Yisrael Katz for eight years headed the Ministry of transport. After the elections to the Knesset, 20th convocation, he was also the Minister of intelligence. In an interview with NEWSru.co.il I. Katz spoke about the work of his second Ministry, shared his view on the situation in Gaza and in Syria and talked about the relationship with Netanyahu and ultra-Orthodox.
Interviewed political commentator NEWSru.co.il Gabby Wolfson.
Mr. Minister, what is the function of the Ministry of intelligence?
The Minister for intelligence works closely with the Prime Minister, and deals with the agencies that are directly subordinate to the Prime Minister: the Shin bet, «the Mossad». In my jurisdiction there are some aspects of cyber war, as well as the relationship with other intelligence agencies, especially military intelligence. In addition, in terms of strategic and intelligence issues, the Minister of intelligence among the three main dedicated to the decision makers: Prime Minister, Minister of defense, Minister of intelligence. This is obviously one level higher than the rest of the Ministers on the military-political Cabinet. I of course have the opportunity to initiate various projects in the area of responsibility between the Prime Minister and defense Minister.
Can you give an example?
Various regional projects. They often are related to the transport sector, but are linked to foreign policy issues. In addition, for example, the initiative of legislation in the U.S. Congress, against Hezbollah, against Iran in support of terrorist groups. I was the first person to the initiative presented. Initially, contacts with the previous administration then the current administration, and of course in contacts with congressmen. Contacts of different kinds with the Arab countries also pass through my hands due to the fact that I am privy to these matters.
If you had to answer the question, in what Ministry are you busy more in the Ministry of transport or intelligence, what would?
If I was a young transport Minister, also the Minister of intelligence, I would have been extremely difficult. But since the Ministry of transport I for a long time and much has already been established, you can afford to share attention between the two ministries.
At a recent meeting of the military-political Cabinet was made by those who are called senior officers of the IDF. They talked about the situation in Gaza, how about the one that was before the operation «Indestructible rock».
I don’t want to quote the words of the officers who took part in the meeting of the Cabinet. I can only say that the situation in Gaza could lead to conflict due to several factors. First of all, it is important to understand that Israel has very successfully managed to isolate Hamas. With Egypt it was made in the context of tunnels, in addition to this we have managed to halt the spread of the activities of Hamas in Judea and Samaria, which is extremely important. In addition, the situation in which Hamas, is very difficult due to the weakening of the Turkish-Qatari axis in opposition to the Egyptian-Saudi axis, which led to a reduction in aid. With Abbas, Hamas the conflict. Their situation is very difficult. Hamas does not want confrontation with Israel, and he realizes that every launch rockets at Israeli territory entails the answer, and we don’t bomb the empty space, the attacks are important for Hamas objects. Although the rocket launch small groups, not Hamas, we see it as responsible.
Hamas is trying to stop the activities of these groups. There is an opinion, according to which he is not involved in the attacks, but not prevent them.
I’m the last who wants to be a lawyer of Hamas. But once in that organization realized how high a price they pay for the attacks, then began to stop the rocket attacks and arrest those who they are trying to implement. Moreover, the methods Hamas Arab, not Jewish.
No high Court, and without the «b’tselem», as we say?
Absolutely. But we don’t give prizes for effort. We achieve a complete cessation of attacks and inflict painful blows to Hamas.
You talked about the fact that the IDF attacks no more empty space. What objects are being attacked?
Between the entrance to Gaza and inaction there are a wide range of possible steps and actions that we take.
Strikes on the headquarters? The warehouses?
I would not want to go into details. We know very well what the objects of attack, and Hamas knows what objects we attack and what damage is caused.
If so, then why are you talking about the possibility of a conflict?
Hamas is in a vise. The humanitarian situation in Gaza is very bad, electricity is available four hours a day. Abbas does not exempt wages, despite hints of reconciliation between organizations. In this situation, although the deterrent and remains, Hamas may resort to confrontation with Israel as the only way out.
A few months ago, the state Comptroller published a report regarding the operation «Indestructible rock». There, among other things, said the lack of strategy in Israel against the Gaza strip. Today we know what we want to achieve there?
First of all, during the operation «Indestructible rock» I was part of the military-political Cabinet. Today come in and I can say that the understanding of what is happening in the sector and a willingness to counter threats emanating from there, much better, than was before operation protective edge.
We understand what you want there?
