IDF: Terrorists stashed M-16 in child’s ‘Dora the Explorer’ bed
Security forces arrested three Palestinians suspected to have been behind 10 shootings last month, and found the assault rifle used in the attacks hidden inside a child’s Dora the Explorer bed, the army revealed on Thursday.
“This cynical exploitation of hiding things in a children’s room is known to us. It’s not the first time, and it won’t be the last time that weapons are hidden in a child’s room or other places where they think we won’t look,” a senior IDF intelligence officer said.
The attacks took place in the first few days of April. The targets were the northern West Bank settlements of Shavei Shomron, Hermesh and Shaked, near the Palestinian cities of Jenin and Nablus, as well as Israeli vehicles traveling on the roads and the IDF’s Salem checkpoint, the Shin Bet security service said.
The attacks did not result in any injuries, but did cause damage to property.
During interrogation, the suspects also admitted to planning more attacks, the Shin Bet said.
The frequent nighttime attacks “were a significant threat to civilians and security forces in the Samaria region,” the security service said in a statement, using the biblical name for the northern West Bank.
The three suspected terrorists were arrested in the village of Faham, southwest of Jenin, on April 4.
Two of the suspects were identified as Louie Ahmad Shafik Saabana, 34, and his cousin Mahmoud Shafik Saabana, 26. The third suspect could not be named publicly “out of operational considerations,” the Shin Bet said.
The elder Saabana is an attorney linked to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine terrorist group, the Shin Bet said.
However, the senior intelligence officer said the suspects did not carry out the attacks on behalf of any particular organization.
“It’s still being investigated, but it looks like it was for the dumbest reasons: boredom and things like that. It didn’t come from anything seriously nationalistic or seriously religious,” the officer said.
According to the Shin Bet, one of the suspects “expected to be killed during the activities and therefore prepared a will that he kept at home.”
The operation to locate and arrest them was carried out by the Shin Bet, IDF and the Israel Police’s West Bank Division.
A child’s bed where security forces uncovered a gun allegedly used to carry out shooting attacks on Israeli civilians and soldiers in the West Bank in April 2017.
The rifle was located inside a secret compartment of the child’s bed. The IDF released pictures of where the rifle was hidden, but would not specify in which of the suspects’ houses it was found.
“The M-16 was under a girl’s bed with — as you can see in the picture — a Dora comforter on it. That’s the last place that we as a military want to go into and search,” the senior intelligence officer said.
In addition to the M-16 assault rifle stashed in the Dora the Explorer bed, security forces elsewhere found two handguns, according to the Shin Bet.
The IDF intelligence officer said the overall cost of the weapons was over NIS 100,000 ($27,600)
“These were people with a lot of money,” he said.
Forces also seized a number of vehicles that were suspected of being used in the attacks, the Shin Bet said.
Indictments are to be filed in the coming days, the Shin Bet said. (the Times of Israel)
Palestinian Authority rejects ‘mad’ request to end prisoners’ payment
Nabil Shaath, a senior foreign policy adviser to PA President Mahmoud Abbas, said Thursday that anyone who expects the Palestinian leadership to halt payments to Palestinian prisoners serving sentences in Israeli security prisons must be “mad.”
During an interview with Israel Radio, he added that such a demand would severely damage any prospects of Middle East peace negotiations.
Shaath also stated that “the prisoners are victims of Israel and the result of the occupation,” and likened the demand to halt payments to the prisoners, some of whom are convicted murderers, to asking Israel to stop paying the salaries of its soldiers.”
The senior adviser, however, said that Trump’s invitation to Abbas was a good starting point between the Palestinian Authority and the new US administration, expressing his “appreciation” for the “respectful” approach of the president in an attempt to relaunch the peace process.
The request for the Palestinian Authority to cease from making payments to the families of prisoners has been raised by Israel repeatedly. Senior officials had stressed the importance of the issue to their counterparts in Washington ahead of the Wednesday meeting between the American and Palestinian presidents.
