Barak: Netanyahu ‘basically right’ on Iran, but ‘passive’

In post on PM’s election to Time’s ‘100 Most Influential,’ former defense minister says Netanyahu ‘pessimistic’ and ‘anxious’

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

Former prime minister Ehud Barak (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Former prime minister Ehud Barak (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Former prime minister Ehud Barak on Thursday wrote that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was “basically right about Iran” while criticizing the premier for his gloomy world outlook and passivity in tackling regional threats.

In a profile for Time magazine, which included Netanyahu on its list of the world’s “100 Most Influential People,” Barak urged Netanyahu to mend fences with the US, fight diplomatically for a better deal with Iran, and, if necessary, launch a military strike on its nuclear facilities.

Barak, who was Netanyahu’s commander in an elite commando unit decades before serving as his defense minister, also offered cautious praise for the prime minister, calling him “thoughtful and an avid reader of history.” Referencing an unnamed US official’s criticism last October, he said: “Chickensh-t he is not.”

“I knew Bibi, decades ago, as a soldier and young officer under my command facing real fire. He was determined, effective and focused. Character does not change. Chickensh-t he is not,” he wrote. “But over time, while thoughtful and an avid reader of history, he developed a mind-set at once pessimistic, passive and anxious. Benjamin Netanyahu seems to avoid any initiative.”

Time's Netanyahu cover, dated May 28.
Time’s Netanyahu cover, dated May 28, 2012.

Barak berated Netanyahu for failing to work harder to reach a peace accord with the Palestinians, while conceding that the prime minister’s take on regional issues was not misguided.

“Netanyahu is basically right about Iran and our risky neighborhood. But he can fail to seize opportunities, and on the Palestinian question he grossly ignores the slippery slope awaiting Israel in the form of a one-state solution,” Barak writes.

The prime minister must “mend the working relationship with President Obama, fight hard — mainly behind closed doors — for a tougher policy, and even, if needed, an attack against Iran and boldly engage the region’s moderates against terror, radicalism and Iranian hegemony,” Barak insisted.

“Daring actions are needed. Not just words,” he concluded.

Barak, in past weeks, has also criticized the US for its Lausanne framework agreement with Iran, and for failing to adopt tougher negotiating positions vis-a-vis the Islamic Republic. Earlier this month, he urged the US to deliver Tehran an ultimatum: dismantle your entire nuclear program “or else.”

In an interview with CNBC, Barak said the US should hold direct negotiations with the Iranians and send “a clear message.” He downplayed fears that a military strike on Iran would spark a full-fledged war, saying the operation would more closely resemble the assassination of Osama bin Laden than the 2003 Iraq war and could be carried out in one night.

“It’s the [world powers’] last moment to stand firm and to make a position and to make sure that Iran will eventually understand, that either they dismantle their nuclear program or else,” Barak said.

“I think that what is really needed is a clear message — it’s not too late to send an authoritative envoy of the president to come to [Iranian Supreme Leader Ali] Khamenei, [Iranian President Hassan] Rouhani, close the door behind and tell them: ‘Gentlemen, we fully understand you, we are not going to embarrass you, we’re not going to humiliate you, but you have to understand: either you agree once and for all to dismantle your nuclear military program – or else.’”

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