Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak tells Globes he expects Iran to complete its nuclear weapon breakthrough in the coming year.
“It is very important that when Israel says that it is not possible to allow a nuclear Iran and that all the options are on the table, it means it. There is agreement between us and the Americans on the need, but there are differences about how fast the clock is ticking. We’re continually reviewing the reality, and the Americans understand and know from us that Israel reserves the right and the responsibility to decide for itself on matters related to its future and security, and they respect this,” Minister of Defense Ehud Barak told “Globes” in an interview.
Do you still see eye-to-eye with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on this point?
Barak: “I always see eye-to-eye. We see the same threat, but had we already made a decision and approved it, you’d definitely know about it.”
Your recent remarks seem to imply that you’ve taken a step back, to allow the Americans to deal with the situation.
“I have no idea what is being depicted. I say, ‘It’s necessary to listen more to the Americans. We’d all be happy if we were to wake up one morning and discovered that the ayatollahs had seen the light, that the penny had dropped, and that they had decided to cancel the nuclear program. I don’t think that is going to happen. However, just as the Americans respect our rights, we respect theirs. None of us would object if they act. We know that they aren’t going to act in the near future. So we monitor and review.”
The Americans are prepared to give Netanyahu a way out to back down, and they won’t give Iran a deadline. Criticism by the US administration and leaders of other countries is rising.
“I say this loud and clear: there is something missing in the dialogue here. There is great exaggeration in the description of the crisis, and in the differences between us and the Americans, some of which are due to exposed nerves and sensitivities amongst us too, including in the media dialogue, but maybe also amongst them. I’ll give some examples. When I told people, more than once and out loud, that Israel cannot, in any strike, destroy Iran’s nuclear program, that we can only delay it for a long time, some people immediately jumped up and shouted that Barak is harming Israel’s deterrence. We agreewith the Americans that [Iran’s supreme leader] Ali Khamenei has not yet given the order, ‘build me a weapon or facility’, but we see them entering the zone of immunity in which it will be very hard to undertake a surgical strike and significantly delay them. When I say this, people yell, ‘You’ve harmed deterrence!’
“And now, a week later, the US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey says that Israel can only delay Iran’s nuclear program, and people jump up and cry, ‘What a blow Israel has taken right between the eyes.’ I say, ‘Guys, the defense minister of Israel said it first.’ There is no surprise. The facts are known, and they are simple.”
Do you mean to say, ‘I said it first?
“I want to tell Israel’s people that the dialogue between us has gone far beyond what is desirable. There is something too fast and too hasty. I want to tell the public that in statesmanship you can’t look into the future, there is no hocus-pocus. All in all, the dialogue between us and the Americans is much more honest and simple. Behind closed doors, the discussions are very serious and matters are in shades, fifty different shades.
“Obviously, it would be better for us were the Americans to speak out more, though they have spoken a lot. They have also drawn some red lines: if the Iranians close the Straits of Hormuz, if the Iran’s make a breakthrough to a nuclear weapon, and begin weapons-grade uranium enrichment.”
Can they know in real time?
“The Americans believe that they can. They have explicitly made two quality descriptions of red lines, not detailed like the small print in a financial contract, but lines: if the Iranians close the Straits of Hormuz, we’ll be forced to act; and if there is a breakthrough to a nuclear weapon, we’ll be forced to act. They have explicitly indicated this.”
The Americans talk about a year.
“Yes, during the coming year, Iran is liable to complete the breakthrough. The Americans have let it be known that if there is a massive Iranian attack against its allies in the Persian Gulf, where the US has military bases, they will act, and they have even said that in the event of a massive attack on Israeli cities, they will act.”
Have they said this explicitly?
“Yes. This can be seen in the American media. It’s no secret. US radar operates here, which provides warning, they have ships which can assess the warning, they have some interception capability, they have really declared that they will be forced to protect Israel if its cities come under massive attack. But someone here tried to cause tensions and describe in the press as if the Americans promised that if Israel does something, then they will continue the work and attack Iran. That’s not true. They never said that, and that is why Dempsey was forced to say, ‘Excuse me, we never said that Israel holds the trigger and it can activate America. I also don’t think that it is proper to think in those terms.”
About understandings on whether to attack or not?
“We, and only we, should take decisions that affect us. The Israeli government is responsible for the security and future of the country. We mean exactly what we say: all the options are on the table. But after we’ve said this, there should be no confusion: the US is our most important ally, and it helps a lot.”
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