Barak: Israel resolute on retaining Iran options

At AIPAC conference, former defense minister says Iran remains most dire of threats; says Palestinians "not easy" peace partners.

Barak at AIPAC Feb 2013 (photo credit: MICHAEL WILNER)
Barak at AIPAC Feb 2013
(photo credit: MICHAEL WILNER)
WASHINGTON – As he prepares to step away from government, outgoing Defense Minister Ehud Barak told a crowd of over 13,000 in Washington on Sunday that Iran remains the most dire of a series of menacing threats facing Israel in the region.
On the opening night of AIPAC’s annual conference, Barak said he simply didn’t believe diplomacy would deter “the ayatollahs” from their pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability, charging emphatically that Jerusalem meant it when it vowed that all options remain on the table.
“Ladies and gentleman, we mean it.
And let me repeat it: we mean it,” he said, to resounding applause.
Barak said he feared that the repercussions of failure would include an arms race beyond the expectations of most efforts: organized terrorist groups would try to acquire them as well, he stated.
Barak said the implosion of the Middle East since the beginning of the Arab Spring two years ago has made him “modest of predictions,” noting that even Mubarak – for decades considered a master of politics on the Arab street – couldn’t see it coming.
Calling it the an “unprecedented geopolitical earthquake,” he said it has reaffirmed his previous belief that peace with the Palestinians is no guarantor of stability in the region.
“Recent developments in the Middle East have been far beyond our control,” Barak said. “Syria would still be mired in a bloody civil war.” “There is no sense of direction and no political will to act” in Syria, he added.
Beyond external threats, Barak called a two-state solution with the Palestinians an “imperative” for the maintenance of the Jewish state, and the “only viable” solution for its long-term success.
He called for a regional security framework that respects Israel’s needs on missile defense, border security, Iran and Islamic terrorism, as well as for a realistic strategic plan for the Palestinian statehood.
“I know from personal experience that the Palestinians are not easy partners for peace,” he said, “if even an interim agreement is unattainable, we should consider unilateral steps.”
Calling it a critical juncture in the nation’s history, Barak said that, in his final days as defense minister, he was proud of leaving Israel a strong, prosperous and independent Jewish state. But he called the Middle East a “gestalt,” and warned that its hardest days may well be ahead.
“I believe we possess the character and courage as a nation to make those tough decisions,” Barak said.