Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said Tuesday that Iran poses a greater threat than the Islamic State, and that if the Syrian regime were to fall, Israel would prefer that IS was in control of the territory than an Iranian proxy.
“In Syria, if the choice is between Iran and the Islamic State, I choose the Islamic State. They don’t have the capabilities that Iran has,” Ya’alon told a conference held by the Institute of National Security Studies in Tel Aviv.
“Our greatest enemy is the Iranian regime that has declared war on us,” the defense minister said of the threats facing Israel.
“Iran tried to open a terror front against us on the Golan Heights,” he said in reference to efforts by Iranian proxy Hezbollah to plan attacks on Israel.
With its nuclear deal and recent lifting of sanctions, Tehran “has escaped international isolation” and become a “central player” in Syria, he continued. Both the US and Russia are treating Iran as “part of the solution” to the Syrian civil war, Ya’alon said.
“Iran determines future of Syria and if it leads to perpetuation, Iranian hegemony in Syria will be huge challenge for Israel,” he said.
The defense minister also characterized the conflict in Syria and Iraq as the “height of the clash of civilizations.”
“Many in the West refuse to acknowledge this — won’t even say ‘radical Islam,'” Ya’alon said. “Of course not every Muslim is a terrorist, but most terrorists in the world today are Muslim. We can’t ignore that.”
Turning to the situation in Israel, Ya’alon maintained that Gaza’s ruler Hamas, which has fought Israel on three occasions in recent years, was deterred and was not seeking an escalation. “Our presence prevents Hamas or IS takeover of Palestinian areas,” he said.
The defense minister dismissed international efforts to push a peace agreement.
“The international community’s efforts will not lead to progress — these security plans would lead to attacks at Ben Gurion Airport,” he said, as he questioned the world’s apparent disproportionate focus on Israel.
“Europe is still talking about us when they have much more pressing problems like refugees.”
Without naming his cabinet colleague/rival, Ya’alon also responded caustically to criticisms earlier in the day by Jewish Home leader and Education Minister Naftali Bennett.
Bennett, at the same forum, had said Israel’s enemies were “flourishing” while Israel was hamstrung by “deadlocked” and insufficiently creative thinking over how best to ensure its security.
Ya’alon called Bennett’s criticisms “reckless and childish.” He accused Bennett, although not by name, of “endangering national security for short-term political gain.” Responsible government, Ya’alon said, was not a matter of seeking headlines “or ‘likes’ on Facebook.”
He also accused Bennett of supporting certain policies in the inner cabinet — notably during summer 2014’s Operation Protective Edse in Gaza — and then publicly campaigning for different policies. Bennett relentlessly criticized his own government during that war for not using greater force to smash Hamas.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.