WASHINGTON — Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said Monday that the Iranian nuclear deal has created the conditions for Iran to attain greater hegemony in the region and that President Barack Obama mishandled attempts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
While maintaining gratitude to Obama for his support of Israel’s security, he faulted the president for not holding PA President Mahmoud Abbas accountable for his role in the breakdown of peace efforts, and also said the president bought into the incorrect notion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict being the core of Middle East problems.
Ya’alon also bewailed the recent lifting of crippling oil and financial sanctions on Iran, which released more than $100 billion in frozen assets. The defense minister conveyed that while the deal has caused the Iranian regime to give up its “timetable” for acquiring military nuclear power, it has not given up its aspirations to eventually do so.
The more immediate concern for the next 10-15 years, Ya’alon insisted, was that the Iranians have created a “radical axis” throughout the Middle East that they are exploiting to gain greater dominance in the region.
“The regime in Tehran has become a central party in order to solve the problems of the Middle East,” he said.
Speaking before an audience at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Ya’alon discussed his concerns regarding the Iranian regime’s regional activities and how that is informing the negotiations currently underway between US and Israeli officials to hammer out a memorandum of understanding that would increase US military aid to Israel for the next 10 years.
Ya’alon met with US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and other senior officials on Monday afternoon regarding the defense aid package. While Ya’alon would not comment on the state of the talks — which have been rumored to be at an impasse — he said he hoped “negotiations will be concluded very soon.”
Referring to Iran test-firing ballistic missiles last week that carried a Hebrew message saying “Israel must be wiped out,” Ya’alon said that the Israeli leadership believes Iran is now “more confident, more free to act in the region today with more money as a result of the sanctions relief, violating many UN resolutions, international resolutions regarding the proliferation of arms and terror.”
Last week’s episode also coincided with US Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Israel.
Ya’alon told former Middle East peace negotiator Aaron David Miller, a vice president at the Wilson Center who moderated the forum, that he was apprehensive about President Obama allowing Iran to assert its influence over international attempts to ameliorate the Syrian crisis, as Israel borders Syria to its north along the Golan Heights. “To leave us with an Iranian-dominated Syria,” he said, “we can’t agree with it.”
Furthermore, Ya’alon highlighted differences between Washington and Jerusalem over how to make progress on Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians, saying that Obama did not apply sufficient pressure on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
“When [Abbas] closed the door in front of both Secretary Kerry in February 2014 and President Obama in March 2014, he wasn’t blamed. Why? He’s too weak to be accountable,” he said, referring to the president offering Abbas the principles for a plan to resolve the conflict and achieve a two-state outcome. “The most important value that is missing in the Middle East is accountability. When [Abbas] closed the door in front of President Obama, he should have been blamed. He should be accountable.”
Ya’alon also said the Obama administration embraced the “linkage” argument that maintains the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the main conflict in the Middle East that affects all others. “We still hear that the core of instability in the Middle East is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and that without solving it you can’t stabilize the Middle East,” he said. “It was ridiculous in the past and it is ridiculous today. What is the linkage between the uprising in Tunisia and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?”
In a recent interview with The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, Obama addressed the linkage theory when asked about his 2009 Cairo reset speech, titled “A New Beginning,” in which he aimed to improve US relations with the Muslim World. “My argument was this: Let’s all stop pretending that the cause of the Middle East’s problems is Israel,” Obama told Goldberg.
The president’s comments dismayed critics, including MK Michael Oren, who was Israel’s ambassador to the US when the speech was given, and who recalled the president saying no such thing. Oren told the Algemeiner on Thursday that the speech Obama gave in Cairo “nowhere mentions that the Israeli-Palestinian issue is not the core of the Middle East’s other conflicts. It actually implied the opposite.”
Despite Ya’alon telling Monday’s crowd that Israel doesn’t “want to govern the Palestinians” and that it would be “happy for them to enjoy their own political independence,” he offered a grim assessment of the future of the peace process, telling Miller “it’s not going to be solved in my lifetime.”