Before the onset of the Jewish new year, defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman gave an interview NEWSru.co.il. The defense Minister said that, in his opinion, is the main threat to Israel today, shared his assessment of relations with Russia and commented on the situation around the Gaza strip.
Talked Gabi Wolfson.
Mr. Lieberman, in ten days we will celebrate the Jewish new year. What problem is the thoughts of the Minister of defense before the end of the year?
I think the security issue is gradually becoming global. Look what is happening around. If we ignore the Atlantic ocean, storms and storms that it brings, it is obvious that the main problems in the world today are North Korea, Afghanistan, Iraq, the Iranian nuclear program, the fight against the terror posed by «Islamic state». All these problems are common to the entire international community. Remember what happened in Barcelona, Berlin and nice. Security problem, unfortunately, will be key in the coming year. From this point of view, and I don’t want myself to clap on the shoulder, but those 15 months, I have been in the position of Minister of defence is the coolest months, starting with the six day war. With all the terrorist attacks and the unrest on the Temple mount, it is about the most peaceful period of many years, even in comparison with Western Europe. Israel really has done a lot in this area in recent months.
From the whole complex of problems facing the Minister of defence, what would you identify as the main?
It is difficult to talk about one issue, but if still isolated, I would name three: Iran, Iran and more Iran. You need to understand that the Syrian regime would not have survived without Iran, Hezbollah could not exist without Iran, Hamas and Islamic Jihad could not exist without Iran. I saw The Sunday Telegraph, which refers to MI6 and other sources, claiming that the North Korean nuclear program also could be on the level at which it is located, without tangible assistance from Tehran. Iran is the main problem today, and judging by how much attention she gets in the White house and on Capitol hill, there is well understood.
In other words, our local Israeli bell, the focus is on the Syrian border?
Of course. Our main problem is the Northern border. The number of weapons, the level of combat power and the number of militants, who are concentrated there, is unprecedented.
You said: «Assad could not survive without Iran.» Assad survived? You can say that he wins?
And will remain head of a single state?
More or less. It is obvious that this state will never be peaceful, at least until then, until you can reflect the ethnic mosaic of Syria. We must understand that the majority of the Syrian population, almost 61 per cent, are Sunnis. Then there are the Kurds, and only in third place – the alawites. But already in the 70-ies of the alawites usurped power and are not willing to share it. As long as Sunnis are not represented in all branches of government, in key positions, nothing will change, tensions will persist. Today they managed to crush the resistance of their opponents. This happened, firstly, due to the weakness of the West, and secondly, thanks to the willingness of Hizbullah and Iran to go to the end, assisting Assad.
Last week was dealt a blow on Syrian territory, according to the production facilities of chemical weapons. Whom the blow was struck nor, can we say that this event by far in favor of Israel?
We don’t know what happened there, but it is not so important. One thing is important: in regard to Israel’s security, there will be no compromise. We are not looking for adventures, I have repeatedly said, we try not to intervene in conflicts that take place around all our borders. But in regard to our security, there will be no compromise. This message was very clearly conveyed to all parties involved in the middle East conflict.
Still, back to the attack on a military facility in the area of Masyaf. What are the implications for Israel of such an attack can have?
None of the kick in itself may not have beneficial or adverse effects. We have developed a clear line, a clear concept of security and of our relationship to everything. We adhere to this line, and all around believe in the seriousness of our intentions to pursue this line. Obviously, this is not a common word and not a theoretical construct, and the hard political line, the safety line. I think that is why we have managed to remain an island of stability in this stormy ocean is unprecedented since the Second world war, hatred, violence and bloodshed.
In the past interviews that you gave to our website in April, you talked about those «red lines», the transition of which Israel acts in Syria.
Yes, it is a violation of our sovereignty, smuggling of weapons or information about the impending attack, that is, the mode of «ticking bombs».
During this time, something was changed, added?
No. The production process of missiles increased accuracy is carried out using Iranian technology under the supervision of Iranian experts. So for us, this process is part of the process of smuggling weapons. For us it is one and the same.
It reflects the fact that, for example, that Russia still did not respond to the blow inflicted last week on the Syrian territory?