Shaath’s statement came the day after White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told reporters that the president wanted Abbas to “resolve” the PA’s policy of paying terrorists and their families a monthly income. Spicer added that Trump told his Palestinian counterpart, who arrived in Washington on Wednesday afternoon, that the PA must also cease incitement broadcasted on Palestinian television.
Hosting Abbas for his first official visit to the White House under the new administration, Trump announced during a joint press conference that the US is launching a new diplomatic effort to reach a comprehensive peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians, confidently stating that “we will get a deal done” between the the two-sides.
Trump Abbas peace process meeting. (Reuters)
“We’ll start a process which hopefully will lead to peace,” Trump said in the Roosevelt Room. “Over the course of my lifetime, I’ve always heard that perhaps the toughest deal to make is the deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Let’s see if we can prove them wrong.”
Peace requires Palestinian leadership to speak with a united voice against incitement, the president added: “There’s such hatred,” he said. But Trump did not ask for specific commitments from Abbas in public.
“We want to create peace between Israel and the Palestinians,” Trump told Abbas.
“We will get it done. We will be working so hard to get it done. It’s been a long time, but we will be working diligently – and I think there’s a very, very good chance. And I think you feel the same way.”
Abbas said he looked forward to working with Trump in order to “come to that deal, to that historical agreement to bring about peace,” but then laid out familiar terms that have become increasingly unpalatable for Israelis: a sovereign Palestinian state with its capital in east Jerusalem and borders based on lines from before the 1967 Six Day War.
“It’s about time for Israel to end its occupation of our people and our land,” the PA president said. “We are coming into a new opportunity, a new horizon that would enable us to bring about peace.” (Jerusalem Post)
Israeli forces thwart stabbing attack at Tomb of Patriarchs
A Palestinian knifeman attempted to carry out a stabbing attack on Thursday near the holy site of the Tomb of Patriarchs in the West Bank city of Hebron.
Police said that the 25-year-old assailant approached Border Police forces, and as he drew near he started running towards them screaming with a knife in hand, threatening to to stab them.
Border police shot the assailant at the scene, neutralizing the threat. He was later taken to Hadassa University Medical Center for treatment.
Police released a photograph of the knife the assailant used. Others photos from the scene showed the assailant after the attack, as he lay on the pavement.
No Israelis were injured in the incident.
There have been scores of attacks against security forces in Hebron over the last three years, particularly in the area of the Tomb of Patriarchs.
Separately, in Hirbat Rikah south of Hebron, the IDF uncovered a weapons manufacturing warehouse, that had a weapons manufacturing machine.
According to the Foreign Ministry, since September 13, 2015, 49 people have been killed and 724 injured, including four Palestinians.
These attacks, known as the wave of violence, are carried out by Palestinians against civilians and Israeli security forces.
They include 177 stabbing attacks and 114 attempted stabbings, 144 shootings, 58 car ramming and one bus bombing, according to Foreign Ministry data. (Jerusalem Post)
Netanyahu: Abbas lied to Trump
Prime Minister Netanyahu attacked PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas ) following his meeting with US President Donald Trump in Washington.
“I heard President Abbas yesterday say that the Palestinians teach their children peace. Unfortunately, that’s not true. They name their schools after mass murderers of Israelis and they pay terrorists,” he said at the opening of a meeting with the Romanian prime minister in Jerusalem.
“But I hope that it’s possible to achieve a change and to pursue a genuine peace. This is something Israel is always ready for. I’m always ready for genuine peace,” he added.
Netanyahu said that he “[looks] forward to discussing with President Trump the best ways to advance peace. This is something we fervently share with the president.”
Following Trump’s meeting with Abbas on Wednesday, White House Spokesman Sean Spicer said that Trump had raised the issues of the Palestinian Authority’s incitement and payments to terrorists in Israeli prisons with Abbas during their meeting.
Trump had stated during his joint briefing before the meeting that “There can be no lasting peace unless the Palestinian leaders speak in a unified voice against incitement to violence and hate.” (Arutz Sheva)
PM suggests police will indict him only to avoid admitting failure
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suggested Saturday that police would recommend indicting him on corruption charges only because they lack the courage to admit the investigation has produced no tangible results.
