Janine Zacharia
The Washington Post (Interview)
July 27, 2010 - 12:00am

Edited excerpts of interview by Washington Post's Janine Zacharia, with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv, Friday, July 23, 2010

WP: You arrive in Washington on Monday. What is the primary objective of your trip?

Barak: I will go to look into the situation, what can be done in order to give a momentum to the peace process, especially with the Palestinians, but without losing sight of other issues from regional security, to the Syrians but mainly the Palestinian issue. We have of course to see what's going on with our relationship with the American defense establishment. The administration is doing a lot to support Israel's qualitative military edge. At the same time there are considerations in Washington about moving forward with major deals with our neighbors and we want to make sure that we are in an understanding with the administration regarding to this issue as well and of course while I'm there we'll talk about other regional issues from Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza and, of course, Iran. I'll find an opportunity to meet with friends in the intelligence community and Secretary Clinton and Secretary Gates, probably General Jones. While I'm in the United States I'll also meet with Ban Ki-moon and some other U.N. officials regarding remnants of the Goldstone report and what they plan regarding the [Gaza] flotilla, the review panel. Very busy schedule. Probably meet the press a little bit and some of the Congress leaders.

WP: When you refer to "major deals'' do you mean the United States' planned sale of F15s to Saudi Arabia?

Barak: We understand the American need, under the strategy of the administration, to kind of strengthen the moderate Arab countries facing the same threat from hegemonic Iran. But, at the same time, we have a tradition of understanding with following administrations to keep Israel's superiority in weapons' systems andmunitions and so on and we would like to make sure that while you are following your strategy, Israel will keep the overall balance, that under the kind of changes in the landscape that might happen in the Middle East even in longer time frames we won't find ourselves somehow in an inferior situation.

And we'll discuss the coming deal with Israel about the fifth generation warplanes, the JSF [Joint Strike Fighter]. We are interested in it and want to look and find the right balance. We need of course to be able to participate in production of some parts in our industry as well as making sure that we can continue keeping our real edge which stems out from Israeli electronics and from our weapons' systems to find the balance, an agreed upon balance between our needs and the American readiness to give us access to these advanced planes.

We are not in a point or position to tell the Americans what to do with our technologies but we feel from our experience because once we take a major weapons system like an advanced aircraft we will have it for 40 years. Most of us won't be here when these airplanes will end their service, probably Shimon [Peres], only kind of such kind of eternal figures. But if the plane has to serve us for two generations practically we need to be able to adapt to technological developments along the way, EW [electronic warfare] and weaponry, where we have highly advanced systems of our own and we want to find an agreed way with the Americans how to be able to adapt probably not in the first round of these planes but in the next round because we cannot afford buying all of them in one stroke.

We are talking about probably several dozens of them but at first we cannot buy all of them and in fact it has not yet passed the point of no return in our decision because of many considerations to do with the price, timetable, certain modifications we would like to see in it, but we will have to make the final decisions in relatively short time.

WP: On the Saudi deal, are you telling the United States not to sell it or would Israel would be satisfied with the Saudis getting a dumbed-down version?

Barak: I don't feel easy to kind of talk about it explicitly. I don't think that Israel is in a position to tell the United States not to sell it to other allies' weapons systems because if we don't sell probably others will. But we would appreciate it if we could be compensated and the qualitative edge will be assured as well as certain aspects of the quantity. Beyond certain point, quantity turns into quality especially when the planes themselves are extremely sophisticated one.

WP: How would you like Israel to be "compensated?''

Barak: don't know. We would like to see in what way, not compensated, probably not the right term, what steps can be taken in order to ensure that in the long term -- especially if we enter into a major peace agreements with our neighbors and in each such agreement we are raising the level of potential risks while getting the fruits of peace we expose ourselves -- and we have to be somehow deployed with better technologies, better systems to compensate for the loss of territory and space that results from political or diplomatic agreements.

WP: Will you be looking for something specific in terms of funding or technology regarding Israel's Iron Dome system that is meant to defend Israeli towns against rocket attacks?

