Contrary to the prime minister's stance, Defense Minister Ehud Barak
said on Monday that "Iran
does not pose an existential threat to Israel
at this time."
Speaking before Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee he said, "Iran has the potential to develop into an existential threat on Israel, and we are working to prevent that."
Barak added that the world is still preoccupied with the global economic crisis and not the Iranian nuclear threat.
According to the defense minister, "The United States has a complex external and internal agenda. There is difficulty in coordinating between Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, our peace process and their responsibilities in South America."
He added that "in the field of opportunities, we consider the peace process with the Palestinians and the chance of moving forward to a diplomatic agreement alongside the threats from Hamas,
Regarding the coming proximity talks with the Palestinians, Barak said, "I am of the opinion that direct talks are preferable, but in the reality that has been created, even proximity talks were difficult to obtain…I believe it will not be easy, not just because of us.
"The difficulties that I believe will be created are the result of what is happening around the Arab world. In the Arab world there are different attitudes and approaches towards anything to do with negotiations with Israel."
Barak in Monday's committee meeting (Photo: Gil Yohanan)
He added, "The truth is, in the end, the reality is that there is a profound need, which stems from Israel's interests to ensure its future and its identity. We have an interest in drawing a border line which includes a solid Jewish majority for generations, and beside it an economically and politically viable Palestinian state. The agreement on this line will be come hand in hand with protecting Israel's security interests." Barak said that the opposition should allow this to happen.
"The agreement is in accordance with the principle of two states for two peoples, together with the Road Map. We are committed to prior agreements that were approved by Israel's government, while putting an emphasis on security matters," he said.
"Our goal is to reach an agreement in which both states live side-by-side in mutual respect, with the recognition of the State of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people, and the recognition of a Palestinian state. This is what is needed to end the conflict. This is a political statement, but is accepted by most of the political establishment in Israel."
Barak also addressed the situation in the Middle East. "This is a problematic and complicated environment," he said. "Israel is strong and deterring and can take on agreements from a position of power and security. But a diplomatic agreement will not happen without willingness on both sides. This is a break-even-point that cannot leave either side empty handed, because each side is protecting itself."
Regarding the Syrian issue, the defense minister said, "I have stated, and I still state that we must continue to seek a path to move forward with the peace process with them (Syria). For me this is an interest of the highest importance… But it takes two to tango. Israel today is strong and deterring and it should use its strength to try to reach an agreement with its neighbors."
He also spoke of the threats: "The rockets in Hamas' possession are strengthening. They have rockets that can reach the Tel Aviv metropolitan area. The key is to boost Fatah and weaken Hamas – this is progress in the peace process. We are trying to prevent a humanitarian crisis in Gaza in a way that does not bolster Hamas."
Of the threats from the north, he said, "Hezbollah in Lebanon holds over 40,000 rockets, most of which are destined to strike the civilian population, unlike weapons used for defensive purposes. We hold Lebanon responsible for any action by Hezbollah against us. We do not plan to chase every rocket around the wadis and the outskirts of villages."