I repeat: we are much better prepared to counter threats emanating from Gaza, in particular, with regard to the tunnels. In this area, we have made huge technological breakthrough. On the other hand, for anybody not a secret that I have since the days of the disengagement, against which clearly was talking about the fact that we evacuated from Gaza of Jews, but not freed from responsibility for the Arabs there. I talked about this with Sharon immediately after the disengagement, but Sharon, what happened, what happened, I told Olmert, talked to various Ministers of defence since 2009, said Netanyahu. The situation in which we left Gaza, but we continue to bear responsibility for the pollution of sewage water, for there is electricity or not, and so on, is absurd. It is illogical that we send in not less than five hundred trucks.
And we have come to the island, which you have repeatedly said.
Yes, to a floating island that must be supported through various technological means, known in the world. There will be desalination plants, facilities for production of electricity, and there may be a port that is involved in the provision of security measures can be the bridge allowing you to get aid from the Palestinian authority.
Superb. There is only one problem: this plan is not the plan of the state of Israel. This is your personal plan, which the government claimed.
When this project only took shape against him was all the defense structures. Since then, much has changed. Today the defense establishment supports the program. All professional structures in the defense community.
Here the necessary details. The IDF maintains?
Definitely. I don’t want to name names, but I assure you the senior officers of the IDF do not just support, strongly support this project. They know the situation better than others, as they are responsible for the humanitarian situation in the Gaza strip. The coordinator of government activities in the territories directly responsible for the humanitarian situation in the Gaza strip.
How does the Shin bet to your plan?
It supports a «Mossad». The Shin bet supports it subject to the security measures in the future port. By the way, for me it is also an essential condition, but the Shin bet is always the most careful structure. Opponents of this project cite two main arguments. According to one of claims, we are talking about gifts of Hamas. But it’s not serious, as a gift to Hamas, the current situation is that Israel has become a infusion, through which the life support Gas. According to the second argument, Hamas will take the situation on this island under his control. I reply that in that case, all the activities of the port and other agencies will be paralyzed.
You said that all professional structures support the project. Political forces are much smaller.
This project is supported by the whole Cabinet except for defense Minister.
The Prime Minister?
The Prime Minister did not accept the decision and not brought the issue to a vote. The only actively opposing this project is the Minister of defence. By the way, his predecessor also objected.
Whatever it was, to date, no strategic plan regarding the Gaza strip. We are left at where you were before.
There is no alternative to my proposal about the island. All about endless discussions. From time to time returns to the idea that care of the Gas will take over Egypt. They say, he will give them the desalination plant and everything else. What the Egyptians say in response? In pure Arabic that sounds like «no». They are not interested in what we are talking about the Arabs, brothers and so on. Not only Mubarak and al-Sisi were not ready to give anything to the Gas. Islamist Morsi was not ready.
The study discusses the strategy in relation to Gaza?
I only propose a solution for the average time. It will not bring us peace, it will not change Hamas. But it will free us from the responsibility for the situation in Gaza, on the one hand and give them controlled, but contact with the outside world, on the other hand.
During the discussions in the Cabinet put forward other ideas?
There is no strategic plan in addition to mine. Every time the island POPs up. So it was at the last meeting of the Cabinet. Now, when the Prime Minister instructed the national security Council to coordinate all the work on strategy on Gaza, the idea of the island will be checked. I am ready to support any strategic idea. But it is not. Today defense system is forced to constantly discuss the issue of increasing the number of permits to the Arabs of Gaza to work in Israel. The Shin bet against it, but in the defence believe that it is possible in this way will improve the humanitarian situation in Gaza. In other words, we continue to bear responsibility for it. I’m against it. Against the workers from Gaza in Israel, against the working groups from Gaza into Israel, against passage of patients from Gaza to Israel, as it is used quite cynically to the transportation of hazardous materials, possibly explosives. I am against the connection of Judea and Samaria with Gaza.
In other words, a collision is possible, but it is not programmed.
Absolutely not programmed. Hamas does not want a clash, but the combination of factors can lead to collision.
How do you see the prospects for the reconciliation of Hamas and Fatah?
It is a process, but its efficiency is very low.
It is possible reconciliation is a boon for Israel?
In the form in which it is happening now – not good for us, but for our account. There is no model that exists in Judea and Samaria, where we clearly do not like, but the PNA is aware of its benefits and behaves prudently, fights terror, coordinate steps with Israel. In Gaza, the situation is different, there armed forces are under the control of Hamas, which is not in a hurry to abandon them, and the tactics of a possible collision with Israel. Therefore, it may be a situation in which Fatah will become the cover under which Hamas will put us in even more severe from a military point of view the situation. On the other hand, Abu Mazen needs to find a solution to the humanitarian problems in the Gaza strip, which is certainly in Israel’s interest. Anyway, the process of reconciliation is stalled, everyone defends their interests. I’m not sure that it has a future.
Let’s talk about the North. To what extent Israel was willing to the victory of Assad in Syria?