Barak: My vision from day one in this office is to make this multi-layer interception system against all types of rockets and missiles a major pillar of our security especially when the time comes to establish or to stabilize the whole area and we are talking not just about Iron Dome which is the short-range system that can protect a city, or a small city, probably for a city like Tel Aviv you need several batteries, but that's only the lower layer against small caliber and short range rockets. Then comes the David Sling, which is against medium-sized rockets and missiles of which tens of thousands are at the disposal of our neighbors combined. And this one also could operate against cruise missiles and other weapons systems and even against warplanes. That's the second layer. And then there's the third layer which is the Arrow, which is already fully developed but we have too little numbers of interceptors. And then we are now developing, together with the United States, the Super Arrow, a kind of a space-age kind of interceptor that protects us against incoming missiles from places like deep into Syria or from Iran.

And that kind of system that combined together will cost, in order to be fully deployed and fully protect Israel; we need tens of thousands of the short-range interceptors, thousands of the David Slings interceptors and many hundreds of the upper layers. That's a big package.

It's extremely successful science and technology being put together, extremely short R&D schedule. But in order to fully deploy we need some $7-8 billion and expect that in the framework of making peace with our neighbors we will be able to give this answer to make Israelis feel secure. The combination of this multi-layered interception system, with the best weapons systems, best airplanes, offensive capabilities and [standard] of weapons we can with this combination protect Israel against future threats.

Now we bear in mind that after we pulled out of Lebanon 10 years ago under my premiership it ended up that the area is now full with tens of thousands of rockets or missiles covering the whole state of Israel. In some five or 10 years they will become accurate enough not just to terrorize urban populations but also to be operational against concrete targets. You know, chosen targets. That could easily make Israel with probably four or five power plants, one international airport, 1.5 golf courses, that's all of the country. We are a very tiny country so we need to have this protection.

We did it once in Lebanon. We pulled out and ended up with an area full of rockets and missiles. We did it next in Gaza and ended up with an area full of rockets covering Tel Aviv as well as other parts of the south and half of Israel. And within the framework of considering an agreement with the Palestinians that will establish a Palestinian state side by side with Israel we should make sure that the three underlying principles of our security are fully assured, namely the West Bank will not become like Gaza and southern Lebanon, another launching pad for rockets against the coastal plane of Israel, the kind of terror wave that flooded Israel with blood spilling in the streets in 2001-2003, all of them practically from the West Bank, will not repeat itself and that in the future if the whole overall situation, geopolitical situation changes and we face once again an eastern front, which is not existing now, we will be able to respond. All these elements should be answered within a peace agreement with the Palestinians. Clearly, with the Syrians and Lebanese, it should be answered. So we need this main pillar which is multi-layered interception system as well as the offensive capabilities and technologies for border inspection and early warning.

WP: How much of that would have to be funded by the United States?

Barak: I feel uneasy to put kind of demands in advance. It's easier for me to talk about the past. When I sat down with President Clinton to try to illustrate the needs of Israel in regard to agreement with the Palestinian we ended up with $40 billion or $50 billion needed for the Palestinians, just to solve the issues like refugees and infrastructure and giving them a push toward independent economy. And some $20 billion for Israel just to arrange in 2000 terms the essential security needs of Israel. So I think that something similar will be needed once we are into it but I don't think the American economy, which is carrying a heavy burden right now, should answer for all these needs.

WP: What about the cost of relocating Jewish settlers back into Israel proper?

Barak: I think if we can get just loan guarantees for whatever will be needed for settlements that will suffice, but for security we might need an extra direct assistance. For the Palestinian side, it could be collected also from the European Union, from rich Arab, wealthy Arab countries. Some of them have sovereign funds of about a trillion dollars or more. I think that they can also give a shoulder to their Palestinian comrades.

