel. If at all, there is room for the Israelis to be worried about the Iranians. Israel never said that we are going to destroy Iran. Unfortunately, some Iranian leaders said there are going to destroy Israel.

Nobody is threatening Iran, I don't know anybody. What our prime minister said [is], "Look, if you try to attack us, we shall fight back." But we never threatened Iran to attack. Why should we? We don't have the slightest reason to do so. And I think we have learnt -- we are old enough -- that if you want to make money or [be] happy, do it by making peace, not by making war. I don't know any nation that won from a war. They may win for a while, but then they pay the rest of their life. We have had enough wars.

RFE/RL: Iranians say that Iran never attacked any other country over the past centuries, and this will continue to be the case.

It is true, there are Iranians who say so. But on the other hand, there are Iranians who say differently. They say there are two Satans in the world: the Americans and us and they want to destroy us. Why? On the globe there is room for everybody. Why should we do it?

RFE/RL: You and others have raised the issue of Iran's long-range missiles. Don't you think that including issues other than Iran's nuclear program in the talks between Iran and world powers can endanger the whole negotiation process?

The dialogue with Iran is really meant to bring peace. If you want peace, why do you need missiles for 2,000-3,000 kilometers? Whom [do] they want to attack? I mean, we want to understand. Then the Iranian leaders said that "en principle" and by religion they are not going to have a nuclear bomb. If they are not going to have a nuclear bomb, would they need a nuclear missile?

We want to understand. And Israel said all its life: "we don't intend to attack anybody." We made peace already with two countries. We gave back all the things we won without hesitation -- the land, the water, the natural resources. We gave back to Jordan, we gave back to Egypt, we are willing to do it with the Palestinians. Let's see facts. We're the only country that went to war seven times, won seven times, and gave back everything we won for peace. Because we think the greatest victory is peace, not war.

RFE/RL: Former Mossad Director Aluf Meir Dagan, former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, and other former high-ranking Israeli figures have criticized the policy of the Israeli government toward Iran. The Israeli government says these figures don't understand Israel's interests. Is it true?

No, I think they are facing two different problems. One is terror and the other is peace. We are for peace all the time and we have to fight terror all the time. So there is a contradiction not created by us. We are facing a contradictory situation.

And unfortunately, on many occasions, there are Iranian hands behind terror. I don't understand why, whether it's in Argentina or any other places. What for? Why should Iran, a people of knowledge and experience, why should they use terror? What for? Why kill innocent people? So all of them, whether in office or out of office, they are trying to make peace and they have to stop terror.

RFE/RL: Israel announced earlier this month that its naval forces had intercepted an Iranian shipment of advanced rockets heading to Gaza....

I think that I have to make up, like anybody, my mind about [whether] to trust what the Iranians are saying or not. And here is a contradiction: If they say that by religion, they are not going to have a nuclear bomb, they are not going to use a nuclear bomb, so I simply ask: "Why are you building the missiles?" Who is threatening Iran? Tell me. Nobody I know of. So I want to understand why they say one thing, and why is there another reality? And Iran has to answer it.

RFE/RL: What do you think about President Hassan Rohani? When Rohani was elected eight months ago, you spoke positively about him. Have you changed your mind since then?

You know, the problem is at that time there were in Iran different groups. And some of the groups suggested to do this, others suggested to do that. We met a contradictory situation, but never in our history have we had any intention to fight [against] Iran or attack Iran. No.

I think Rohani started by a new note that gave great hope. But apparently, I don't know why, he couldn't follow it all the way along. For example, when he was asked, after his remark that he wants to make peace with all countries, if this includes Israel as well, he didn't answer. I was sorry. Ask me if we are ready to make peace with Iran, I wouldn't hesitate a moment, and say "yes."

RFE/RL: You say Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas is a partner for peace with Israel, but it doesn't mean that the Israeli government agrees with you. Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon has recently said that Abbas is not a peace partner for Israel any more.

I cannot answer about remarks of a minister in our government, but what I can say is that the Israeli government is conducting negotiations with Abu Mazen [Abbas]. It means that the government thinks he's a partner. If he wouldn't be a partner, we wouldn't talk with him. But if we negotiate, we recognize him as a partner. I know him personally for almost 30 years, and I do believe he's a partner. And the man has his own views, which by the way are against terror and against war.

RFE/RL: As the Iranians say, you have seen in your lives 92 springs. Can you imagine witnessing Israel and Iran establishing good relations?

I think Iran doesn't have a choice -- listen to me -- and Israel doesn't have a choice, but to live in peace. Finally, if somebody in Iran will say, "Let's shoot," the people will ask him, "What for? What do you want? If he will shoot he'd be shot back. What are you going to do? Why do we need it?"

Iran is trying to escape economic problems. You do it by shooting rockets or guns? My God, it costs money, it's a waste of money. I believe that truth and logic will win, I don't believe that mistakes and foolishness will guide our future.

RFE/RL: You sent a message for Norouz. What do you know about the New Year holiday?

I know a great deal about Norouz. I like the food of Norouz, I like the ceremonies of Norouz. Don't forget that there are many Jewish people who used to live in Iran, in Persia, and they celebrate Norouz. I was myself invited to many parties, and I like the food, I like the ceremony, I like the songs, so I have very good memories about it.

Editor's note: edited for length and clarity