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10 Questions for Ehud Barak

4 minute read
Karl Vick

We’re starting late because you had a call about Hamas firing rockets out of Gaza, after months with none. Is it related to the Egyptian elections?
I cannot penetrate souls, but there probably is some connection.

Describe your relationship with Prime Minister Netanyahu.
Basically, we entered into this wedding knowing each other very well. There’s a lot of mutual respect. We can work together. And I believe we are doing what should be done for the country. We see eye to eye on the major issues, and when there are differences, we know how to handle them.

(PHOTOS: Behind the Cover: Marco Grob Photographs Benjamin Netanyahu)

So it’s a marriage?
Eh, it’s not a marriage, but I believe that Bibi knows there are certain issues that for me are important. And I know certain things are so dearly important to him, if I insist on doing them it will end up with a divorce. I don’t know how to describe it. We are a little bit relieved from the need to prove anything to anyone, and we happen to be autonomous. I feel fully autonomous. I don’t do anything to impress anyone, quite successfully I can tell you.

Can Israel cripple Iran’s nuclear program?
We all wish that it would be solved by a combination of sanctions and diplomacy. But when I try to judge whether these ayatullahs are going to be brought to a point where they say, “O.K., there’s no way to continue under this kind of pressure. We have to give in” — I’m very skeptical this is going to happen. In some time they will enter into what I call the zone of immunity, where no practical surgical operation can deprive them of their nuclear capability.

How long until they enter that zone?
It’s not a matter of weeks, but it’s not a matter of years. And it’s not a binary situation; it’s a process. But it becomes clear from quarter to quarter that the capacity to influence a significant delay in their plans is becoming more and more remote.

(MORE: Iran Nuclear Talks: Delusions on Both Sides of the Table)

You can be credible with the threat for only so long, right?
I believe the Iranians will be moved only by the combination of carrots and a big stick in the background. But I can tell you honestly we are not part of a performance to impress Iran. It’s one of the by-products of sincerity.

In Syria, what should be done about President Bashar Assad?
I want to connect these two issues. We see this massacre of kids, we see women raped, and it continues over a year and a half — terrible. Still, the distance between seeing something totally unacceptable and taking action is a big distance. Looking at what happened in the Middle East in the last two years, you cannot take for granted the immediately proper response of the world.

Has everyone forgotten the Palestinians?
I think that the establishment of a new Israeli government here creates a certain opportunity. I do not want to be overoptimistic that peace with the Palestinians will parachute from heaven. It’s a lot of work. Probably we’ll end up with an interim agreement with a mutual idea how to move, what’s the process, what are the first steps.

(MORE: Palestinians Champion Jesus’ Birthplace to Boost Statehood Bid)

Should the Palestinians use the standing they have in the international community to get U.N.-state status and have access to the International Criminal Court?
That would be a unilateral move, and it touches on sensitivities in Israel in an improper manner. It cannot help them a lot.

Are you an Arab Spring optimist?
In the very long term, probably it is something positive. Probably. To see people standing on their feet, trying to take their destiny in their own hands. But it’s too early to predict and probably it reflects more our wishful thinking in a Western frame of mind than reality. In the mid-term, I’m not optimistic because it’s a “green” kind of Arab Spring. There are more and more Islamists, some of them quite radical.

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