I think that basically the situation right now is Israel is strong, self-confident and can afford taking the daring needed steps to put an end to the conflict and we have this kind of responsibility, should have our feet on the ground, and open eyed, with no illusions -- it's not North America, not Western Europe. This is a neighborhood where there is no mercy for the weak you know, or second opportunity for those who cannot defend themselves. But I think that we are strong enough and should be self-confident enough, to stretch our hand and be ready to make peace, keeping always our attention to the security arrangements.

WP: Does Prime Minister Netanyahu agree with you on the need for a bold peace initiative?

Barak: I think, you know, following the impact and the reports from his last visit to Washington, I think that he convinced the president that he is there. But of course the proof of the pudding is in the eating. We have to prove it in actions in the negotiations and as I mentioned we should never lose sight of the need for a regional security architecture for the whole region through multilateral arrangements, agreements, how to fight radical terror, how to protect security and assure stability and how to face external threats from players like Iran.

WP: Can Syria be weaned from Iran and if so what should the United States be doing to try to accomplish this?

Barak: I think that a breakthrough in the peace process with Syria achieving what I couldn't achieve with Bashar al Assad's father, with Hafez al Assad, could be a game-changer in the region. I think that it's strategically important. If, through making peace with us, Syria can normalize its relationship with the free world and open the way for economic recovery for securing civil society and development and taking them somehow at a certain point out of the radical axis that could be a game changer.

I think that it contributes to moderate Arab interests, to the interests of America in the region and of course to Israel. We know all what is at stake. I think that both sides understand what kind of decisions they will have to make in order to move forward. And I think that the right time -- I can't tell you when it will happen -- but the right time hopefully not too late -- we'll be able to tackle this issue as well.

We expect that a byproduct of any breakthrough with Syria will be also opportunity to make peace with Lebanon and putting an end to this abnormality of the Hezbollah militia, kind of state within a state, it's a militia that has members in parliament, and ministers in the government, they have veto power in the government and they have their own independent or probably Iranian proxy, or Iranian-inspired independent policies towards Israel and an arsenal of tens of thousands of rockets.

WP: You have said Israel will hold the government of Lebanon responsible for any Hezbollah provocation. What does that mean?

Barak: It means that unlike what happened in 2006 where under request from the administration, [Secretary of State] Condoleezza [Rice] called at the time [Prime Minister] Olmert and asked him not to touch the precious government of Siniora, and we didn't. I think that they're responsible for what happens and if it happens that Hezbollah will shoot into Tel Aviv, we will not run after each Hezbollah terrorist or launcher of some rocket in all Lebanon. We'll see the government of Lebanon responsible for what happens, and for what happens within its government, its body politic, and its arsenal of munitions. And we will see it as a legitimate to hit any target that belongs to the Lebanese state, not just to the Hezbollah. And somehow, we are not looking for it. I am not threatening. We are not interested in such a deterioration. But being surrounded by so many proxies that operate not just under immediate threat under them, but probably activated by other players for external reasons, we cannot accept this abnormality and I believe that no other sovereign would have accepted it.

WP: Is it a mistake, in your view, for the United States to support the Lebanese Armed Forces?

Barak: We are warning our American friends that the walls between the Lebanese armed forces and Hezbollah, it's quite porous. And whatever you give the Lebanese armed forces might end up in the hands of Hezbollah, be it technology or weapons or whatever. And we seeing that basically it's a failing kind of attempt of the international community to impose behavior upon the Lebanese and to the extent the Syrians and the Iranians. There is 1559, UN Security Council resolution, as well as 1701, and both are violated bluntly by the Hezbollah by the Syrian support to the Hezbollah and the Iranian support.

WP: Maybe the United States needs to find a new policy towards Syria?

Barak: I do not pretend to be able to shape American policy. It's up to the American administration. I don't envy the present administration for all they have to watch on this wider Middle East map. You're really carrying a heavy burden of trying to make the world a somewhat safer place. But I think with regard to Syria, I used to joke with President Clinton that Hafez al Assad wants to make peace with him, not with me, but we orchestrated it in a way that in order to reach Washington he has to go through Jerusalem because basically they are interested in the continuity of the regime in protecting the future of their economy, declining resources, especially oil exports.

