Barak: Mideast Unrest Mustn't Culminate in Revolutionary Regimes

Speaking to CNN's Wolf Blitzer, Defense Minister says ouster Egyptian President Mubarak still enjoys respect of many Egyptians, adding that his dignity should be preserved.

Haaretz Service
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Libyan dictator Muammar Gadhafi is on his way down, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said in an interview on Wednesday, adding that he hoped the widespread Mideast unrest would not bring about extremist revolutionary regimes.

Speaking to CNN's Wolf Blitzer, Barak said Gadhafi "will do down," adding that recent events "in Tunisia and Libya [are] very important, and even in Egypt I hope it will end up being more kind of a smooth passing, not kind of idealistic romanticism replaced by an Egyptian Robespierre or Lenin."

Defense Minister Ehud BarakCredit: Ariel Hermoni

When asked to comment on his feelings regarding to ouster of long-time Israel ally and Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak, the defense minister said he felt "the last page of an important chapter of the history of modern Egypt ended, and a new one started."

"I feel a lot of respect and empathy [for] Mubarak. He was an important leader for his country, I believe he enjoyed the respect of many Egyptians," Barak said, adding that Mubarak was "quite successful, under the circumstances" in dealing with Egypt's many challenges.

The defense minister added that the ousted Egyptian president "was extremely committed to peace with us. I think that he deserves respect and his dignity probably should be kept."

In his interview with CNN's Blitzer, Barak was also asked to comment on the recent passage of two Iranian warships through the Suez Canal, en route to a joint naval drill with Syria, saying: "I'm not worried."

"You know, your [U.S.] aircraft carriers are moving through the canal, our missile boats and submarines went through the canal. [The Egyptians] practically don't have any way to avoid the Iranians [from] moving as long as it's a frigate, or support vessel with some cadets on it," Barak said.

The defense minister did, however, feel that the move was a clear "provocation," adding that it still shouldn't worry anyone.

"They had to plan it before the eruption of the recent events in Egypt, so it's part of a wider scheme," Barak said, adding that if the Iranian ships "were bringing rockets or weapons or explosives to Hamas or Hezbollah we would probably act against them."

"But they are just coming, with weapons, but they're coming with cadets, navy cadets to visit a Syrian port, as a way of projecting that power, self confidence and a certain assertiveness in the region. You know, we are a turbulent area, I don't see a reason to be worried," he said.

Staying on the subject of Iran, the defense minister was asked to excuse the apparent discrepancies between Israeli and U.S. estimates as to the amount of time it would take Tehran to reach nuclear weapons capability, saying it really depended on how badly the Iranians were committed to the cause.

"If all they had in mind was to break the NPT [Non-Proliferation Treaty] and go as fast as they can towards a [explosive] devicethey might do it in a year or so," Barak said, adding, however that "to reach a weapon, and in their case a weapon that should be put on a relatively medium sized so-to-speak ground-to-ground missile is something which is several years down the stream."

"So there is no real contradiction between the capacity to explode some nuclear device in a year if this would become their main objective and to reach a real weapon that could put to a ground-to-ground missile probably another three or four years," he added.

Finally, Barak was asked to comment on Israel's reported link to attempts to hinder Iran's nuclear program by means of cyber warfare, to which the defense minister said: "I cannot answer this question, [and] I bet you don't really expect me to do it."

However, Barak said, it was clear that they had certain hurdles along the way, and that they are moving slower than they expected, but the "painful fact is that they keep moving forward, overcoming gradually the difficulty they faced."

"[They] are not getting tired with it, that's the real challenge for us," he added.



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