In Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman’s eyes, the world is not a very friendly place – at least not to Israelis. There’s a double standard for Israel and for other countries, and the international community closes its eyes to the facts, he repeated several times in an interview conducted in his Tel Aviv office.
Liberman, who will be speaking at next Wednesday’s Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference in Jerusalem, has honed his worldview over decades in Israeli politics, turned it into his own political party with a relatively unwavering platform through the years, and brought it to the Defense Ministry in May. With the reins of the IDF and governance of the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) in his hands, he’s now turning his ideas about Israel’s security into action.
Despite what seems like a period of relative calm for Israel – the recent wave of terrorism seems to be dying down and the deal between Iran and the world powers has made the nuclear threat less imminent, even if it hasn’t fully eliminated it – the defense minister was still on alert and certainly wasn’t expecting any favors from the world.
When it comes to Iran, Liberman had no illusions that last year’s nuclear deal meant the threat from Tehran had disappeared.
“Look at the facts from this year,” he said. “There was a military parade in the summer. We saw ballistic missiles that had ‘Erase Israel from the Earth’ written on them in Hebrew. Then, they had an international contest for Holocaust denial cartoons, with a $50,000 first prize. A [US] State Department report came out this year, and it said the greatest sponsor of terrorism in the world is Iran. The facts are clear... There is no week in which senior Iranian officials don’t talk about ending the Zionist entity and destroying Israel.”
Israel can only rely on itself and must be prepared to defend itself, Liberman said.
When it comes to the influx of cash Iran has received following the deal, he said money isn’t everything.
“Whoever has a stronger spirit wins. America lost in Vietnam not because it had less money or fewer weapons,” he argued.
He also pointed to Iran’s ambitions around the world, and its interventions in Yemen and Syria.
“It’s a country with crazy ambitions... a country that has very aggressive, extremist, fanatic leaders who are a threat to the whole world. Not long ago, I met with a delegation from the US visiting the region, who went to the Gulf, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and then here. They said that, in the Arab world, no one is talking about Israel. It’s clear that the threat isn’t Israel and the Zionists, just Iran,” he stated.
As such, Liberman is optimistic – but realistic – about ties with the Arab states that, like Israel, see Iran as a threat.
“It’s not a secret that there’s a lot of interaction, but it’s not with the states; it’s with the leadership. It’s important that it be with the countries, and not just the leadership,” he said. “We’ve made a lot of progress in recent years. It’s clear that there’s an understanding that Israel is not the problem; we’re the solution.
“Still, there is a great distance we need to close between theoretical understanding and concrete steps,” he added.
He shrugged off the idea that the Palestinians are standing in the way of closing that gap, calling the issue “artificial.”
“Look at what’s happening in the Muslim world. Not one day passed in the region in recent years without 300 people murdered and nearly 1,000 injured. There are all kinds of terrorist acts from Iraq to Sudan, and everyone is quiet about it.
“Over 6,000 Palestinians were slaughtered two years ago in their largest refugee camp, Yarmuk in Damascus. Was there an international conference? A UN Security Council decision? The Palestinian leadership in Ramallah didn’t even meet to discuss it. Imagine what would happen if 6,000 Palestinians were, God forbid, killed in the West Bank.
“The Palestinians know that the West Bank is still the safest place for them, but they’re not talking about facts. It’s all hypocrisy,” he grumbled.
Liberman has never made his disdain for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas a secret. Over the years, he has repeatedly brought up the fact that Abbas’s doctoral dissertation denied the Holocaust.
The defense minister argued that Abbas has no legitimacy – though he said it’s none of Israel’s business who replaces him.
“Factually, Abbas is not legitimate. There were supposed to be Palestinian presidential and parliamentary elections in 2010, and we’re almost in 2017. He canceled municipal elections this year... A man who postpones elections for seven years knows why,” he said.
And yet, Liberman lamented, “the fact that in the West [Abbas] is still seen as the legitimate leader says a lot about the hypocrisy of the international community.”
Democratic illegitimacy is not the only problem Liberman expressed with Abbas – and not the only example he gave to show the world has a double standard.
Liberman pointed to a reception Abbas held in October in honor of a terrorist who recently died of heart failure while exercising in prison, where he was serving a sentence for killing a Jewish man shopping in a Palestinian village.
“Abbas just said that the blood of the martyrs paves the way to building a Palestinian state with its capital in Jerusalem. He’s paid condolences to the families of murdering terrorists from Jordan,” he stated.
Liberman also pointed to the money trail: “Almost 40% of the world’s donations to the Palestinians goes to funding terrorists’ families. The two terrorists who murdered the Fogel family in Itamar – two parents, three children – they’re in an Israeli prison, and each of their families gets NIS 12,000 every month. The average salary of a Palestinian teacher is NIS 1,000. They get that for murdering. That is how the PA is spending its money.”
In addition, he said the rhetoric in the official PA media is “incitement that is no different from what was heard in the Nazis’ time.”
In the age of social media, it’s impossible for Israel to shut down channels of incitement, but Israel can also see “who is shaking things up, who is responsible for the murders” without advanced intelligence methods, he explained.
“What’s important here are the messages coming from the leadership. People hear the leaders who incite, support terrorism and give a lot of money. We have to demand they change their messages. The things they say in Ramallah are 180 degrees different from what they say in Paris, London and New York,” Liberman said.
The international community, in the meantime, turns a blind eye to these problems.
“They know the facts. These are professional diplomats who are constantly looking at intelligence and media reports,” he said.
“Look at what’s happened recently. The UN General Assembly, UNHRC, UNESCO, they deal with Israel all the time – how many houses we built, denying our connection to the Western Wall,” Liberman said. “Look at Syria, where half a million people were killed, according to the UN, and there are close to eight million displaced people. Look at Iraq, Yemen, Sudan, Libya. With all of that, they choose to talk about Israel and 40 homes in [the West Bank outpost of] Amona.”
That focus is “clearly a mixture of classic antisemitism that’s masked as anti-Israel and anti-settlement,” Liberman asserted.
The world may not be paying enough attention to Syria in Liberman’s book, but he is keeping a concerned eye on the situation, while staying out of it.
“Our interest is to leave ourselves outside this mess, this chaos,” he said. “There’s a game in which so many players, and regional and world powers, are involved, as are religious and ethnic groups. There’s Russia and the US, plus Iran, Turkey and the Saudis. There are Shi’ite and Sunni groups and Kurds and anyone you can think of. And of course, there is terrorism from all the different groups, Hezbollah, the Nusra Front, al-Qaida, ISIS, and we don’t know if there’ll be more.
“We don’t have anything to look for there. Our interest is to make sure that the terrorists who are being pushed out of Iraq and Syria don’t accumulate on our borders and that advanced weapons do not reach Hezbollah,” Liberman explained.
As for America seeming to take a step back in the region, with Russia taking a greater role, he once again said it’s none of Israel’s business.
“Tension between the US and Russia impacts everyone, but we just have to focus on our reality in the Middle East,” he said. “US sanctions on Russia aren’t because of Syria; they’re because of Ukraine. There’s also tension because of Venezuela and Southeast Asia... It’s a new Cold War.”
Israel, Liberman said, has enough problems of its own and has no interest in getting in between “two giants.”
“We don’t have that kind of power. Let’s not have delusions of grandeur. As long as it doesn’t affect us, we don’t have to volunteer to get in there,” he said.
And that’s the world according to Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman: full of hypocrites, but Israel has to choose its battles, avoid the ones that are avoidable and then fight the important ones itself.