They need a lot of things from the free world. From us they need the Golan Heights and we need security and early warning and peace relationship and in fact the very kind of stopping of the process of radical terror which has its headquarters in daylight in Damascus, all these from Hamas in Gaza, they are operating freely.

Both sides have a lot to win. We are not afraid of Syria and I don't think they are afraid of us. They are well deterred from initiating something. But they are unfortunately too deeply involved in supporting Hezbollah in supporting Hamas and other non-benign behavior.

WP: I am surprised there is no peace process with Syria right now and that Israel has allowed Hezbollah to obtain 40,000 rockets as it says.

Barak: At that time you couldn't do it with the father, he was probably too late in his life, probably focused more on passing the torch to his son, than on solving the issues with Israel that we cannot penetrate. But the opportunity and more than this the need is still there. And now a days we are dealing intensively withthe Palestinians, but I think that it remains a major interest of all players in the region and of the free world and I think that how to put it, I don't know how to put in English, somehow, I think that when the time is ripe, it can emerge. You are here in the headquarters of the Ministry of Defense, and on the other side the IDF [Israel Defense Forces]. On both sides of this building, for years, we thought that it's a highly important interest of Israel out of this strength to be able to make peace because the alternative, if we don't make peace at a certain point, we'll have a war. After the war, we basically will have to sit down and solve the same issues to the slightest details which had been 10 years ago on the table and will be 10 years down the stream on the table. Basically, it's never late to give a real try to avoid another round if it's possible.

WP: What is the main difference now between the United States and Israel regarding Iran?

Barak: I think that the diagnosis became quite similar unlike the situation with the old, what was it NIE [National Intelligence Estimate] kind of document of several years ago when there was a difference. I think that observation of realities is coming closer, not just with the United States, basically with the European leading countries and more and more even the Russians and others understand that the Iranians are determined to reach nuclear capability. They are ready to dance in every arena. They are ready to defy and deceive and to cheat and to make diplomatic gestures and to renew them. It doesn't matter. They are determined to reach nuclear military capability and now it's still time for sanctions but do not be there forever and nothing short of much tighter sanctions could be if ever to convince them to stop it.

So we see about the diagnosis it's the same. Probably there are differences about what could be done about it, how should it be done, and what are the timeframe within which certain steps could be taken and beyond certain point cannot be taken because they are moving, they are accumulating more and more lowly enriched uranium and started only into medium enriched uranium.You know there are still two other stages but when they accumulate more and more material and more and more sites and more and more [are] dispersing it over more and more areas we should be observing all the aspects. We still believe that it's still time for sanctions but it will not be there forever. We recommended to friends and to colleagues all around the world not to remove any option from the table and we mean it.

WP: Do you think the United States is prepared to use military force if sanctions don't work?

Barak: I can't answer this question. I don't know. I think that the administration is serious about the nature of the threat, not just to Israel. It's a threat to any conceivable world order. We should understand a nuclear Iran means an inevitable new nuclear arms race in the Middle East that...It will intimidate Arab neighbors all around them, it will give a huge tailwind to the al-Qaeda, the Houtis in Yemen, the Somalis, Islamic Jihad, Lashkar-e-Taiba [in Pakistan], all these conglomerates of terrorist groups and it will start basically the countdown to a crude nuclear device in the hands of some terrorist groups. Even if such a countdown is going to take 10 years or 15 years, we are already too late to deploy for it. Just to think of the free flow of oil from the Persian Gulf under a hegemonic Iran, kind of flows under the permission of the Iranians. That's something quite disturbing and I think that they are developing ground-to-ground missiles that now reaches Eastern Europe and some parts of Russia and some of the previous Soviet Union's Asian kind of members but in five years it might reach Western Europe.

WP: Can you elaborate more on the differences between the United States and Israel on Iran? Is it how much more time to give sanctions? When to bomb Iran?

