In an interview this weekend with the Washington Post, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon weighed in on a number of issues, including Israel-US relations, Operation Protective Edge, ISIS and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Ya’alon was quick to insist that despite heightened tensions, Israel-US relations are stable. “With all the disputes, the United States is Israel’s strategic ally,” he said. Earlier this year, Ya’alon caused a stir by accusing US Secretary of State John Kerry of a “misplaced obsession” with the peace process.
When asked about the implications of disrupted missile shipments from the US to Israel in the midst of Operation Protective Edge, Ya’alon dismissed the incident as a bureaucratic issue. “I can tell you that between the Pentagon and the Israel Defense Forces there is an unbreakable bond,” he added.
The defense minister also pointed out a common misconception regarding the current unrest in the region and its impact on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “Unfortunately, we find the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is dominated by too many misconceptions. We don’t find any linkage between the uprising in Tunisia, the revolution in Egypt, the sectarian conflict in Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Mainly, these come from the Sunni-Shia conflict, without any connection to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” he explained.
Ya’alon went on to define the root of the conflict in Israel: “The core of the conflict is [the Palestinian] reluctance to recognize our right to exist as a nation state of the Jewish people — whether it is [Palestinian Authority President] Abu Mazen or his predecessor [Yasser] Arafat. There are many who believe that just having some territorial concessions will conclude it. But I don’t think this is right..
“[Territorial concessions] would be another stage of the Palestinian conflict, as we experienced in the Gaza Strip. We disengaged from the Gaza Strip to address their territorial grievances. They went on attacking us. The conflict is about the existence of the Jewish state and not about the creation of the Palestinian one. Any territory that was delivered to them after Oslo became a safe haven for terrorists.”
Ya’alon told the Post that Israel made the right call not to reoccupy Gaza. “From the very beginning, we understood it might be a tremendous mistake to send our troops to take over and occupy the Gaza Strip,” he said. “That’s why we decided to avoid it and to direct our military operation toward the endgame, which was the Egyptian initiative [a cease-fire with no preconditions].”
Yet, the operation took 51 days because “Hamas is not marginal. It is a well-equipped militia and has 10,000 rockets, and the know-how and indigenous capabilities to produce rockets [which they got] from Iran. This is not just a terror organization.”
When asked about the threat from ISIS, Ya’alon spoke of the global implications. “ISIS is a new phenomenon, originating from al-Qaeda. This is not a threat for us. This is a threat to the free world as they actually claim to [want to] defeat all those who are not ready to follow their religious, Islamic way — whether they are Muslims, Christians, Kurds, Alawites, Shias or Jews. The idea to confront them by creating a coalition is an awakening…Hopefully the coalition led by the United States will contain them.”
He went on to encourage the coalition to support moderate forces on the ground, as only together could ISIS be defeated.
When it comes to Iran, Ya’alon expressed his support for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s position that no deal is better than a bad deal. “We are concerned about the potential deal. Because the framework of this deal is about how many centrifuges should this regime have. Why should they have the indigenous capability to enrich uranium? If they need it for civilian purposes, they can get enriched uranium from the United States or from Russia. Why do they insist on having the indigenous capability? Because they still have the aspiration to have a nuclear bomb… In a deal they are going to get rid of any pressure. In the end, we should be able to defend ourselves by ourselves.”