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(photo credit: AP [file])
While stressing that Israel was not in existential danger, Defense Minister Ehud Barak noted on Monday that Iran was a central threat not only to the Jewish state, but to the entire world.
"We are not under any existential threat; I don't see anyone who would try to destroy our country," Barak said in an interview with Channel 10. "But Iran is a central threat to Israel both because of its pursuit of nuclear weapons and because it supports Hamas and Hizbullah."
Iran, he said, was "a threat to the entire world, as it is interested in changing the entire international order and is a source of instability in the Middle East and throughout the world."
When asked about overtures made by US President Barack Obama, Barak said that while Israel was "not in a position" to demand that the US not engage in talks with Iran, it was "certainly in a position to tell the international community to limit the diplomatic efforts within a set time frame and to have sanctions ready."
The defense minister hinted that Israel was not ruling out a military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities, saying that "Israel is prepared for all the options."
Asked about his position regarding possible peace talks with Syria, Barak stated that while it may not yet be possible to reach a peace agreement with Assad, he believed that "Syria should be on the list of countries with which Israel engages in negotiations, not in war."
"Syria was our enemy in many wars, but since 1973 the border has been quiet," he said.
The defense minister also explained that while his public statements on Syria seemed to put him at odds with Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, "there are fewer differences of opinion between myself and Liberman behind closed doors."
Barak praised IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, and noted that the army was prepared to overcome any challenges it might face.
"Ashkenazi is an excellent chief of staff and is making sure all the important lessons from Operation Cast Lead are learned. He is also leading the army in preparing for our future challenges, which are as apparent as inscriptions in stone," he said.
Barak lauded the IDF operation in Gaza and noted that "our deterrence has grown immensely following Operation Cast Lead."
"Hamas hasn't fired Kassam rockets since Cast Lead, because it left a great impression. Only minor Palestinian groups fired one or two rockets in recent months," he said, emphasizing that "right now we are enjoying relative quiet in the South, but if this situation changes, the IDF is of course ready to take action."
The defense minister mentioned the importance of Egyptian efforts to prevent weapons from reaching Hamas.
"The Egyptians and others are going to great lengths to stop arms smuggling into the Gaza Strip," said Barak.