Liberman says Iranian regime ‘living on borrowed time’

Defense minister wants Trump’s Korean denuclearization model implemented with Tehran; on Gaza, he slams as ‘delusions’ the idea that improving Strip’s economy will halt terror

Michael Bachner is a news editor at The Times of Israel

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman leads a Yisrael Beytenu faction meeting in the Knesset, June 4, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman leads a Yisrael Beytenu faction meeting in the Knesset, June 4, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman claimed Sunday morning that the ayatollah regime in Tehran was “living on borrowed time,” expressing his hope that US President Donald Trump’s Korean model of complete denuclearization could be implemented in Iran as well.

In an interview with Army Radio, Liberman repeated Israel’s position that it is “determined to prevent an Iranian presence in Syria, and we will do everything so that doesn’t happen. The danger on the northern border is serious and real.”

Liberman praised Trump’s demand that North Korea’s nuclear program be completely dismantled, saying, “I hope that the model of Korea completely giving up its nuclear program can be implemented in Iran’s case as well.”

However, he continued, “We have seen the opposite — an announcement by Ayatollah [Ali] Khamenei that he has ordered to accelerate the nuclear programs in his country.”

On the internal situation in Iran, he commented that “I am following the turmoil in Iran, and there hasn’t been such turmoil since the Khomeini revolution,” referring to the 1979 Islamic rRvolution orchestrated by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

“If the economic sanctions continue, the ayatollah regime is living on borrowed time,” he concluded.

Israel has repeatedly vowed it will not tolerate Iran’s military presence in Syria and has carried out airstrikes on targets in the country, including last month in response to Iran’s firing of rockets from Syria at the Golan Heights.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Tehran (L), US President Donald Trump at the White House (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP, AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON)

Israel fears that as the Syrian civil war winds down, Iran, whose forces and Shiite proxies have backed President Bashar Assad, will entrench militarily in the neighboring country and turn its focus on Israel.

‘Improving Gaza’s economy won’t end terror’

Regarding the Gaza Strip, Liberman claimed that the protests and tensions in the enclave didn’t originate with its collapsing economy — as many, including in Israel, have said. He called for an end to the “illusions and delusions that improving the economy will end terror.”

He spoke with Army Radio ahead of a security cabinet meeting to discuss the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, which has been cited as a major factor fueling violent clashes on Israel’s border with the Hamas-run Palestinian enclave.

Gaza’s woes have been exacerbated by an ongoing dispute between Hamas and the PA, which has cut the salaries it pays to workers in Gaza and imposed various sanctions, including cutting of payments for electricity supplies to the enclave.

“There are three reasons for the dire humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip,” Liberman said.

The first, he said, was Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, “who one day decided to stop transferring funds to Gaza. Just last week he transferred half of the April salaries.” He was echoing similar criticism made Saturday by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The second reason he cited was Hamas, the terror group ruling Gaza, “which invests millions of dollars on [attack] tunnels, and isn’t willing to funnel a single shekel to the education or healthcare systems in the Strip.”

But the primary obstacle to a solution, according to Liberman, was Hamas’s objection to returning the Israeli captives in Gaza — civilians Avera Mengistu and Hisham a-Sayed, who both crossed into Gaza of their own accord in 2014 and 2015, respectively, and the bodies of IDF soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul which were snatched in the 2014 war known in Israel as Operation Protective Edge.

A Palestinian youth uses a slingshot to hurl stones at Israeli forces during clashes near the border with Israel, east of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on June 8, 2018. (Said Khatib/AFP)

Hamas “can get a generous humanitarian package if it returns the missing Israelis,” Liberman suggested.

Gaza faces a lack of electricity, drinkable water and food. Israel and Egypt maintain a blockade on the Strip which they say is designed to prevent Hamas from importing weapons and other goods that could be used to build fortifications or cross-border tunnels.

Four Gazans were killed in clashes at the border Friday, the latest in a series of protests dubbed the “Great March of Return.” The IDF said people used helium-filled balloons to carry explosives, detonated by remote control, in attempts to attack troops.

The defense minister said Hamas doesn’t recognize Israel’s right to exist and therefore will continue with hostilities no matter the situation in Gaza. He claimed that the thousands who protested and clashed with IDF troops on Friday were connected “directly or indirectly” with Hamas and had been left no choice but to attend the demonstration.

“Whoever thinks improving the civilian and economic situation in Gaza will halt the terror kites and the violence, is simply wrong,” he charged. “Enough with all sorts of illusions and delusions that improving the economy will end terror.

“The opposite is true — they’ll understand that with use of force and violence they can achieve political goals. To improve the reality in the Gaza Strip, the Hamas regime must be toppled. Anyone who wants more than four hours of electricity every day must topple the Hamas regime.”

Two Palestinians help fly a ‘fire kite’ from the Gaza Strip into Israeli territory during mass demonstrations along the security fence on June 8, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

Liberman said Israel was successfully dealing with the wave of violence, claiming that two-thirds of the incendiary kites sent over the border have been intercepted, but vowed to find a better way to eliminate that threat.

“Hamas is trying to drag us into a confrontation and is willing to pay a heavy price,” he said.

“We need to understand that the Israeli people’s morale is crucial — there are kites and fires, and that’s unpleasant, but in the end people continue with their daily lives. We have managed to intercept two-thirds of the kites, but no kite should get through and cause a fire,” the defense minister added.

Ministers at Sunday’s cabinet meeting are likely to authorize the use of live fire against Palestinians flying the attack kites and balloons into Israel, Israel Radio reported on Saturday, quoting Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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