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Ex-Israeli Spy Chief Watches To See How Trump's Presidency Evolves


Out on the campaign trail, President-elect Donald Trump promised to overturn decades of U.S. foreign policy and name Jerusalem as Israel's capital. The U.S., like much of the international community, has its embassy in Tel Aviv and does not recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, arguing that its status needs to be resolved through negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis. This is a contentious issue that we talked through with Efraim Halevy. He is a former head of Mossad, the Israeli intelligence service. We reached him on his cell phone.

Well, welcome to the program. Thank you for joining us.

EFRAIM HALEVY: It's a pleasure to be with you.

GREENE: So is a Trump presidency - will a Trump presidency be a great thing for Israel?

HALEVY: It'll depend how the presidency evolves concerning the Middle East, in general, and Israel, in particular, because we all know that election statements and election soundbites are not always representative of the ultimate policy.

GREENE: A couple of things Trump has said - he would overturn decades of U.S. foreign policy and recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital and also move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, things that have the possibility of angering Palestinians and a lot of other people. But are you hoping for that to happen?

HALEVY: Well, I've always hoped that there should be a normalization of the status of Jerusalem because Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. And our outstanding prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, moved all government offices from all around the country to Jerusalem in order to solidify a claim to Jerusalem as the capital. So in that sense, of course, I think a move of the American Embassy to Jerusalem would be an important thing from an Israeli point of view.

GREENE: I wonder if you might put your security hat on. You've clearly seen intelligence over the years suggesting what sort of angry, potentially violent reaction these moves would cause. Would you advise the United States to do this, given that risk?

HALEVY: If the United States were to take such a step, they would probably like to cushion the result by taking parallel steps in other directions as well on the other side of the divide.

GREENE: You see a path to keep the Palestinians on board and working together?

HALEVY: Well, I believe that if we want to get a resolution of the conflict, we can't ignore the existence of the Palestinians. But it could well be. And out of here, of course, it depends on whether President Trump would like to go that way. If the United States gets behind a two-state solution, then obviously it will have to support something for the Palestinians.

GREENE: If a President Trump made these moves, based on the intelligence that you have reviewed over the years, how much violence would there be?

HALEVY: Violence is violence is violence. Violence can be a big outburst of activity, which would, should we say, plunge the whole area into a bloodbath. But I don't think this would happen. But even, should we say, controlled violence - like the violence we've had in the last couple of years, with knives of the young children and so forth. But violence is something, once it breaks out, you cannot even imagine how far it will go and how wide it will spread.

GREENE: Israel was against the nuclear deal that the United States reached with Iran. Donald Trump seems to have many doubts about that deal and has suggested he might end it. Is that one reason that Israel seems tentatively pleased with a Trump presidency?

HALEVY: I don't think anybody believes in Israel today that President Trump will walk back the agreement. First of all, it's an international agreement, so I don't believe that, practically speaking, this is an option.

GREENE: Wow, because he made a lot of American voters think that this was an option.

HALEVY: It would be very, very difficult. Even if President Trump walks back, the rest are staying. And large parts of the world are going to continue implementing the agreement and respecting it, and one country only - the United States - is walking back in isolation, I'd say. I think this is probably something that even President Trump would not wish to come about.

GREENE: Donald Trump got support in the United States from neo-Nazi groups. The KKK endorsed him. I mean, these are groups who are notoriously anti-Semitic. Does that make it uncomfortable for Israel to have an alliance with a President Donald Trump?

HALEVY: Well, in order to get together a coalition of votes in key states, politicians make concessions along the road. The question is whether the past is a guidance for the future. And what Donald Trump did on this account which you are mentioning was uncomfortable in the past. The question is, what will it look like from now on?

GREENE: Thank you so much for talking to us. We really appreciate it.

HALEVY: Thank you, sir.

GREENE: That was Efraim Halevy. He was head of the Israeli intelligence agency, Mossad, from 1998 to 2000. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.