News - Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School

Iran Policy: Discussion with Former U.S. and Israeli National Security Advisors

Sep. 17, 2014

Former national security advisors from the United States and Israel discussed the latest efforts to halt Iran's nuclear program at the Harvard Kennedy School’s JFK Jr. Forum on September 16. Belfer Center Director Graham Allison moderated a lively conversation between Thomas Donilon, U.S. national security advisor from 2010 to 2013 and currently a Belfer Center senior fellow, and Major General (Ret.) Yaakov Amidror, Israeli national security advisor from 2011-2013.

The “Iran Policy” Forum, co-sponsored by the Belfer Center and the Institute of Politics, examined strategies for reaching an agreement with Iran regarding its nuclear program and included tie-ins with threats posed to the region and world by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Following are several notable takeaways from the discussion:

On Iran:

Amidror:[T]here was one big mistake on the basis of this interim agreement and this is the notion that for having a negotiation with the Iranians the United States of America should ease the sanctions on Iran.


Donilon:It is critically important that we and the international community communicate to the Iranians that there’s a high cost of not having a deal.


Amidror: “From the Israeli point of view the threat of Iran is [in a] totally different league of threats from all the others.

Donilon:The choice really rests with Iran. The Iranian people have gotten precisely nothing out of this effort to develop nuclear weapons.”

Amidror: "The Iranians are now playing a game. They don't give anything. And in the last 24 hours they will put [an] offer on the table."

Donilon: "There's only one member of the NPT...that hasn't been able to convince the world that it's not pursuing a nuclear weapon and that is Iran."


On ISIS and other terrorist threats:

Amidror:I think that from our experience, to get what the President put as a goal for the United States of America [is] impossible to get without boots on the ground. You cannot use only Air Force in those places. You need people on the ground to help you [with] the process of targeting.


Donilon:The roots of ISIS...are complicated.....They have their roots actually in the American invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Amidror:From our point of view, ISIS is one part in a big group of radical Islamist movements which are against the existence of Israel, against freedom, against democracy. They look at the United States of America; it's the Big Satan.

Donilon:Today I'd have to say that the principal homeland the United States is in Al-Qaeda core in South Asia and Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen who have demonstrated an intent, a desire, a goal, and the capability. … We [have] not lost sight of the fact that we have other threats, and in some ways more developed threats, with respect to the United States.


Amidror: "The Middle East now is kind of a perfect storm."

Donilon: "It will not be an overnight, king of one battle, two battles operation. It'll be something we know how to do, which is a persistent long-term effort, of a multi-dimensional nature, to degrade these organizations." (Donilon was referring to ISIS and other terrorist organizations.)


WATCH: Full-length video of "Iran Policy: A Conversation with Thomas Donilon and Yaakov Amidror"

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation:Iran Policy: Discussion with Former U.S. and Israeli National Security Advisors.” News, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, September 17, 2014.