Don’t know, I’m not going to comment on the policy of the Russian authorities, but she was always sober and pragmatic. Despite the divergence of views and even conflict of interest, our dialogue with Moscow has always been open and constructive, we have developed a mechanism proved itself as very effective. The fact that we to date have managed to avoid tensions and confrontations, speaks volumes. Yes, there are very difficult conversations, very tough negotiations, but both sides hold positions that I would define as adequate. When there are two adequate States, it is logical that they find a position for dialogue.
Adequacy is important, but when there is a conflict of interest…
Even when there is a conflict of interest, two sane adequate countries may find a reasonable approach.
And this reasonable approach is maintained in relations with Russia?
Definitely. And we’re not doing anything under the table, in silence or behind someone’s back. Everything is open, everything on the table, and on contacts with Russia know all of our friends, including in the United States. We do everything out in the open, anything from anyone not hide.
Former Deputy chief of staff Yair Golan said, speaking in the United States that Israel alone can defeat Iran and need to do this in Alliance with the United States.
You know, I have not heard the statements of Yair Golan and I am not sure everything transferred correctly, but the former Deputy chief of the General staff of the long history of the various statements. I would not like to comment.
But you, as the Minister of defence, I think we can cope on their own?
We can solve any problem to ensure their own security, including Iran.
Many expected the rise to power in the US Donald trump will push Americans to become more active in the region, «return» America to the middle East. This is not happening.
The US is facing a series of threats, problems, challenges that have not previously been simultaneously on the agenda. Now it is, primarily, North Korea. About a week and a half ago, trump spoke with a very serious speech about the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan. This is also a big headache of administration. Everything that happens in Iraq and Syria, tensions between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, of course the subject of Iran, Venezuela…
The question is, how the subject of Iran is now Washington.
I can only judge by the public statements of trump or the US representative to the UN, Nikki Haley. These statements quite clearly show that the subject of Iran has an important place in the agenda of the administration.
This can lead to some specific action? One gets the impression that the United States give Syria at the mercy of Russia in all that is happening there.
We can only operate on what we hear with our ears. From what we heard last week from the lips of the President of trump, and from the words of the US representative to the UN, more than 50% were related to the subject of Iran.
What does this mean?
That they understand where the source of evil. Yes, we’re talking about Hizbullah, about the Syrian regime. But the real source of evil is Iran and the ideology of radical Shiite forces. In particular, we are talking about the ideology of the Corps of guards of Islamic revolution.
Nevertheless, Iran today deepens its presence in Syria, and thus on our borders.
Of course, and the same process happens in other places, such as in Yemen. Everything that happens in Yemen, could not happen without the support of Iran. In Iraq are the Shiite armed militia in Syria, in other places. Everywhere we see the fingerprints of Iran.
What Israel can do in this regard? What should he do?
I can only say that the army works every day and every night. There is no day that we don’t deal with these problems. For obvious reasons I can’t go into details, but you can read an interview with a recently retired commander of the air force of the IDF Amir of Asela («Haaretz», on the site of the Second channel or summarized NEWSru.co.il – approx.ed.). There is a lot of interesting. I will limit myself to what is already said.
Against the background of what is happening in the North, how do you see the situation in Gaza? Humanitarian crisis grows there, and it can be fraught for Israel.
The only ones who are really interested in the confrontation between Israel and Hamas is Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas, the President of the Palestinian authority – approx.ed.). By the way, he was one of the few who sent a congratulatory telegram to the independence day of North Korea, as I understand it, received a warm response. Do you know anybody else, any political figure who would be exchanged congratulatory and thank-you telegrams with the leaders of North Korea? But it is clear that, by cutting supplies of electricity and medicine to the Gaza strip, he tries to pit Israel and Hamas.
In other words, stifle your opponents with our hands?
So. It’s simple, clear and understandable. I last week met with the UN Secretary General. I must say that, observing all the rules of etiquette and diplomacy, he fidgeted in his chair when he heard that creates Abu Mazen in the Gaza strip.
Tell me, it’s not in our interest to bring Abbas and Fatah in the Gaza strip?
