Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said Tuesday that, from a security standpoint, the Palestinian Authority is not a responsible neighbor on which Israel can rely. Speaking at a security conference at Tel Aviv University, Ya’alon noted that last year the PA arrested more than 1,000 people associated with Hamas in the West Bank, but none were ever brought to trial.
“As long as they educate 3-year-old children at ceremonies to wear explosives belts and when Israel doesn’t appear on their maps, there is no prospect for peace,” Ya’alon said at the Institute for National Security Studies. The Palestinians are not prepared to recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people, he added, and don’t agree to a peace agreement that includes recognition that the conflict with Israel is at an end and settles all of their claims against Israel.
The defense minister told conference participants there is no link between a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Iranian nuclear program or instability in the Arab world.
“In closed-door meetings with people from Arab countries, the Palestinian issue barely comes up,” the defense minister said, and the Iranian nuclear threat concerns the Arab countries in a context that is unrelated to the Palestinian question. Ya’alon also warned of the risk that Hamas could take control of the West Bank as it did in the Gaza Strip.
On the Iranian issue, the defense minister was highly critical of the interim nuclear accord that the six major powers worked out with Iran in Geneva last November.
“History will judge the interim agreement with Iran. We contend that it is a historic missed opportunity," he said. "The Iranian regime crawled on all fours and agreed to talk with the 'Great Satan,' America. But Iran has already been released from its diplomatic isolation. Iran is a key player in the resolution of the crisis in Syria, even while it’s part of the problem. It supports [Syrian President Bashar] Assad in slaughtering civilians and also supports [the Lebanese Shi'ite militia movement] Hezbollah.”
“In the end, the agreement left Iran with the independent capacity to enrich uranium to a level of 3.5 percent. That’s at the core of the retention of a nuclear military option. They can develop centrifuges [for uranium enrichment to bomb-grade levels] - to replace them. No one has stopped the development process for missiles with a 10,000-kilometer range [or] their aiding terror in Afghanistan, Syria, Lebanon and in the Palestinian arena," he said.
"They have already been freed of the international and economic pressure. As far as what we anticipate, the Iranians will exploit the next three years to solidify [their position] at the nuclear threshold in a way that will position them in a breakout position when they’ve decided to become a nuclear state. Their strategic aspirations have not changed: Export of the [Iranian Islamic] revolution and regional hegemony based on diplomatic subversion, terrorism and, in the future, perhaps also a nuclear umbrella. Just look how they are deceiving the international system so they can continue to move ahead.”
'Messianic and apocalyptic'
The defense minister described Iran as a “messianic and apocalyptic” regime and the greatest threat to regional and global stability. “One way or another,“ Ya’alon said, “it must be stopped.”
“There is going to be chronic instability in the Middle East,” he predicted. “We are concerned about that new Western mistake - democratization through elections. We contend that this is not how it is achieved. Look at the experience of Hamas in Gaza and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. It was the people who overthrew [the Brotherhood], who saw where the Brotherhood was taking Egypt. They didn’t want to be [like] Iran, so they took to the streets — 30 million people. That halted the Islamic political shift, and a sigh of relief was heard in the Sunni [Muslim] capitals across the Middle East, from Ramallah via Amman and Riyadh.
"It’s clear that the people do not necessarily see Islam as the solution. When Islam was given the opportunity to take responsibility in Egypt, it quickly failed.”
Addressing the unrest in the Arab world, Ya’alon said neither the optimistic term Arab Spring nor the negative term Islamic winter is appropriate. “The situation is a lot more varied and nuanced. There are not only risks but also opportunities. There’s the disintegration of several artificial nation-states. This idea is collapsing. There are inherent problems that make it impossible to talk about nation-states, either in a tribal society such as Libya, or in Iraq and Syria, where bloodbaths have erupted.” And in Lebanon, too, a civil war is taking place, he added.
“A new geopolitical division has been created in the Middle East,” he said. “A Shi'ite axis [of power] has been created, driven by Iran, and it’s receiving support from Russia. That’s a significant force. It is facing a Sunni axis that views the Muslim Brotherhood as a threat, and [this axis] includes Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, but doesn’t include Turkey and Qatar, which constitute a third, smaller axis that supports the Brotherhood and the [Hamas] government in Gaza.
"The Sunni bloc has mutual enemies coming from both sides — Iran, the Muslim Brotherhood, Al-Qaida — and a connection with the United States. These are mutual interests that we share, too.”
“The United States is steering clear of regions of conflict and is no longer enamored over being the world’s policeman, but it has become the only superpower. There is no superpower that threatens to step into its shoes, even if it is facing challenges from Russia and China. The United States has decided to stay away. It has disengaged from Iraq, which is now under Iranian hegemony.”
Ya’alon added that the absence of the United States on the Syrian playing field, “due to the decision to take a lower profile,” has provided an opening for the Russians to take over and assume the lead.
Addressing Israeli policy in the region, Ya’alon said the country takes a long-term view primarily. “There are issues that cannot be solved at the moment, but there are opportunities. The year 2013 was relatively quiet from a security standpoint. That’s not total quiet. I’m not deluding myself, but there was no need [last year] to engage in any kind of [major] military operation. We’re not naïve and we’re not deluding ourselves. Without being patronizing, they need to choose which way they are going as long as it doesn’t threaten our basic interests.”
Syria is embedded in chronic instability, he said, “a splintering into at least three states, war at the gates of Damascus.”
“Our policy over time is non-intervention. Of course we are defending our interests, those three famous red lines: no advanced weapons transfers to Hezbollah, no chemical weapons transfers to a hostile entity [or] violation of our sovereignty on the Golan Heights,” Ya’alon told his audience. The defense minister confirmed that Israel is providing medical and humanitarian assistance and food and winter clothing to the besieged villages on the Syrian side of the Golan frontier. “We couldn’t remain indifferent to [the situation], so we opened a field hospital and transferred aid to them.”
Global jihad forces associated with Al-Qaida and numbering about 30,000 people are currently operating in Syria, Ya’alon said, but their attention is currently focused on the fight against the Assad regime. And in Lebanon, Hezbollah is committed to a ceasefire with Israel based on its own strategic interests as well as those of its Iranian allies. “The organization has amassed 100,000 rockets, but there hasn’t been one incident in which it has attacked us on the border in recent years,” the defense minister noted.
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