Ya'alon belittles Obama's policy on Iran

"We too believe that friends should be candid with each other," strategic affairs minister says.

Moshe Yaalon 88 248 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Moshe Yaalon 88 248
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya'alon (Likud) delivered a blistering attack on the Obama administration's Middle East policies Tuesday, suggesting that its approach toward Iran and the Palestinian Authority were flawed. "Just like the new administration, we too believe that friends should be candid with each other," he said during an address at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. "It is our duty to explain to our American friends our concerns." He was referring to comments that US President Barack Obama and other officials have made recently about the need to be clear with Israel that certain policies, such as settlement expansion, aren't acceptable. The American declarations have fed tensions between the US and Israel, and Ya'alon's hardline speech suggested that the gulf between the countries won't be bridged any time soon. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is set to deliver a major policy speech next week, which some observers have predicted he will present a softening of positions as the two countries move from taking each other's measure to working on shared interests. But Ya'alon's address, which some are reading as a preview of Netanyahu's delivery, contrasted sharply with the views of the White House. At the same time, Ya'alon is a strong right-wing voice in the Likud, so his speech could also be read as a message to Netanyahu to hold the line. Though the minister for strategic affairs and former IDF chief of staff couched his comments as taking on the "conventional wisdom" of the mainstream media, he belittled the notion that dialogue would dampen Iranian nuclear ambitions or that it made sense to aggressively pursue the creation of a Palestinian state. He argued that policy toward the Palestinians should instead focus on a "bottom up" approach of economic, political, security and education reform to lay the groundwork for a functioning Palestinian entity. Asked about the possibility of a final status resolution within two years, as some Arab media have reported the US administration desires, Ya'alon responded, "It's not a realistic goal, not at all, and we should say so very clearly. "If in two years' time we will have a political settlement, I believe we will witness Hamastan in the West Bank, and we are not going to implement it," he said. As for Iran, which Obama has sought to engage through a series of diplomatic overtures, Ya'alon assessed: "If this can be achieved through negotiations and dialogue, wonderful. Since we doubt it very much, we believe the free world, under the leadership of the United States, needs to prepare all the options to deal with this problem and make it clear that it will be ready to use them." He referred to a "credible threat" as the approach most likely to move Iran. Though speaking generally about Western overtures, Ya'alon also seemed to take a swipe at last week's Cairo address in which the US president expressed regret for Western actions against Muslim states and sought to turn a new page on US-Muslim relations. Ya'alon said that the West expects that concessions and apologies made to the Arab world will generate reciprocal moves, when instead, "It just strengthens their conviction of victim-hood and their resolve to restore their honor." Yet Ya'alon, when asked about some of his harsh words in the Q&A portion of Tuesday's event, played down any differences with the Obama administration and denied that his words were a critique of the new president. "We might disagree about the way to reach the goals, but I believe we share the same goals in the long run," he said, stressing that "Israel considers itself a part and parcel of the free world and is committed to its strategic relationship with the United States." Ya'alon will be meeting with US National Security Adviser James Jones and Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as well as members of Congress, but his trip was planned well in advance and not specifically timed to Netanyahu's address, according to the Israeli Embassy. The official purpose of the trip was to deliver Tuesday's Zeev Schiff Memorial Lecture on Middle East Security at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. When asked at the lecture whether the White House and Jerusalem were on the same page when it came to Iran, he replied, "I hope so," to audience laughter. He then added that the Netanyahu was "very satisfied" with his discussions with Obama on that point during his Washington visit last month. He listed several points of agreement, including the need for benchmarks and a timeframe for negotiations, the notion that Iran would not be allowed to acquire a nuclear weapon and that all options must remain on the table. "In this regard we share the same view," he said.