I’m not sure they can keep there power, even if you take it. You probably remember the mad experiment called «disengagement.» Us its inevitable outcome was obvious from the start, and, unlike many Ministers today who are in government, and then voted for the disengagement, we were against it and preferred to resign. Israel gave Abu Mazen to Gaza on a silver platter, and everything that happened after that, we are also well aware. Hardly clever double step on the same rake.
So Abbas is trying to push us with Hamas, we are not interested in this. And? What are our actions in this context?
We will act in accordance with our interests.
What are the interests of Israel in Gaza at the moment?
We strive to avoid a new spiral of armed confrontation with the Gaza strip, we are absolutely not interested. Go to the border with Gaza, look what is happening now in the settlements there – in kibbutzim, moshavim, community settlements, and in cities like Sderot. This prosperity was not known for decades. The demand for housing grew, the number of jobs has increased.
Maybe this means that during the operation «Indestructible rock» was still achieved a deterrent?
I think that the deterrent was secured in a different way. It managed to achieve thanks to the change of tactics of response to any encroachment on our sovereignty from Gaza. In June 2016 I walked into the office of the Minister of defense, occupied the chair of Minister, and radically changed the whole concept of answering provocations with the Gaza strip. I think they learned it well.
So, our task to put off another confrontation with Hamas.
Yeah, makes no sense to force the issue. Now our main enemy in the North, there comes the main threat, and there should be focus all the attention.
In order to avoid conflict in the South, we are ready to provide assistance to the Gaza strip? To help electricity to help with something else?
We should not interfere, it is a problem of the world community. Last week I met with the UN Secretary General, and then with the head of the International red cross. They talk a lot about the need to solve the humanitarian problems, so often heard, as in the cartoon «Guys, let’s live together». I told them: «Please solve the problem.» We do not interfere, do not create complexity. We don’t want to arrange a showdown with Hamas at the expense of children in maternity hospitals and hospitals. But, at the same time, we are not ready to take on this issue.
And they are willing as you thought?
As I said, they awkwardly fidget in the chair, when I hear about the situation in the Gaza strip, and I got the impression that they are ready to start making some steps in this matter. The UN Secretary General has already met with Nickolay Mladenov, United Nations special envoy in the region, and they discussed concrete steps.
That is, the headache is not ours.
Not ours and not it has to be. We just asked how we will respond if Egypt will be something to put in Gas. I said that we have no objection. We do not intend to hinder anyone in finding solutions to the energy crisis in Gaza.
You agree that said the head of the Shin bet Nadav Argaman, calling the situation on the border with Gaza «deceptive calm»?
Of course. It is obvious that the current situation is temporary, it cannot last forever. Today there is a fragile calm, I would say it is fragile. In the report we heard that two months attempts were prevented at least 70 of the attacks.
We are talking about Judea and Samaria, Gaza?
About all of our borders. Almost every day was an attempted terrorist attack, taken by one of the organized groups or individuals.
There is a tendency of growth of number of terrorist attacks?
No, there is constant motivation of terrorists to attack our training and readiness to repel and prevent terrorist attacks.
But you mentioned the North, as the main possible source of threats. A listen, read the statements from various anonymous sources and ask myself: war is inevitable?
I hope that war will be avoided. War is not the goal, the goal – safety. I am in the North and see that there life rages. Talked with the guys from agricultural group «Genesis». They say that this prosperity has not been for many years. But particularly striking contrast. On this side of the border is working, full of life, and on the other side scorched earth, desert.
There the vacuum is being filled by Iran?
No, we are able to keep Iran on the distant approaches.
The secret of the company. (laughs) anyway, we’ve stopped them on the distant approaches, but we do not delude ourselves, we know exactly what is happening in Syria, in South Lebanon.
A deterrent can only be built on promises, threats, warnings?
Never policy based only on great coaxing, beliefs, even the threats, but not backed by a real willingness to act, will not be effective.
Israel has a real willingness to act?
To maintain this readiness, and conducted large-scale exercises in the North?
These exercises is due to several factors, and not all of them like to say. Say, «accidentally» on my watch, 15 months after my inauguration exercises, the likes of which on a scale not seen for many years. I’m just lucky. Anyway the exercises are very serious, and those who participate in them, speak very highly about the level of troops.
