Ehud Barak Emil Salman 17.1.2011
Defense Minister Ehud Barak Photo by Emil Salman
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Israel may request an addition $20 billion in military aid from the United States in light of the unrest sweeping the Arab world, Defense Minister Ehud Barak told The Wall Street Journal in an interview published Monday.

Barak deemed the changes in the region a "movement in the right direction", and said that in the long run, Israel should not fear the "movement of Arab societies toward modernity."

But in the more immediate future, he told the WSJ, Israel would have to contend with the fact that Iran and Syria "might be the last to feel the heat" and join the trend of unrest.

In addition, Barak said, Egypt's new leaders may adhere to the country's 32-year peace treaty "for the time being," but could eventually succumb to popular pressure against it.

He also told the WSJ that a top Egyptian official recently warned him that the new government in Cairo was likely to change its attitude toward Israel unless the latter made serious efforts for peace with the Palestinians.

"He told me, 'We're going to have a really open election....Civic parties will hire advisers from the U.S. and Europe and find immediately that what can bring them voters is hostility to America and Israel," Barak said in the interview.

While Israel did not face an immediate threat to its security, Barak told the WSJ, "The issue of qualitative military aid for Israel becomes more essential for us, and I believe also more essential for you [the U.S.].

"It might be wise to invest another $20 billion to upgrade the security of Israel for the next generation or so," he said, adding: "A strong, responsible Israel can become a stabilizer in such a turbulent region."

Barak also told the WSJ that Israel was likely to offer Palestinians a state within temporary, detailing for the first time an emerging Israeli plan for breaking the deadlocked peace negotiations.

Though the Palestinians repeatedly have rejected provisional statehood, Ehud
Barak told The Wall Street Journal that Israel or the United States would have to give assurances that a full-fledged agreement on permanent statehood would follow.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is likely to offer the Palestinians a state with temporary borders, he said. Only afterward, would the two sides would resolve key issues of the conflict, such as competing claims to Jerusalem and the fate of Palestinian refugees, Barak added.

No details of the plan were given.

With the popular protests shaking up the Mideast, Netanyahu is under fierce international pressure to prove he is serious about getting peacemaking moving again, especially after the U.S. vetoed a UN Security Council resolution condemning Israel's West Bank settlement construction last month.

In the past week, Israeli officials have said Netanyahu was considering a phased approach. Although that was widely interpreted to mean a temporary state, they would not say so explicitly. Barak was the first to publicly spell that out.

Government spokesman Mark Regev said Barak's remark can stand on its own.

The prime minister is said to be planning a speech - possibly to be delivered in Washington - in which he will outline his plans.

It is not clear that the U.S. would support the idea of an interim accord, given the Palestinians' categorical rejection of the notion.