In a statement, an official in the Prime Minister’s Office said: “After months of police leaks saying they’ll recommend an indictment, does anyone imagine they’ll have the courage to get off their high horse and admit that there’s nothing?”
The official was responding to comments earlier in the day by Zionist Union MK Mickey Rosenthal, who said he had inside knowledge that “police have decided to definitely recommend indicting the prime minister.”
Rosenthal, speaking at a cultural event in Modi’in, noted that Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit would still need to decide whether to accept the police recommendation.
He said investigators were currently busy complementing their initial findings with additional work, but that police “have decided to definitely recommend an indictment on reception of forbidden benefits and breach of trust.”
Police are probing expensive gifts allegedly given to Netanyahu and his family by wealthy businessmen including US-Israeli movie mogul Arnon Milchan and Australian billionaire James Packer, and whether any actions subsequently taken on their behalf amount to graft or conflicts of interest. The gifts were reportedly valued at hundreds of thousands of dollars and included expensive cigars, champagne, meals and hotel rooms.
Rosenthal also took a shot at Likud lawmakers, saying “the last ten people in (Likud’s Knesset faction) share an IQ.”
MKs at the bottom of Likud’s roster include controversial figures such as Oren Hazan, Coalition chairman David Bitan and Miki Zohar.
Bitan responded by saying Rosenthal’s comments “smell of racism and an anti-Mizrahi attitude because it’s well known that Likud’s lower roster is mostly Mizrahi” Jews.
On Thursday a senior prosecutor also indicated that Netanyahu could be heading toward an indictment. Speaking at a legal conference, Liat Ben-Ari appeared to dismiss Netanyahu’s main defense in the graft probe dubbed “Case 1000,” in which police are investigating the expensive gifts allegedly given to Netanyahu and his family. The Netanyahus have long said these were just normal gifts friends give each other.
But Ben-Ari, of the Tel Aviv District Prosecutor’s finance and tax department, who was recently appointed to head the legal team overseeing the probe, said this was difficult to accept.
“Friendship is a claim that comes up a lot in cases and it is a real defense, but it can’t explain every gift,” Ben-Ari said.
“When you are talking about hundreds of thousands of shekels that are given to a public servant, it’s difficult to accept that it is solely a gift of friendship. No one demands hundreds of thousands of shekels from friends,” she said.
A second investigation, dubbed “Case 2000,” concerns the prime minister’s recorded discussions with the publisher of the Yedioth Ahronoth daily Arnon Mozes about a quid pro quo deal to restrict the activities of a rival newspaper through legislation. No such deal was ever implemented.
Netanyahu has repeatedly denied that the gifts and discussions under investigation were illegal. (the Times of Israel)
Israeli Official: Iran Is Arming Itself With Deadlier, More Accurate Weapons to Target Us With and IDF Must Plan Accordingly
Iran’s ongoing efforts to arm itself with deadlier and more accurate weapons pose a danger that Israel must plan to deal with in future conflicts with the Islamic Republic and its regional offshoots, a top Knesset member said on Thursday, the Hebrew news site nrg reported.
Speaking at the International Conference for Air Power in Tel Aviv — hosted by Israel Defense and the Fisher Institute for Air and Space Strategic Studies — Likud MK and former Shin Bet chief Avi Dichter stated, “The IDF has to build itself up in the face of the extreme threat stemming from the capabilities and tools built in Iran and the intentions of the [Iranian] leadership to use them against Israel.”
“Long-range missiles, with the ability to carry large warheads, require the building of a fitting response,” he went on to say. “The F-35 ‘Adir’ planes are just part of the response. Israel needs additional means of attack — more precise, lethal and immune from disruption — alongside active defense systems in the form of the Arrow, David’s Sling and Iron Dome.”
Dichter also noted that Israel must ensure it possesses enough munitions to be able to effectively counter the “arsenal of rockets and missiles that could be launched from Iran, or from other states by military proxy groups that Iran has established and equipped with improved capabilities.”
