In a long interview with Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak one can read a lot of gossipy detail about the man and the Labor Party, but also learn a few important things:
1. Barak (at least for now) isn’t planning on being the opposition within the coalition. Especially endearing are the words he has for none other than Israel Beiteinu’s Avigdor Lieberman:
“Behind Lieberman are hundreds of thousands of voters who gave him 15 Knesset seats,” Barak says. “Some of the people who are now with him were formerly my comrades. I served in the army with [Yitzhak] Aharonovitch, Sofa Landver was a member of Labor and Danny Ayalon was my political secretary and I promoted him.”
How do you feel about being part of a coalition government with Yisrael Beiteinu?
Barak: “Their people and voters are absolutely fine, and Lieberman is a member of the same government of which I am a member and I respect him now.”
2. There’s no daylight between Barak’s position of expanding settlements and Netanyahu’s:
First of all, we have nothing against that [expansion] within the [existing] settlement blocs. We also say to the Americans that we believe – in accordance with a letter from president George W. Bush, too – that they should be part of Israel even in a final-status agreement. In the settlements, in the isolated ones on the other side of the [security] fence, the only things that are happening are expansions that I would say are for natural needs.
3. Barak strongly believes that peace with the Palestinians depends on the latter’s ability to have a government with which Israel can cut a deal:
Do you think that a Palestinian leader possessing broad authority could reach a settlement with us within a few months?
“In my opinion, yes.”
4. Barak doesn’t shy away from promoting ideas similar to Netanyahu’s controversial “Economic peace” – only he uses different language. Since the interview was not translated fully, here’s the relevant answer, which can be found only in the Hebrew edition:
Think for a minute on the regional context. Without interfering with the Palestinian track and other tracks to run the course that’s viable for them, imagine that we start a dialogue on big regional projects. For example, Turkey. In eastern Turkey there’s a lot of available water, and in parts of Syria, Jordan, in the Palestinian Authority there’s thirst. Imagine what happens if we create a set of trust building steps between us and the Arab world. It starts with small things – like flying to Bangkok not through Nairobi, and shortening the flight by three hours…
But these are small steps…
Yes, these things, presumably baby steps. Exchanging scholars – even Middle East experts between universities in the Gulf and Tel Aviv of Haifa University. These small steps break barriers.
5. He believes, “We are not in a position of being able to tell the Americans whether to talk to the Iranians,” but advises against delusional policies: “learn from the professionals about what is going on in Iran, what they are doing behind the smokescreen, acquaint yourselves with the intelligence material, and from this you will understand that they are working determinedly to deceive, confuse and blur things, and that under the headline of ‘nuclear power for peaceful purposes,’ they are striving to achieve military nuclear capability.”
The next paragraph was also omitted from the translation:
If Iran keeps moving toward the acquisition of nuclear weapons, without being stopped, this will break all international barriers, and we will enter a process of nuclear race because Egypt and Turkey wouldn’t stand still, neither would Saudi Arabia. It will be a situation in which within 10-15 years we will find nuclear material at the hands of a terror group that will attack in New York, Antwerp or Ashdod.
Perhaps that point should be reiterated in several more languages.