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Interview: Former US spy chief sees shift toward Asia

In an interview, Admiral Dennis C. Blair - the former director of national intelligence - says the US needs to back moderate Islamic societies, and urges Israel to keep pace with a changing Middle East.

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The hard parts are when tribal things come into play. Somehow tribalism seems to trump a lot, and the idea that another tribe has to be given some sort of privileges and has to share in the power seems to be a concept that is hard to grasp in many of these regions.

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On Israel and Iran

ED: Does the changing dynamic call for any re-evaluation of American foreign policy toward Israel, or Israel's own foreign policy ?

DB: It should. I think that Israelis recognize that their security ultimately lies in having decent relationships with representative governments around them, not just deals cut with dictators which is what they’ve relied on [until now], plus their own military strength. Sort of like solving the Palestinian question, it's relatively easy to get the end state, but relatively hard to figure out how do you get from here to there in a way that provides assurance along the way. Based on their history, the Israelis are so wary of taking any kind of a chance to achieve something.

ED: Tensions between the United States and Iran have heightened in recent weeks. Where do you see that heading?

DB: I think the Iranians are feeling the squeeze, which is a good thing. There's no way that they can close the Strait of Hormuz or dictate what goes on the Persian Gulf. That's just way beyond their power. Militarily so, the more they push that, the more they are ultimately going to lose. There's a long series of provocations that they could use in addition to the verbal and oral ones that they could use. They could have speedboats to run out to the tankers, they could even board one and tell it to board back, all of which will keep the oil market jittery which they think is to their advantage. The price is higher, so what they do sell brings in more. We know they're hurting economically. They've reduced the amount of cash that an Iranian can leave the country with from $5,000 to $1,000 equivalent because their banks are in trouble because they are sanctioned by the international community.

Everyone I know who has studied Iran closely says that the open reaction will be the defiant, angry, some aggression. But meanwhile, behind the scenes, they’re having serious discussions of what's the right thing for them to do. And if you look at the history of decisions they take, they're usually pretty rational. They could easily cut some new nuclear deal in which they let some nuclear inspectors in. Right now, they almost have the worst of both worlds: they have economic penalties and yet they don't have the full nuclear capability. As you flip it, you have an IAEA inspected program like any country with power plants – same stuff, same uranium – and they could escape the sanctions and have a much more prosperous country. It would be a brave man to predict which way it would go, but I think the rest of the world has played it pretty well. I don't know whether there can be a negotiated end to this, I think it has to be an Iranian decision. 

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