How Long Will Israel Wait?
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak on when and whether Israel will attack Iran.
Can Israel launch a military strike against Iran, and can it succeed?
You can't expect me to answer directly. We [the United States and Israel] are using the same rhetoric when we say that we are all determined to prevent Iran from turning into a nuclear military power, and we both say that all options are on the table. We mean it and we recommend to them to mean it.
And you feel the U.S. means it?
At least on a technical level, there are a lot of preparations. But it's not a secret that America prefers that it will be solved through diplomacy. We all hope that [diplomacy] will be successful, but time is not unlimited in this regard. Iran is not just a challenge for Israel—it remains a major challenge for whoever is willing to look reality in the eyes. Iran is a radical Muslim theocracy that is trying to reach nuclear military power. It also tries to hegemonize the whole [Persian] Gulf. Talk to the leaders of the Gulf. They are terrified by the possibility that Iran will turn nuclear. A nuclear Iran will be the end of the nonproliferation regime: Saudi Arabia will turn nuclear immediately, Turkey within several years, and probably the new Egypt will start moving to do it. Not to mention the potential of weapons-grade material leaking into the hands of terrorist groups from Iran.
Then comes the issue of terror. The Iranians are sponsoring terror among the Baluchi tribe in Afghanistan, among the insurgents in Iraq—they are everywhere. They are trying to raise their profile in Cuba, in Nicaragua, and Venezuela, of course. They have a global aspiration, and the world won't be the same place once they turn nuclear. Whoever thinks that it's complicated to deal with Iran right now, as some think tank leaders are writing: Just close your eyes and think what it will mean to deal with these very same issues once Iran turns nuclear as a result of an absence of political will. It will be much more dangerous, much more costly in terms of human lives and financial resources. And it will become nuclear if the world will not be tough enough to stop it.
Do you think it is up to Israel to stop it?
We always hope it will be solved by the free will of the ayatollahs, by the effectiveness of the sanctions, by the creativity of diplomacy or by any other miracle. When we say that we are determined to prevent them, and we should all be determined, including the American leadership, the European leadership, the Russians, the Chinese, we mean what we say and that is all I can say. We have another neighbor. ...
Yes, Bashar al-Assad is living proof of the paralysis that sometimes takes over the world, even when there is no need for any further proof that something totally unacceptable that costs human life is happening.
You mean the world is just standing by?
Basically, [Assad] is slaughtering his own people and using every form of crime. Here you have real-time pictures of the actual crimes, the rows of buried children. Even when there is no need for any further proof, however tangible and visible the nature of the crimes, it doesn't mean the world can mobilize the will to do something about it. It's a fact of life that we should bear in mind when we look at the overall picture around us. We are living in a tough neighborhood—no mercy for the weak, no second opportunity for those who cannot defend themselves. We have to be able to defend ourselves. We are extremely thankful to this administration: It is doing more than the past to back the security of Israel.
What is the administration doing?
They are giving us support, despite economic pressure there, in keeping up the qualitative military edge of Israel. They helped us with our multilayered interception systems against missiles and rockets, starting with Iron Dome and continuing with Arrow. But we understand that we have to be able to protect ourselves against any foreseeable threat.
Going back to Syria, do you think the West should arm the opposition?
I think many steps should be taken. Russia has invested a lot of political capital and money in the [Assad] regime. They should have a certain role if we want to succeed. The whole structure of the Syrian state should not be blamed—it is a family and certain individuals [who are responsible]. I believe that if America and Russia talk[ed] together about who can use what leverage, that could be extremely effective. And of course Turkey, the most important neighbor of Syria. What can we do in order to remove this family from power without destroying Syria as a state? Not repeat the mistakes that were made in Iraq, where everything from the Baath Party to the military was dismantled. There's no need to do that [and increase] the chances that they will end up with a chaotic civil war, where the bad guys will be more prominent. It's time for the world to dictate to Mr. Assad to move out of power or else. But the "or else" can be convincing only if America and Russia will join hands.
But Russia is still sending weapons to Syria.
Yes, but they should be convinced in an honest, frank discussion. They could have a major role in helping to solve the Syrian issue.
You're not worried about the Muslim Brotherhood or others who could come to power?
I feel the longer the world is paralyzed and lets this massacre keep going by the Assad family, the more chaotic the situation will end up being.
Lally Weymouth is a senior associate editor of the Washington Post.