Barak: I listened very carefully to the president's speech in Oslo when he got this Nobel Peace Prize. You couldn't miss the fact that it was extremely deliberate wording. And you see there something that few gatherings of Nobel Peace Prize ceremonies heard, of the need in this tough world to be ready to consider the use of force when all other options are genuinely exhausted. And it resonated in my ears with a speech that he gave many years ago before the start of the Iraqi war. War might be a necessity, cruel, tough thing you should do your best to avoid, but never lose sight of reality.

So I would not make predictions about what the administration could do if everything else won't work. I think that there [are] developments. If I watch to the extent I can see there is a change in the administration approach to this issue. It's not just change of phrases, they used to say 'it's unacceptable' and now they say 'we are determined' to prevent. I think that there is underlying basis; there are other things that are going on in this regard. It's not just making the rhetoric. I would not expect the president [to make] decisions in advance. But I think that the realities are coming to mind. You cannot ignore them. It's not the only threat when you look from our point of view. It's like you having nuclear, military effort somewhere in Cuba or Venezuela, that's the way we look at it. We think about it in much more concrete and immediate terms. You have also Afghanistan which has not yet been solved, Pakistan which could melt down at any moment which is a real strategic geopolitical nightmare. But I think Iran will still be a major test to the leadership of the free world in the coming years because if Iran can turn nuclear it's nothing to compare with the Soviet Union or China or even with India or Pakistan. It's an extremely radical state, somewhat messianic, which sponsors terror on a wide scale in many corners of the world. Think of it if Cuba would have developed a nuclear [arsenal]. And say explicitly they are going to destroy Florida or I don't know [the District of Columbia] has no right to exist. With our experience, our history, we take things seriously.

WP: Israel's patience seems to be dwindling regarding Iran.

Barak: I think that basically it's still time for sanctions. I think it's not a matter of years. It's not many years before we have to see. We believe in effective, doesn't matter how you call the sanctions, whether you call them crippling or paralyzing, or I don't know, lethal. I don't know. It should be effective, it should work. I don't see it working as of now. There were certain price to be paid for the coalition that imposed it...It has to include practically everything and we are not there yet and probably we cannot be there. Probably at a certain point we should realize that sanctions cannot work.

WP: That's what CIA Director Leon Panetta said, that sanctions won't work.

Barak: Panetta is a clever person.

WP: What about the Palestinians?

Barak: We feel that we have to go from this somewhat artificial proximity talks into direct talks but of course once you are in direct talks we have to be able to put on the table the real issue and discuss all core issues.

The Israeli public elected a Knesset by which a government has been creating which is a right-wing government, (I represent the) center, left of center. I strongly believe that we have to establish or to strengthen our deep relationship with the United States within the context of a wider strategy of the free world in this region to face the real threats which are the radical terror, nuclear proliferation and rogue states, especially Iran and to be able to do it in a daring way. I believe, I believe -- it's not the formal position of the government -- that we should be ready to put on the table a plan which contains all the elements, namely realizing that there is a compelling imperative for us to have a two state solution be agreed upon and implemented before it's too late because between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean there live 11 million people if there is only one sovereign called Israel reigning over this region it will become inevitably even non-Jewish or non-democratic because if they cannot vote...if they can vote it's bi-national.

WP: Why are you sitting in a government with people who do not share your point of view on this?

Barak: I think we have to be able to delineate a border inside Eretz Yisroel in a way based on security and demographic considerations, where on inner side there is a solid Jewish majority for generations to come, on the other side demilitarized but viable independent Palestinian state economically, territorially politically, whatever. I think there is still an obstacle in Gaza, because they have about one half of their people and certain piece of ground and only access to the Mediterranean is there. It should be still solved within the Palestinian arena in a certain way. I believe that the Palestinian Authority should somehow resume its authority over Gaza.

WP: How? Should the Palestinian Authority do that?

Barak: I don't want to pretend to become omnipotent. It's important we should help the Palestinians' bottom-up effort and we are doing it to the extent we can't.

