Defense Minister Ya'alon Blasts Turkey, Erdogan as 'Leaders of Muslim Brotherhood Axis'

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Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon meets with U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel at the Pentagon, October 21, 2014.Credit: Ariel Hermony / Defense Ministry

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon lambasted Turkey on Tuesday, describing it as the leader, along with Qatar, of the Middle East’s “Muslim Brotherhood Axis” and its president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, as a “known follower” of the Islamist group. Ya'alon also said that Hamas had moved its operations from Syria to Turkey and had set up a “terror headquarters” in Istanbul alongside the one operating in Gaza.

“It’s unbelievable – how can you ignore it?” Ya'alon exclaimed during an interview with journalist Charlie Rose, broadcast on PBS and Bloomberg TV. He maintained his onslaught on Ankara in a Washington meeting with his U.S. counterpart Chuck Hagel, telling his American colleague, according to a statement issued by his office: “Turkey is playing a cynical game. Hamas moved its terror headquarters from Damascus to Istanbul, despite the fact that Turkey is a NATO member.” Ya'alon said that Turkey’s policies often contradict the interests of the United States.

Ya'alon was received with full military honors in ceremonies at the Pentagon and at Arlington National Cemetery. He made a point of lauding the close relations between Israel and the United States and of thanking Washington for its support, especially for the Iron Dome anti-missile system. “Even if there are disagreements between the U.S. and Israel, they should not be allowed to cloud the deep friendship and warm, intimate ties between the two countries,” he said.

But Ya'alon did not hide the deepening disagreement between Jerusalem and Washington over nuclear talks with Tehran and said that Israel is “afraid of a bad deal” between Iran and the West. While the P5+1 countries are negotiating how many thousands of centrifuges Iran will be allowed to operate under such an agreement, Ya'alon said that “even one centrifuge” would constitute a bad deal and require Israel to consider its options.

Ya'alon said that Tehran is “one year away” from being able to manufacture and deliver a nuclear bomb, and that the West is not doing enough to combat Iran’s “nasty policies." He called on the West to launch a battle for the “hearts and minds” of Iranians and other Muslims, to constrain its financial activities and to “use the military option, if necessary.” Ya'alon said Tehran is very happy with the current situation, with sanctions being eased and “no credible military option on the table.”

Nonetheless, Ya'alon grudgingly accepted that a “strange coalition” between the West and Iranian-backed militias in the fight against Islamic State in Iraq “could be helpful." He said that there was no need for Western countries to put “boots on the ground” in the ongoing campaign and that the combination of superior Western air power along with ground forces supplied by Kurds, moderate Syrian rebels and the Iraqi army would have to suffice. If it was up to him, Ya'alon added, he would try to assassinate the Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, a mission he described as entirely doable.

Ya'alon reiterated some of the tough formulations he’s been voicing recently on the peace process, claiming that the Palestinians and their leader Mahmoud Abbas are only interested in Israel’s “destruction.” He said that Palestinians on the West Bank enjoy “political independence” today and that he cannot envisage a situation in which Israel would relinquish completely freedom of action on security matters.

“Call it a state, call it a Palestinian empire, if you wish, but it will only be autonomy,” Ya'alon insisted. He said that he once endorsed an agreement based on an Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders, until he realized that the Palestinians would never make do with such an accord. The road to “a new political horizon in the Middle East,” he said, “doesn’t go through Ramallah but through other capitals in the region”, Ya'alon said, referring to Sunni countries that have recently changed their attitude towards Israel. 

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