Stockwell Day: We Must Defend Israel's Right To Defend Itself
This week, OpenCanada asked six experts on the Middle East about Canada's current policy towards Iran.Below is a Q&A with Stockwell Day, the former minister of International Trade under Prime Minister Harper and a board member of the Canadian Centre for Israel & Jewish Affairs, who recently spoke at the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference. To read the other responses, click here.
Do you agree with the current Canadian government’s policy on Iran?
Yes. It was sort of a policy that we were holding when I was still in government, and I fully support that policy.
As the Syrian regime has shown itself to be even more murderous towards its own people, and as we have come to understand how this ties back to Iran, I think this has added an extra reason for notching up the concerns related to Iran itself. Really, Syria is one of the last serious connections and outposts for Iran, so there’s no question in terms of taking a position against the regime itself – that has moved upwards in severity because of what Iran is supporting in Syria.
Is the threat we see emanating from Iran seriously about human-rights violations in Syria? Or is it about the nuclear threat?
The prime concern is the nuclear concern. I have been utterly convinced for quite a period of time, and so have the prime minister and others, that Iran will use nuclear weapons against Israel at its earliest possibility. Ahmadinejad has stated this – he’s been very clear. So nobody should doubt that. That’s the key, and the driving concern related to the policy on Iran. How Iran exports terror around the world and uses a country like Syria as a conduit – those are additional factors.
We obviously have an interest in protecting Israel, but we also have an interest in maintaining a neutral position in the Middle East. How do we balance the two?
I believe there is a shared concern with other Middle Eastern countries. Israel has the primary concern because it is the target. The other countries in the region know they would also suffer from Iran’s nuclear capability because it would electrify an arms race in the Middle East, so they are equally concerned.
By allying ourselves so closely with Israel, do we compromise our relationships with other Middle Eastern countries?
We are aligning ourselves with Israel’s interests, but there are global interests at stake. Israel is the only true democracy in the entire Middle East. The Iranians hate democracy as much as they hate Jews.
Are military options all we have? What about recent attempts at diplomatic solutions?
Well, if people want to engage in discussion … that would be up to each country to decide. The main narrative that Iran needs to hear is that nuclear capability for them is not an option, and that they will face severe consequences if they continue to move in that direction. U.S. President Barack Obama has been very clear: His will not be a policy of containment, it will be a policy of prevention.
You recently returned from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference. Did you detect any difference of opinion on Iran between Obama and Netanyahu?
Prime Minister Netanyahu said he appreciated President Obama stating clearly that the U.S. would not take a policy of containment – that it would keep the military option very clear, in case other options fail. So I think that’s the broad stream in which everybody is swimming. That’s the broad message that Iran should take very seriously. How that manifests itself – whether the U.S. tries other methods for awhile, like sanctions for instance, and puts more faith in sanctions, let’s say, than Israel would … those are matters for debate.
So is there really no difference between Netanyahu and Obama’s policy on Iran?
Well, Israel is virtually next door to the people who have said they want to exterminate it in a nuclear holocaust. Israel knows what the holocaust is all about. If Iran was to use its intercontinental ballistic capability, the effects would be immediate. The luxury of time is not an option for Israel. The Israelis said they will defend themselves – they will not wait if threatened. They’ve seen a holocaust once, and they’re determined not to see it again.
Where does Canada stand on this?
It’s very clear that Israel has the right to defend itself. That’s the Canadian position, and I believe that is the right position. I think this government recognizes the immediacy of the threat towards Israel, and will respect Israel’s right to defend itself.
Photo courtesy of Reuters