Barak: ‘Bad’ Iran Deal Based on Hope

The United States should provide Israel with the most sophisticated weapons to deter Iran from breaching the Iran nuclear deal, Former Israeli Prime Minister, and Defense Minister, Ehud Barak said on Tuesday.

During an appearance at the Washington Institute’s 2015 Scholar-Statesman Award Dinner at the Mandarin Oriental in NYC Tuesday, Barak said he had “mixed feelings” on the Iran nuclear deal. “What is mixed feelings? It is when your mother-in-law drives your brand new BMW off a cliff,” he quipped as trying to explain the delicate situation. The line drew loud laughter from the audience. “It is a bad deal. But it’s a done deal,” he told Robert Satloff, the think tank’s Executive Director, who served as moderator. Adding, that while nobody expects Iran to breach the deal over the next 4-5 years – as they harvest the benefits of the accord – it is more realistic that they will try to cheat later on. “It’s like a second marriage – the triumph of hope over experience,” Barak said, drawing another round of laughter.

The former Defense Minister drew a parallel between the current deal with Iran and the nuclear deal negotiated with North Korea under President Bill Clinton. “It was the same, exactly the same,” he said. “And if some of you look at YouTube, you see President Clinton using the same words that were used by President Obama” in their respective addresses to the nation. “And we know what happened there.”

Asked if Israel made a mistake by not destroying Iran’s nuclear facilities when they had a chance, Barak responded: “I thought, and I still believe, that [military action] should always be the last resort, after realizing that there’s both operational capabilities and international legitimacy, and without doing it we won’t be able to do it later on.” But he refused to go into greater detail over reports that Israel was stopped or withheld a strike in the years 2010-2012. “It doesn’t matter because that is part of the past. We have to look at the future,” he remarked.

Going forward, Barak said Israel and the U.S. must sit down behind closed doors – to restore the level of trust – and discuss what can be done to make sure that if Iran breaks outs, “even years down the street,” and what amounts to a significant violation. He added that, in his view, in the moment of grace that was created immediately after the deal was signed, Israel could’ve explicitly turned to the administration and asked them to provide Israel “with the tools that will enable her to carry out independently an operation against the nuclear program” in the event both governments agree that the Iranians are attempting to develop nuclear weapon capabilities. “When you think of it, the Iranians are not stupid. They will not take such a step when America is able to respond,” he explained. ”And under this situation, it is extremely important that Israel has the tools to do it on their own. “

Concerning the fight against ISIS, Barak maintained that Israel has to stay out to help the U.S. build a coalition to defeat them. “ISIS is a threat to the whole world and the Arab countries in the region in a more relevant way than it is a threat to Israel,” Barak said. “As a military man, I was, in a way, more concerned about having a million and a half enemy soldiers on our borders… with thousands of tanks and more than 100,000 missiles… That seems to me a more containable threat,” he stated. “I can hardly see what they can do for us.”

Israel did not choose her neighbors just as people can’t choose their parents. But even if ISIS were to take over Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq, Israel has no other place to go and are there to stay, he added. “The good news is that Israel is the most powerful country and will remain so for the most foreseeable future. Israel is not ready to capitulate to terror under whatever circumstances.”

On the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Barak echoed Prime Minister Netanyahu that the Arab-spring-turned-Islamic-winter proved the world that the conflict is not the core problem in the Middle East. “Even if I had succeeded in signing a peace deal [in Camp David], or [PM Yitzhak] Rabin would’ve succeeded earlier, I had no illusion that the Muslim Brotherhood would probably take over from Mubarak; that the ayatollahs would try to turn into a nuclear power; and the Syrians would be pulled into a civil war,” he stressed.

But having said that, he argued that by not acting on the issue, Israel will turn into a binational state with an Arab majority. “We are not Russia and not China, and we don’t have the privilege to reign over another nation,” he said. “I think that the highest risk is not to take risks at all.”

Satloff also asked Barak if he intends to run for Prime Minister again, given he’s the same age Rabin was when he served a second term. “What’s the hurry,” Barak responded sarcastically. Adding, he recently told Labor activists who asked him to run, “Why me? Go to Shimon Peres and ask him. If he’s ready to retire, I will contemplate.”

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