TEL AVIV - Israel can return the Golan Heights to Syria and still be able to defend the northern border, outgoing IDF Chief-of-Staff Moshe Yaalon
told London-based newspaper al-Sharq al-Awsat.
In a special interview with the popular Arabic-language newspaper, Yaalon said Israel could defend itself even with the modified border, but stressed the scenario could only materialize if a peace deal is struck with a “serious” Syrian leadership.
On another front, the army chief slammed Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and said he should have ordered the arrest of the Islamic Jihad leader after the terror group claimed responsibly for the last large-scale suicide bombing, at the Stage nightclub in Tel Aviv.
‘Many years will pass before wounds heal’
“We feel Abu-Mazen (Abbas) is very hesitant and we don’t see determination or serious progress on his part,” Yaalon said. “Matters are moving forward in a deliberate and insufficient manner, while (terror) groups are using the situation to boost their strength.”
Hamas terrorists continue to produce rockets and smuggle weapons into the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the army chief warned, and said the PA should have initiated reforms immediately instead of waiting four months.
“They should have clarified to the Hamas and others they would not accept this road,” Yaalon said. “I don’t know if there’s a point to allow them to participate in elections before they turn into a political party.”
Overall, Yaalon said, “Many years will pass until the wounds heal and (Israeli-Palestinian) feelings of animosity dissipate.”
‘Arafat prepared for war’
During the interview, Yaalon paid special attention to Palestinian violence and the intifada - the main challenge faced by the army during the army chief’s term in office.
Yaalon placed the blame on Yasser Arafat, saying the late Palestinian leader “evaded countless opportunities to strike a peace deal with (former Prime Minister Ehud) Barak and a cease-fire agreement after the intifada broke out.”
“I was convinced the former Palestinian leadership would never move forward, because Arafat didn’t want a truce,” Yaalon said. “He thought Israeli society would break in the face of violence, but it didn’t”
The outgoing army chief said that at the end of 1996, when he served as IDF Central Command chief, he prepared a document warning that Arafat would initiate war in September 2000.
“I said this after then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared he would reach a final-status agreement with the Palestinians within 15 months, but Arafat began preparing for war,” Yaalon said.
‘Sharon’s visit didn’t ignite violence’
Meanwhile, the army chief dismissed suggestions the violence flared up as a result of Ariel Sharon’s controversial visit to the Temple Mount in 2000.
“Even if Sharon didn’t go on the Temple Mount, he (Arafat) would have found another reason not to initiate a confrontation, which is not popular in character, but rather, an armed terror offensive.”
“Indeed, they (Palestinians) attempted to get students out of school (to demonstrate) but the conspicuous phenomenon was live fire on Israeli civilians,” Yaalon charged. “Arafat revived the armed Fatah organization, and we know there was an intra-Palestinian debate over this.”