By REBECCA ANNA STOIL
Defense Minister Ehud Barak offered a pessimistic outlook for those expecting an easy end to the Iranian nuclear crisis when he said on Monday that the recently revealed nuclear facility at Qom was "built over a number of years, located in a reinforced underground bunker and immune to standard bombs."
Barak made the comments as part of a briefing to the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, during which a verbal battle erupted between him and National Union MKs.
"The Iranian fraud concerning the site, together with their neutron experiments, cannot serve any goal other than uranium enrichment," Barak continued, reiterating previous statements by top IDF intelligence officers that the Qom site did not serve any civilian purpose.
The defense minister also raised an eyebrow at the response of the West to the most recent bloodshed in Iran, in which at least 15 protesters were killed by security forces.
"It is not pleasant to see the response of the free world to the activities there, to the trampling of citizens by the regime," said Barak.
He also discussed the stalled peace talks with the Palestinians.
"The alternative to negotiations is a dead end, which will bring violence, and cause a rise in Hamas's power," Barak said. "Today, we are at an advantage, in a position of strength, and that allows us to make an agreement, and bring about a reality of two states living side-by-side.
"A way will be found to enable Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to remain in his position," he added.
The defense minister went on to say that if Israel "continues to exert control over millions of Palestinians, it will end up with a state that is not Jewish, or a state which is not democratic - an apartheid state.
"These two options do not fulfill the Zionist vision which stands at the forefront of the government's thought process," he said.
Barak added that 2009 was "one of the quietest years," and predicted that 2010 would be "a year of threats and opportunities."
Barak also confirmed that the IDF Central Command orders revealed last week to step up the army's activities against settlers violating the West Bank building freeze were genuine, although they had yet to be formally approved, MKs said.
MK Arye Eldad (National Union) asked the defense minister whether it was an acceptable practice to block the media and close cellular service to key areas. Barak responded that he had met with British SAS commanders to discuss the methods that they had used against British citizens in the course of the United Kingdom's struggle against Irish terrorist movements.
Eldad asked Barak to rescind his "appalling" parallel between settlers and Irish terrorists, but Barak refused to do so. As verbal sparring continued, Eldad was asked to leave the meeting, and left of his own accord before ushers were called to escort him out.
"That man abandons the well-being of residents of Judea and Samaria, and is even liable to give the IDF an order to shoot at them," Eldad said outside of the committee room.
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