Liberman to 'Post': All options on the table to stop nuclear Iran

WATCH: In exclusive interview with 'Post' Editor-in-Chief Steve Linde, Avigdor Liberman talks foreign policy, the Netanyahu speech and the future of Israeli elections.

March 4, 2015 20:17
4 minute read.
Avigdor Liberman

JPost Election Arena: Avigdor Liberman. (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI)

Key decisions on countering Iran’s nuclear program must be made in Jerusalem, Foreign Minister and Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman declared on Wednesday.

In an interview with The Jerusalem Post Election Arena at the Herzliya Studios, Liberman praised Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to Congress on Tuesday, but said “crucial decisions” needed to be taken by this government or the next.

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JPost election arena: Avigdor Liberman

“It was a very important speech in Washington, but what is more important is to take decisions in Jerusalem,” Liberman said. “It’s our responsibility as a government for our citizens.”

Asked to elaborate, Liberman did not rule out a military option.

“First of all, I think it’s possible to stop Iran, and second, we must keep all options on the table,” he said.

He declined to give any more details, saying this should not be a subject for public debate, but rather for the security cabinet to discuss behind closed doors.

Liberman said he believed the tension between Netanyahu and US President Barack Obama over the issue of Iran would be short-lived.

“It’s temporary tension. You know, it’s not personal tensions, it’s tension between two states,” he said. “I think it’s clear to everybody that we enjoy very, very reliable and stable relations, and we have very close security, intelligence and economic cooperation.”

In response to Obama’s criticism that Netanyahu hadn’t presented an alternative to the deal currently being negotiated between the world powers and Iran, Liberman said: “I don’t think it’s the right approach to discuss this issue through the mass media. I think that even if we have disagreements with America, there’s a way to discuss and argue in closed meetings and closed rooms.”

Asked what he saw as the biggest challenge facing Israel today, Liberman said: “No doubt it is the Iranian threat. It’s the biggest challenge, not only for Israel, but for the Middle East and the entire world.”

He noted that much of the Arab world opposed the impending deal between the P5+1 and Tehran, adding that Iran posed the greatest threat to the stability of the countries surrounding Israel.

“They are trying to undermine all our neighbors,” he said. “You see what’s happening in Lebanon, Syria, Yemen and even in Bahrain. We must understand the consequences of an Iranian nuclear program.

It’s a crazy nuclear arms race like in horror movies in Hollywood. I don’t believe Turkey, Saudi Arabia or even Egypt will accept Iran as a nuclear power in our region.”

Liberman, who hopes to be defense minister in the next government, was optimistic that his party would score “double digits” (that is, 10 Knesset seats or more) in the March 17 election.

Asked what he expected to emerge out of the March 17 election, Liberman said he hoped to change the electoral system.

“I think it’s the problem of our country,” he said. “Every two years since we established the State of Israel, we have a new government. It’s really a crazy situation.

It’s impossible to handle all the challenges if you change your government every two years.”

Liberman said the next government must start from scratch and ask what kind of political system is desirable.

“Today elections are really something unnecessary, not for our society, not for our security, not for our economy,” he said. “I have personally spoken for some years about deep changes needed in our political system.”

He said Israel should consider a presidential system like the one in the US, but it was essential to maintain the separation of powers among the branches of government – the executive branch, the Knesset and the Supreme Court.

“The biggest thing is that we must provide stability for a political system and not have elections every two years,” he said. “I will support any ideas that will make our system more stable and more viable.”

Calling Yisrael Beytenu “the party of immigrants,” the Moldovan-born Liberman has proposed creating an international Jewish and Zionist school system to combat assimilation in the Diaspora and help facilitate greater aliya.

“I think the key is Jewish education and the understanding of our roots, our traditions and our history, and the main idea of Zionism is to bring the Jewish people all round the world to Israel,” Liberman said. “I feel that we abandoned this main idea, and for me, aliya – as a former oleh hadash [new immigrant] – is part of my spirit and of my personality.

“I believe in aliya. I know the results of all the waves of aliya in the past were positive for Israel, including the last aliya from the former Soviet Union, and now the aliya from France and Ukraine and Western countries. I think aliya is something that can change our situation in the Middle East, and of course it will strengthen Israel.”

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