This including an attempt to demonstrate to the other party our strength and seriousness of the preparation?
Primarily the exercises for us. You have to train. It is impossible to win the Olympic games, not exercising, and such maneuvers have not been too many years.
A little bit about other topics. 7 Sep sentence Elora Azariah became final. Since then, the chief of staff may consider the request of the soldier for commutation of sentence. Do you think it likely that Lieutenant-General Gadi eizenkot will soften the punishment of Uzziah?
I do not know. I think it’s worth the wait. The IDF chief of staff man is very weighted, serious, experienced. I am convinced that he will make the right decision.
What decision is right in this case from your point of view?
Let’s not influence the decision of the chief of the General staff. Though he does not read in Russian, but the head of the press service of the army is quite fluent in Russian. But seriously, I think that you should give the opportunity Gadi Eizenkot to make an independent decision.
You recommend the family of Azariah Elora waive appeal to the Supreme court. What did you recommend to the chief of staff regarding the request Elora Azariah?
I don’t remember. (laughs)
This case has dealt a blow to the army?
Of course, but not just the army. Throughout Israeli society. We do the people’s army, in the full sense of the word. We are probably the only Western country where the army is really the people’s Institute.
You regret something that was done or said in connection with the «business of Azariah»? For example, you mentioned about what the decision should be taken by the court.
I’m not talking about the decision, only reminded that the presumption of innocence applies to everyone, even to soldiers. In this situation it is important to remember one thing. We are talking about an IDF soldier who for two years was a soldier-student. And on the other hand we are talking about terrorist being assaulted with a weapon in the hands of a soldier. Later, my predecessor (Moshe ya’alon – approx. ed.), not waiting for any verdict or even indictment, began to say that the soldier is guilty, he violated the ethical code of the army. It’s just incomprehensible.
A little about the «case of 3000» or as it is called, «the submarines». In the recent past, high-ranking military are suspected of corruption. Does this bother you?
Of course it does. It’s not like no one else, because in this case we are talking about the security of the state. You need to take things very seriously and wait for the outcome of the investigation. Yet there are a lot of muddy water. I have on a shelf above the table is a model of a submarine. Give you my word that I didn’t put it there, and my predecessor. So when he is now foaming at the mouth something to prove and someone denounces, it is unclear to me what was going on. The submarine was acquired in his cadence, when I became Minister of defense, the transaction was committed.
What position you took when processed the transaction?
The post of foreign Minister.
And it went past you?
No, not at all. I was then part of the military-political Cabinet and remember what I said about three criteria: first, whether there is an operational need, and secondly, how many boats need to purchase, thirdly, the financial aspects of the transaction. I don’t remember my predecessor or someone in the military has questioned the necessity of the acquisition of boats or the number of purchased submarines. Thank God, all the discussions on the military-political Cabinet shall be recorded and, if necessary, investigators can easily determine who and when he said. But with regard to the resolution of this case, it is certainly worth the wait.
Began the trial of the defendants in the case 242. In this case, you also suggest to wait for a judgment?
Of course. Everyone has the right to be presumed innocent and is innocent until, until the court decides otherwise.
You still claim that this case was directed against your party «Israel Our home»?
The case was reported with fanfare and noise, six days after the beginning of the campaign. I then asked the legal adviser to the government, was there a need to do it now, not wait until after the election. He explained to me that the case «on ointments», it is necessary to collect a few testimonies, and you can send the case to the court. As you can see, since then it has been more than two years. Moreover, 80% of defendants are irrelevant to the NIDS. But the media has put a stigma and everyone is now called the case – «the case of the NDI». I have repeatedly said before but it bears repeating. Since 1999, there was no election campaign, which would not involve opening a new case against someone from our party. There will be elections – there will be a new case.
You 15 months in the post of Minister of defense. What are the main impressions?
This is a very difficult position, but there is definitely a feeling of satisfaction from what you do, and sometimes even get results.
After the next election you will try to come back to this post?
I don’t see elections on the horizon. When they pass, will discuss this topic in the following interview.
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