(photo credit: Ahikam Seri/Bloomberg)
The question of a settlement freeze has itself been frozen, Defense Minister Ehud Barak told MKs Tuesday, confirming what many have been claiming for weeks now. The American government, he told members of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, is preoccupied with the WikiLeaks scandal and with the heightened tensions in the Korean peninsula, leaving the Israeli- Palestinian conflict on the back burner.
“We did not get at this stage to clear understandings with the United States as to how to confront this topic,” said Barak, who emphasized that although Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu had secured a more generous offer from the Americans than Barak himself had, “the agreement with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was not a signed agreement but rather a gentlemen’s agreement.”
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Even if the US were to regain interest in the topic, Barak said, Congress would be required to approve aspects of any such deal before it could be considered binding.
The defense minister described talks as “highly important” for Israel and said that Israel must continue to work for their advancement. Stopping the peace process, said Barak, harms not only Israel but the Palestinians as well.
He warned that there is currently “intensive international activity aimed toward delegitimizing Israel” and that “if we do not advance the negotiations, the de-legitimization will increase.”
During the briefing of the Knesset committee, Barak also discussed the international sanctions against Iran, claiming that “nobody is deluding themselves on the ability of sanctions to stop the Iranian nuclear plan.”
In spite of the sanctions, Barak “believes that the Iranian program will be completed and it will be done quicker than other countries think.”
The defense minister warned that “the geographical distribution of the nuclear sites, and their defense capabilities make it harder to act against the Iranian nuclear program.” “Their goal is acquire nuclear capabilities for military purposes, and today that is clear to the other nations of the world,” Barak declared. “We are not ruling out any options.” Colonel Yossi Adler, a senior officer in Military Intelligence’s Research Division, reported that “Iran is under great pressure both from home and abroad. They are learning the significance of the sanctions the hard way.”
Adler offered proof of his statements, telling MKs that Iran had decided to cancel subsidies for its citizens because of anticipated economic shortfalls.
Iran’s Syrian ally, said Adler, “continues to act on the radical axis and is strengthening its status” by serving as a training and supply center for Hizbullah as well as channeling weapons to the Gaza Strip.
Across the border in Lebanon, there is what Adler described as a “rumor mill regarding the conclusions of the probe into [former Prime Minister Rafik] Hariri’s murder, especially regarding the possibility that in the end it will be able to said that Hizbullah stands behind the murder.”
Hizbullah, he said, “is putting great pressure on [current Lebanese Prime Minister Sayyed] Hariri, Saudi Arabia and moderate Arab states with the goal of getting them to compromise with them on the report.”
Adler said that there is a risk of political crisis, a dissolution of
the government, or in an extreme case, a show of force by Hizbullah
similar to the one last year that left dozens dead, but this time
leading to a takeover of the government.
In a recent intelligence assessment, Brig.-Gen. Yossi Baidatz, head of
Military Intelligence’s Research Division, told the committee that
Hizbullah is capable of taking control of key aspects of Lebanon’s
government within a matter of a few hours.