What do Israelis think of Isaac Herzog?

Israel's opposition leader Isaac Herzog, 54, is known as the "left falcon". For a long time he served as minister under the right-wing prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu before he was elected chairman of the Labor Party and applied for Netanyahu himself in the spring.

SZ: Mr. Herzog, you are planning to travel to Washington to inform the members of the US Congress about the Iran Agreement. Is there something about the deal that you aren't turning down?

Isaac Herzog: I respect the attempt by the UN veto powers and Germany to bring Iran to the negotiating table. Sigmar Gabriel struck the right note when he was recently in Tehran. He has told the Iranians that they will not move forward unless they finally recognize Israel and the historical truth of the Holocaust. I think that was worth emulating.

And the agreement itself?

It unleashes an evil empire that has imperialist goals and, with the help of its middlemen, Hezbollah and Hamas, is spreading terror across the region.

You criticize Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for pursuing a "policy of fear".

It makes a difference whether you stir up fears or take real worries seriously. If we look ahead today, two scenarios can be imagined. Iran could calm down and open up to the West. But Iran could also take a turn like we saw in the Arab Spring, when everyone first dreamed of a new Middle East and then everything got worse. When I hear Iran's President Hassan Rohani speak today, who only calls my country the "Zionist entity", then I have no reason to assume that Iran wants to change. The only thing that is certain to change is that as a result of the relaxation of sanctions, Iran will begin to amass more arms in five years' time. This allows Hezbollah, Hamas and the Assad regime to wield even more violence.

A solution to the Syrian civil war in Israel's neighboring country would require the cooperation of Russia and Iran. Aren't Iran's diplomatic relenting on the nuclear issue and the West's cooperation with Russia good signs?

It's the other way around. Last week two great friends of Israel gave speeches, Hezbollah boss Hassan Nasrallah and Syria's dictator Bashar al-Assad. Both cheered and expressed their joy that Iran will soon be economically stronger again and be able to supply them with even more weapons. I do not dare to contradict this analysis.

What are you asking for?

I do not ask anything of the freely elected representatives in the US Congress. That is not my place. But I ask of my own government: Israel must now seek alliance with moderate Sunni states such as Turkey and Egypt. A coalition. We have to stick together better in the region in order to continue deterring Iran in the future. In this respect, I even see an opportunity. The moderate Palestinian government under Mahmoud Abbas should also be invited to this coalition. Because it must fear Iran and its deputies - Hamas and Hezbollah - as much as we do. If this brings us back to the negotiating table with the Palestinians, then that would at least be a lucky break for our country. Unfortunately, I don't see the Netanyahu government trying in any way for this opportunity.

New regional alliances are already emerging when it comes to fighting the terrorist militia Islamic State. Even Iran is pulling in the same direction here. Isn't there an opportunity in this constellation?

Make no mistake: two extremist forces operate in our region, IS and Iran. We must aim to fight both. It seems that the international community has chosen Iran's favor. But that doesn't mean Iran isn't just as dangerous to the region.

The center-left in Israel has just lost an election to Netanyahu for the fourth time. Historically, it was only successful when it was run into the election by an ex-general. Are you starting to look for one?

I am the leader of the center-left, and we were not far from dethroning Netanyahu in the recent election. But if I analyze it deeper today, then people's concerns about their safety were real and strong. I am trying to bring my party closer to the political center by taking these fears seriously and understanding them. I think the next election is not far away. Then a civilian could win against Netanyahu.