Barak: World’s inaction in Syria shows we cannot depend on others to protect us

As for Iran, defense minister says, ‘the metaphorical sword is now on our neck’

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak (photo credit: Uri Lenz/Flash90)
Defense Minister Ehud Barak (photo credit: Uri Lenz/Flash90)

The world’s failure to intervene in the carnage currently taking place in Syria shows that Israel cannot rely on others to come to its defense in times of crisis, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said on Wednesday.

“It has to tell us something about the sobriety that is needed when you evaluate whether in fact it is self-evident — like some people even here tend to believe — that if only we had the right conditions, the world will indeed act,” he said. “It is not self-evident and it is not clear.”

Iran and Hezbollah are supporting Syrian President Bashar Assad’s brutal crackdown on anti-government forces, Barak said during a nearly hour-long lecture at the Institute for National Security Studies conference in Tel Aviv. “They reflect the danger that we face from this unholy alliance. But above all hovers the challenge of a nuclear Iran.”

The Islamic Republic is undeterred in its pursuit of nuclear weapons and Israel cannot afford to depend on the world to impede the Islamic regime, he added.

“We are not deluded by the talks,” he said, referring to last week’s nuclear talks between six world powers and Iran in Baghdad, which seemed to suggest a willingness on the part of the West to allow Tehran low-level enrichment. “Like North Korea and Pakistan in the past, Iran will continue to advance toward military nuclear capabilities until it has threshold demands such as stopping the enrichment and talking all of the enriched material out of Iran, whether it’s 20 percent enriched or 3 percent enriched.”

According to the Israeli assessment, only a complete halt to all Iranian enrichment can guarantee that the regime won’t reach a phase in which it would be impossible to stop it weaponizing its material, Barak said.

“Israel’s leaders, including me, will be the happiest in the world if Iran did not reach nuclear military capability, but their plans won’t stop just by themselves. We need to keep our eyes open,” he said.

“If in the future a development occurs that poses an existential threat for Israel, we don’t have the option, and I repeat, we don’t have the option to ignore this challenge,” he added, hinting at the possibility of a preemptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. “The metaphorical sword is now on our neck.”

Barak also repeated his criticism of some former leaders who attacked the government’s public stance on the Iranian question, such as former Shin Bet head Yuval Diskin, who said Barak and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were misleading the public. “Some of the statements that were made were not responsible and actually detrimental to the efforts to stop Iran,” the defense minister said.

In his wide-ranging lecture, Barak, who heads the small Independence party, also urged the coalition to advance the peace process and to end or at least better manage the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“We have now 94 MKs together — this is an opportunity that will not repeat itself in the next few years. If we now wait and fail to act” we will pay the price, he said. Some Israeli prefer to remain “comatose” because they don’t believe a solution is possible, he said, hinting at the possibility that such a position would lead to another violent Palestinian uprising.

“We have to reach a comprehensive solution,” Barak insisted, adding that a consensus more or less exists on the core issues that would lead to a two-state solution. If a permament settlement proves impossible at present, Israel should think of “interim agreement,” and perhaps consider unilateral action, he said without elaborating.

“Israel cannot afford to remain stagnant,” he said. “It will a difficult decision to make, but time is running out.”

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