We should be able to concentrate on the settlement blocs, to establish security arrangements that will answer the previously mentioned considerations. We have to be able to bring back the isolated settlements into the settlement blocs or into Israel per se. We should find a way to deal with the Palestinian refugees issues in a way that [they] will be settled in a Palestinian state and to put [a] reasonable solution for Jerusalem that will keep our capital of course and somehow respect the heavily condensed or heavily dense Palestinians neighborhoods. And I think that it is possible. If we find during a direct negotiation that we cannot implement immediately all of it immediately probably we have to settle down for something like the second phase of the road map but it's up to both sides. We cannot impose it on the other side. So I basically believe that that's what we need to do. Now it's not a fully agreed upon policy within our government.

WP: Why is what you say relevant when the other major players in Netanyahu's government oppose what you say on this?

Barak: I think first of all that people are changing. If I compare the situation to Camp David 10 years ago, it's exactly 10 years ago, I was prime minister, at the time people like Ehud Olmert, future prime minister then mayor of Jerusalem, or Tzippi Livni was totally against it. Now they support it. I can tell you there is a drift, a gradual drift toward understanding that it's urgent to reach a two-state solution among a wide silent majority in Israel.

The fact that [the] right wing won the election doesn't mean that the people doesn't understand what I've just said. It just means that they prefer to give the keys or the steering wheel for the negotiations not to some extreme leftist who seems to some people here to be utopian and probably not always cautious enough about security arrangements. But basically once we are in negotiations, I believe that the majority, great majority of voters for Likud, for Israel Beitenu of [Avigdor] Lieberman, and clearly for Kadima believe as I am, probably not happy to realize it, but understand that's the only solution. So I think the real need is to bring both sides into the room and start negotiations, overcome the Palestinian hesitation and probably overcome our own kind of considerations and moving into it because by waiting another decade or another half a generation will not change it, just will deepen the abnormalities or complicate the solution.

WP: What can Israel do to strengthen Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad? And also, why do you think terror attacks are down so low -- because of improved Israeli counter-terrorism, Palestinians security forces stepping up, or a change in Hamas's tactics?

Barak: It's all together. It's the fence, the wall you call it, security barrier, effectiveness of our security forces and the emerging Palestinian security forces. They are doing a good job. We are trying to help them to the extent we can. I highly appreciate Fayyad. I don't want to praise him too much in order not to damage him some. But they are effective in growing, they are establishing gradually their law-enforcing chain, there is normalcy in their cities and the security situation is good. I met here around this table with the leaders of the settlements when we ordered the freeze.

It was high-volume conversation but they admitted on their initiative that security situation is better than what we had many years.

Basically we believe in this bottom up effort, the Palestinian economy is growing in a Chinese way.

WP: In light of all this, why not take down more checkpoints? Transfer more authority? Maybe dismantle some settlement outposts as Israel pledged to?

Barak: We removed hundreds of road blocks and dozens of checkpoints and we allowed them to go gradually into more and more places, reduced the level of Israeli what they call 'incursions.' Much lower. But we are still bearing the ultimate responsibility for security. That's something that should be changed once there is an agreement they will take care of themselves. It's really promising, what's happened in the Palestinian civil society, especially the contribution of Prime Minister Fayyad and the leadership of Abu Mazen. They are changing the environment here. I hope that they will find a way to resume it in Gaza as well.

Some people here suspect the Palestinians doesn't really want to enter into direct negotiations right now but they want to play for time, somehow to take this period to [wait for] further American steps or UN Security Council steps. I think they should be convinced that it's now, and a year that things should be tackled honestly by both sides.

America cannot impose upon Israel a solution and we cannot afford not showing certain openness to things that this government probably would not think of if we were not part of it because without us it would have remained an extreme right wing party. You cannot expect an extreme right wing government to accept the road map, to accept the idea of two-state solution, to have the prime minister making the Bar Ilan speech or making this freeze on building for 10 months. As I have said the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

We entered the government, Labor, for two reasons, one was having a package deal in the economy and expansion in Keynisan-like budget with employers and unions and governments sitting around round table to solve the issues but the other even more important issue was the peace process.

