Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman warned of Iran’s threat to the Middle East and called for “moderate” states, including Saudi Arabia, to stand together with Israel in opposing Tehran.
“For the first time since 1948, to the moderate Arab world, the Sunni world, the biggest threat for them is not Israel, not Zionists and not Jews, but Iran and Iranian proxies,” Liberman said Sunday.
Speaking at the Munich Security Conference, the defense minister referred specifically to Saudi Arabia, whose minister remained in the room for Liberman’s speech, as one of the “moderate” countries threatened by Iran.
Liberman highlighted Iran’s nuclear ambitions, ballistic missile program and funding of terror groups across the Middle East.
The defense minister repeated the message that he gave on Friday to new US Secretary of Defense James Mattis, saying the three major threats to the Middle East were “Iran, Iran and Iran.”
“The biggest and most brutal and sophisticated terror organization in the world [is] the Iranian revolutionary guard,” he said.
His short speech, delivered in English, kept to the oft-heard Israeli talking points on Iran: Despite the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, Tehran still has nuclear ambitions and violates the agreement with ballistic missile tests; Iran smuggles weapons and gives funding to terror groups around the world; it fights proxy wars in Yemen and Syria that destabilize the region; it is committed to destroying the Jewish people, trumpeting Holocaust denial and writing “Israel must be wiped out” on its ballistic missiles.
While the defense minister’s comments on Iran firmly coincided with the positions of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he offered a different vision with regard to the conflict with the Palestinians.
Following the speech, during an onstage interview with BBC chief international correspondent Lyse Doucet, Liberman was asked about Israel’s dedication to the two-state solution in light of US President Donald Trump having said he was amenable to other possible ways of reaching a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.
“My end game, without a doubt, is a two-state solution,” Liberman said, but noted that he was only expressing his own view. He also said his conception of the plan was not as many people now understood it, repeating his ideas for population and land swaps when redrawing the border in the future.
“I believe that what is necessary for us is to keep the Jewish state,” he said.
“My biggest problem is that today on the table we have a proposal (which) will establish a very homogenic Palestinian state without even one Jew and we will become a binational state with more than 20 percent of the population Palestinians,” he said.
“I think the basic principle of a solution must include (the) exchange of land and population. It does not make sense to create one homogenic Palestinian state and a binational state of Israel.”
In the past he has suggested that an area in northern Israel adjacent to the West Bank, with a mostly Arab Israeli population, known as the triangle, go to the Palestinians and Israel would take the land holding the large settlement blocs.
He also chastised the international community for expressing concerns about Israel having a right-wing government, noting that even when the Jewish state had “dovish” governments no peace agreements were made. He specifically cited a failed peace summit in Annapolis, Maryland, attended by then-foreign minister Tzipi Livni, who was also in attendance at the Munich conference.
Liberman’s commitment to the two-state solution is at odds with many of the right-wing members of the government, who have, following Trump’s inauguration, renewed calls for annexing large swaths of the West Bank. These statements prompted some cheers at home, but abroad they have raised concerns that Israel would abandon the much vaunted two-state solution and become a binational state.
Citing these calls, Doucet asked the audience to raise their hand if they still felt that the two-state solution was the only way to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. When nearly every hand in the hall went up, Liberman quipped: “The problem is that they don’t vote in Israel.”
On Friday, Liberman called for Israeli politicians to “cool down” on the West Bank annexation talk.
“Regarding annexation and building in Judea and Samaria, we’d better understand well that this is not something achieved by declarations or attempts to make short-term electoral gains,” the minister told Channel 2 news, referring to the West Bank by its biblical name.
“We need Israel as a Jewish state, and not a binational state,” he said.
Speaking at the conference earlier in the morning, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, like Liberman, called for a regional coalition with Sunni Arab states.
“We need to address common problems and perceptions that have given rise to anxieties and the level of violence in the region,” Zarif said.
Speaking after Liberman, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir criticized Iran, saying “for 35 years, we have offered Iran our friendship and support, and got nothing but death and destruction.”
Liberman and Zarif had been set to be two of four participants in a session entitled “Old Crises, New Middle East?” which was to have been moderated by the BBC’s chief international correspondent Lyse Doucet. Saudi Arabia’s al-Jubeir and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu were the other two participants.
But this was changed at the last-minute.
In an interview from Munich on Friday evening, Liberman indicated he was looking forward to the meeting, saying he hoped Zarif would stay in the room to hear “exactly what I think about the ayatollahs’ regime in Tehran.”
The organizers canceled the 9:45-11:05 a.m. session, replacing it with a series of separate speeches. Zarif spoke an hour before Liberman — he was originally supposed to speak after him — with another panel discussion in between them.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.