I have two years ago, acted on this opportunity. All actions aimed at weakening Hizbullah, the threat of sanctions against Iran if it continues to support Hizbullah, and so on, I was taken for two years ago, when the defense system proceeded from the premise that the outcome of the war in Syria is far from obvious. The outcome of the war was largely a surprise, and we found ourselves in a situation when Iran rushes ahead trying to implement this victory. In response to this, Israel sets strict boundaries, blocking Iranian military presence in Syria.
Israel can set such boundaries?
Maybe because of our strength. Dialogue with Russia is also based on the awareness of our strength against the Arabs. No one will talk to you in the middle East, if you are weak. No one will negotiate only in good faith.
You want to say that Russia supports the tactical dialogue with Israel, regardless of power?
Of course. Russia wants stability in Syria. It accomplished its tasks, ensured the preservation of the regime, got the port, the airport recorded its position in relations with the Arab world and now wants stability. At the same time, Russia understands that if Israel feels threatened, or will be crossed we have set red lines, then we will act, and therefore stability will not be. And this promise we pass Russia. Stability in Syria is our common interest. We do not interfere in the question of who is in the voice of Syria : Assad or someone else, but will not allow Iran to settle in Syria.
This is the slogan. What do you mean «not allow Iran to settle»?
Will not allow to build the port, the airport, does not allow based there 80 thousand armed militants.
Which means not allow?
According to foreign sources, Israel has acted against Iranian facilities in Syria.
Is that enough? The Deputy ofer Shelah, with whom I talked, visited Russia with a delegation of the Knesset foreign Affairs and defense and came back very Horny. According to him, without the US Israel will not be able to ensure that its interests in Syria.
President Putin is not an enemy of Israel. And he is not an enemy of the Jewish people.
He defends Russia’s interests that do not coincide with the interests of Israel.
He defends Russia’s interests, as he understands them. This is important, but not enough. Putin has a set of interests associated with Turkey, with Iran, with the United States, by the way. Putin wants the situation in Syria remained at the point of unsteady equilibrium, to which it led. Putin does not want Syria become the new Afghanistan for Russia. And it can easily become.
But the thesis according to which Israel cannot succeed in achieving their interests in Syria without the active participation of the United States, seems to you correct?
We would of course really wanted US to be more active in the region.
There is a possibility to achieve this?
The United States conduct their policies independently, we are only their partners. They are not completely gone from Syria, but their presence is noticeably smaller than the Russian. They promised to block the border between Syria and Iraq. But this is not happening. Anyway, in the dialogue between Russia and the US, Syria, Russia dominantne due to a larger deployment of troops. Our relationship with the US is important, but also important is the support we receive, but ultimately, the determining factor is our strength and willingness to use it in case of transfer of the established us «red lines». Contacts with Russia avoid operational conflicts. From the information that I have and which I can not detail to publish, these contacts extremely, I stress extremely effective.
There is an opinion that sooner or later Israel will be one on one with Iran. Do you agree?
Israel all the time one-on-one with Iran. I’ll tell you more, the hatred of Iran for Israel involved not only the religious motives of Iran hates Sunnis is stronger than hate Israel. The main reason for their hatred is that Israel is the only force capable of stopping the Shia expansion in the middle East. We will not allow Iran to possess nuclear weapons. Of course, we prefer that everything was done with the help of the international community, diplomacy. But if no choice, we act. By the way, the Arab countries, fearing the moment when Iran would have at its disposal nuclear weapons, based on Israel directly and indirectly.
You agree with the statement that it is impossible to achieve cooperation with the Arab countries without progress in the negotiations with the Palestinians?
No. In conversations with representatives of these States, they do not raise the issue, in any case, it is not important for them. But imagine that tomorrow, Netanyahu and Abu Mazen will embrace and come to agreement on a wide range of issues. The Jews that can walk on Mecca and Riyadh? Of course not. The inhabitants of these countries for many years were influenced by the propaganda machine. This propaganda machine was working a hundred years in connection with the Palestinian and with the Palestinians. The Palestinian problem only exacerbates it. But look at what happened after the «Jerusalem Declaration» of trump. Abu Mazen burn all diplomatic bridges, but does not change anything in the security sphere. Arab governments were limited to speeches, without entering into confrontation with the United States. Threats to break off relations, as threatened Abu Mazen. Arab regimes do not see in Israel the enemy, but rather more of a partner in the fight against Iran. The Palestinian question is raised, but it is not important. If you ask me, will there be a full normalization of relations with the Arab world in the coming years, the answer is no. Therefore, an important partial normalization, which can be based on the economic contacts between businessmen and companies, that is, in real everyday life. In our region the very common practice of what is called «frenemies» – «sworn friends». The same forces can be enemies, and partners. Saudi Arabia may not let our chess delegation, but this does not prevent contact in the area of intelligence against Iran.
