Barak to Haaretz: The Truce With Gaza Was Not a Mistake

In special interview to appear in full Friday, Defense Minister says Israel 'has no interest in wars.'

As a six-month truce with Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip comes to an end with a slew of breaches on either side, Defense Minister and Labor leader Ehud Barak remains optimistic that a deal can be reached for calm with the ruling Hamas faction.

"Of course the tahadiyeh (calm) was not a mistake," he said in a special interview for Haaretz Magazine, which is to appear on Friday. "I am continuing the policy set by [David] Ben Gurion, which states that Israel has not interest in wars. If the quiet continues, there will be quiet. If the calm breaks, we will operate."

He added that he was currently working together with Israel Defense Forces Chief Gabi Ashkenazi and Military Intelligence head Amos Yadlin to advance talks with Syria.

"I am taking action to advance peace in the real world, not in an imaginary one," Barak said. "I am active more than anyone else in trying to reach peace with Syria. The director of Military Intelligence, the chief of staff and I, in contrast to others, are pushing for a settlement with the Syrians. We are the ones who are saying that we must not wait, that we must move ahead, take risks."

Barak also said that the recent remarks by feted author Amos Oz that the Labor Party has ended its historical role in Israeli politics were unfair and incorrect.

"I have known Amos Oz since he was a youngster of 22 and I was 16," Barak says in the interview. "What he said hurt me. I think there was something unfair in what he said."

He said that Oz's statement was meant to help Meretz but will end up inadvertently serving the right.

Barak said that the as-yet-unnamed, new leftist party being formed won't bring change or stop the momentum of Likud chairman Benjamin Netanyahu. "The rumors about my political death came too early," said Barak, adding that talk about the Labor party's demise was also premature.

"There is no substitute for Labor as a center-left party that speaks not only to north Tel Aviv, but also to a spectrum of populations across the country," Barak said.

On the issue of Iran's nuclear program Barak said the Islamic Republic was a threat but he was not as concerned over the issue as some of his colleagues.

"Iran with nuclear weapons is a concrete threat to world peace," he explained. "I am not one who believes that if Iran has nuclear weapons, it will immediately launch a bomb at a neighbor. Iran is well aware that a move like that will send it back thousands of years in time. So that is not the danger."

On Wednesday, Barak told students of national security at Tel Aviv University that if Iran acquires a nuclear weapon, it could try to attack the United States.

Speaking at a conference of the Institute for National Security Studies, the defense minister said the world should press Iran to stop it from building nuclear weapons.

"If it built even a primitive nuclear weapon like the type that destroyed Hiroshima, Iran would not hesitate to load it on a ship, arm it with a detonator operated by GPS and sail it into a vital port on the east coast of North America," Barak told the audience.

Indicating the possibility of a military strike, Barak said, "We are not taking any option off the table, and we recommend to the world not to take any option off the table, and we mean what we say