WP: Do the other Labor ministers support you?

Barak: Yeah, fully. I think many ministers from other parties including Shas, Lieberman and Likud are supporting my position. But time has come for steps and of course we have always to be careful about our security and vital national interests.

WP: You seem to be putting the need for a serious peace push not just in the framework of the demographic need but because you have to in order to get the United States' support to cope with bigger strategic threats?

Barak: We are not, in my judgment, doing a favor [for] the Palestinians, we are making a favor to ourselves because the alternative is to drift into an abnormal situation. The world will not accept it. Half of our public or probably two-thirds of our public will not accept the possibility of reigning over another people for another 43 years. It's abnormal. It's totally incongruent with the zeitgeist and with our real needs.

I remember it from my personal experience 10 years ago. It's never easy to translate it from intellectual understanding to concrete political steps that always include certain steps but we are at the crossing. We reached the T. It's not a fork, it's a T. We have to choose. Are we going the Shamir direction or the Begin and Sharon direction, where people who were right wing extremist ideological but at a certain point they reached the decision, make a gallant u-turn against everything they believed. It's a moment not for politics but for history.

WP: How are you feeling about the Turkish flotilla incident now in the wake of the Eiland report which said there were mistakes made?

Barak: I think of it, we basically cannot afford, you know having seen what is happening in Lebanon and now in Gaza, we cannot afford the free flow of weapons and war materials into the Hamas's hand.

We started to ease somehow the entrance of products even before this flotilla.

I can tell you honestly, you know I once said there are 1.5 million human beings in Gaza. There is one who is under real humanitarian need and deprived of daylight and basic rights of human beings, that's Gilad Shalit. I don't think we can compare the standard of living in Tel Aviv with Gaza. But it's not exactly humanitarian crisis.

WP: You just issued a statement warning Lebanon about the Lebanese aid ship planning to set sail from Tripoli to Gaza this week. How worried are you about this?

Barak: I see that certain deterrence has been created by the results of [the Mavi Marvara]. We did not intend to do this. Basically we insisted on the need to do it. We would have preferred if it had ended without loss of life but basically it's a deliberate provocation. The people came there and risked directly their lives from those people who threw them onto the lower deck, hit them. I was a young commander, a young person, and I remember this need to control yourself, not to pull the trigger when it's not absolutely necessary in situation of hostages. It's not easy.

WP: Indeed, you were known as a master of stealth in Entebbe, Beirut, when you dressed as a woman, when I watched the flotilla, and I watched Dubai, and Gaza and Lebanon war, I thought Israel today seems to still achieve its tactical objectives but triggers widespread international condemnation in the process. Why is this?

Barak: Part of it is underlying change, somehow there is a growing attempt to de-legitimize Israel. Time passed from the, you know, thirty years ago leaders all around the world still remember the suffering of the Jewish people. Israel was the answer for what happened in Europe. Nowadays, practically no leader has personal memory of what happened there but what they see on the screens everyday is the suffering of the Palestinians. Without drawing a moral equivalence or with all due difference, that's what attracts the attention and even there is a change that we have to resist. More and more, you know, 30 years ago all the Arab players used to say no. No for recognition. No for negotiations. The four no's of Khartoum and Israel was always stretching its hand for peace. And now it seems over the surface the Arab leaders are competing which plan will be adopted, which peace plan. We have many reservations for them. They are quite successful in portraying Israel as the one who is hesitating and it's not practically, in Kantian terms it's not true, but that's what is the impression and we have to fight against it and once again we have to make an effort for making some preparations, more attentive to how they are seen not just what happens even if they are full justified.

But at the same time we have to bear in mind that ultimately the real answer for many of our issues is just to move determinedly, in spite of certain risks, towards trying. You know no one can make a full-proof prediction that it will work but being able to move into a negotiation and try to really leave no stone unturned, on the way to try to settle this conflict is our main responsibility and I believe that with very genuine attempt of Israel to keep moving we will mobilize at least many of the honest people and honest leaders in the world.


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