The tramp put on the table a program of peaceful settlement?
I do not know, do not like to speak on behalf of Americans, but if Abu Mazen will continue its policy, Americans are very quick to shrug their shoulders and go about their business. Abu Mazen «fired» trump. Sounds arrogant, especially that the PA receives $ 400 million a year in direct aid and billions for UNRWA and other such meaningless institutions that it’s time to close. The Palestinians should build a normal society, not to perpetuate the refugee status for others. But while the Palestinians refuse to meet with the Vice President of the United States. They will hardly be able to scare trump. «As you wish», he says.
What prompted trump to say «Jerusalem Declaration»?
First, he wanted to show that keeps his word. Second, the U.S. has a lot of movements and forces that support Israel. Trump wanted to prove that keeps his word.
Were you surprised?
I would be one of those who was not surprised. I mean, there were two people who was not surprised about the Prime Minister and I. Perhaps the others were surprised. But the question was, of course, the prerogative of the President of the trump.
He’ll move the Embassy to Jerusalem?
Judging by his words, it happens to be about a hundred.
Not at all. After the Declaration it will give everyone time to calm down a little, but he gave the order. Should not every month to check how many bricks laid into a wall, but overall I think that the process will be quick. By the way, today half the time the U.S. Ambassador Friedman lives in Jerusalem.
How is the approval of your project of «greater Jerusalem»?
It’s not just the project of «greater Jerusalem». This plan increases the Jewish population of Jerusalem by 150 thousand people, once a part of the capital will be Maale Adumim, Beitar Illit, gush Etzion, Efrat. I’m not talking about the distribution of sovereignty, my plan municipal solves the problem. Few people know that, according to the Oslo accords, the Arabs of Jerusalem should vote in the elections to the Palestinian Parliament in Ramallah. It frees us from the accusations of apartheid, and the like. On the other hand, they can vote in the elections to the Jerusalem municipality. I am totally against separating Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem. It is nonsense invented by the left, that is no good does not. Instead, I propose to expand the Jerusalem municipal solving the problem without the division of the city and no distribution of sovereignty.
And what happens with this project from the point of view of its implementation?
We far advanced. The Prime Minister stated that he supports this project. He asked to postpone the vote, as it might give the impression that we are talking about the plan of peaceful settlement, and we were ahead of the Americans.
You have a lot of plans and projects. As you say, their many support. Why are the solutions?
The project of «greater Jerusalem» I’m a lobbyist for ten years. He was born, when we celebrated the fortieth anniversary of the unification of the city.
Then why not make the decision? On this issue, on the issue of Gaza.
On the question of Jerusalem, the Prime Minister accepted my position. I very much hope that before the municipal elections we will see the fruits of it. If I increase the number of Jewish residents of the capital for 150 thousand people, while not evicting any Jew or Arab from the house, while touching on issues of sovereignty, then how can you be against it?
Is really bothering me, the gap between the scale of your plans and the fact that nothing is implemented, no plan, the government is still not approved.
I hope that soon this law will be adopted. I explained to the Prime Minister, and he agreed with me that in this law there is no aspect that is associated with the spread of sovereignty, and therefore no political aspect. Most of the Ministers in the government support the bill. I don’t think there is a reason to delay its approval. I would have thought it necessary to extend sovereignty into the «greater Jerusalem», but this is the prerogative of the Prime Minister.
Recently, a law was adopted governing the issuance of permits for work on Shabbat. You are familiar with this issue due to work on the railroad.
I sometimes fight with one, then with others. The cause of these wars is simple: I observe the law. There is a law and there everyday life. Everyone knows that the necessary work is done and on Shabbat. When it comes to security, everyone understands what is going on. But in civilian areas, electricity, water, infrastructure – work is sometimes performed on the Sabbath. And they run with the permission of the Ministry of labour, I do not give permission. A year and a half ago, I was set a challenge when I had to solve the political crisis that arose in connection with it.
Still there are those who say that you have put Netanyahu in a conflict situation, but he is not you.
It’s not true. I never used the Sabbath for political manipulation. I stood firm on the fact that the law must be respected and that the necessary work be done on Shabbat.
And a few days ago was approved the law that when issuing permits for work on Shabbat, the Minister of labour should take note of and respect for Jewish values.
It only gives strength to the existing order. Moreover, it is in a sense better than the situation that was before, when I tried to force by political pressure to ban work in circumvention of the law. The ultra-Orthodox tried to use the fact that I’m a senior politician seeking to become Prime Minister, and tried to take me hostage, seeking implementation of their demands.