Ashkenazi pessimistic on Iran talks

Chief of Staff warns of radicals winning Lebanese elections.

ashkenazi home front 248.88 (photo credit: IDF)
ashkenazi home front 248.88
(photo credit: IDF)
IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi is not optimistic regarding Washington's efforts to talk to Teheran, he told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Tuesday morning. "Dialogue together with sanctions is Israel's preferred option, but it is the army's role to prepare all of the options for the diplomatic level," he added. "A dialogue between Iran and the US is currently taking place, and I doubt it will yield results, but as far as the IDF is concerned, this is the desirable way to stop the Iranian nuclear project," the army chief said, adding that sanctions could also be powerful in the hands of Israel's allies. Ashkenazi stressed the necessity of preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, which would "destabilize the entire Middle East." Next week's major home front drill is a routine exercise and should not be seen as having any connection with the Iran issue or fears of a conventional war, he told the lawmakers. Ashkenazi presented a mixed picture of the situation on Israel's borders. On the one hand, "there has been an increase in effectiveness of Egyptian activities on the border, but there is still much to be done. Peace with Egypt is an important strategic asset and the IDF has a good dialogue with Cairo," he said. The picture he painted of the situation in the north, however, was less optimistic. Ashkenazi warned that Hizbullah might garner a significant portion of the vote in Lebanon's legislative elections on June 7. Should Hizbullah do so, "there is a real concern that Lebanon will fall into the radical axis," he said. Ashkenazi also spoke about the possibility that senior officers will face criminal prosecution and arrest warrants issued overseas due to the application of universal jurisdiction. "We need to do everything so that IDF officers will be able to walk free in European capitals, and I expect a public outcry on the subject," he said. If Hizbullah makes considerable gains in the vote, Israel will not feel the same reluctance it did in 2006 about attacking Lebanese infrastructure, Defense Minister Ehud Barak warned on Tuesday. "Today, Hizbullah controls a third of the Lebanese government," Barak said at a briefing with reporters in his office in Tel Aviv. "If in the upcoming elections Hizbullah gains more power in the government, that will open it up more than in the past to the IDF's force, and will give us a freedom of action that we did not have completely in July 2006." During the early days of the Second Lebanon War three years ago, there was a debate inside the government about the degree to which the IDF should hit essential infrastructure in Lebanon, with much of the world urging Israeli restraint so as not to weaken the position of pro-Western Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora. "The UN investigation will apparently find Hizbullah responsible for the killing of [former Lebanese prime minister Rafik] Hariri," Barak said, adding that this was a further indictment of Hizbullah for trying to undermine the legitimacy of moderate regimes in the region.