“Five terrorist armies have been built by Iran, and three of them have already been acting against us for many years — Hezbollah, from Lebanon and Syria, and Hamas and Islamic Jihad, from Gaza and Judea and Samaria,” Dichter said, adding that the other two Tehran-allied entities were the Houthis in Yemen and the Shiite militias in Iraq and Syria. (The Algemeiner)
Sweden’s Foreign Minister lauds UNESCO resolution
Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström Saturday supported her country’s vote in favor of a UN cultural agency resolution declaring Israel an occupying power in Jerusalem. She held that the resolution was balanced and emphasized the importance of Jerusalem to the three monotheistic religions.
Wallström said her government had acted properly in the vote, explaining that there was supposed to be a consensus among European countries in the vote but it had been broken. Following the vote, the Swedish ambassador was summoned to a reprimand in the Foreign Ministry.
But the Swedish move drew criticism not only from Israel but also from many in Sweden. The leader of the opposition Liberal Party, Jan Björklund, slammed the government and said: “Sweden reached an agreement with the dictatorships of the Arab world, according to which it will come out with result in hostile statements against Israel. This is a disgusting move.”
Israel’s ambassador to Sweden, Isaac Bachman, published an article on the independent Swedish website Nyheter24, in which he attacked the Swedish government under the title “Sweden has lost its moral compass.”
The Swedish foreign minister is a vocal critic of Israel and has made several controversial statements in the past. Her government regularly supports Palestinian causes.
Wallström has previously accused Israel of conducting “extrajudicial executions” of Palestinians in the midst of attacking Israelis and seemed to imply that there was a connection between Islamist terrorism in Europe and the “desperate situation” of the Palestinians.
She has been snubbed by the Israeli government on two separate trips to the region when no member of it would agree to meet with her. (Ynet News)
Trump’s approach to an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal: Get to yes, and figure out the details later
by Brian Bennett and Tracy Wilkinson The Los Angeles Times
Vowing to achieve where successive U.S. governments have failed, President Trump hosted Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the White House on Wednesday and expressed broad if unsubstantiated confidence that he might be able to broker “the toughest deal” — peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
“I’ve always heard that perhaps the toughest deal to make is the deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians; let’s prove them wrong,” Trump said, Abbas at his side. “I will do whatever is necessary to facilitate the agreement — to mediate, to arbitrate, anything …”
Later, as the two leaders sat down to a working lunch in the White House Cabinet Room, Trump added that a resolution to what is generally considered one of the most intractable conflicts in the world was “something that I think is, frankly, maybe not as difficult as people have thought over the years.”
Abbas responded with optimism and praise for Trump’s dealmaking ability, even though his list of Palestinian requirements for peace was unchanged from the one that has been aired during decades of earlier failed negotiations. Those include a viable, independent Palestinian state next to Israel, with its capital in East Jerusalem — the so-called two-state solution, which Trump has not endorsed.
“Mr. President, you have the determination and the desire to bring [a deal] to fruition,” Abbas said, speaking classical Arabic through an interpreter. “We hope, God willing, we are coming to a new opportunity, a new horizon to bring it about.”
Despite the opening flourishes of praise and goodwill, the meeting between Trump and Abbas was expected to become more uncomfortable behind closed doors, as the administration laid out a series of demands.
Trump has been described by aides as being singularly fixated on delivering a Middle East peace deal, entrusting the portfolio to his son-in-law Jared Kushner despite Kushner’s financial connections to the building of settlements on land claimed by Palestinians.
The White House went out of its way to build up Abbas during the visit, giving in to requests for a lunch with Trump beyond their meeting, as well as that the Palestinian flag be placed behind Trump while the two leaders made statements about the visit, a person close to the White House said.
The White House felt that giving Abbas those symbolic concessions would help set the conditions for a better relationship and create an opening to demand that Abbas shut down terror incitement, stop payments by the Palestinian Authority to the families of those killed or imprisoned in terrorist attacks against Israelis, refrain from lobbying the United Nations for additional resolutions against Israel, and get on board toward a peace deal.
But when it comes to what an eventual solution should look like, Trump has told close advisors that he’s not picky about the details, or even the broad outlines.
Trump has expressed a willingness to jettison the long-standing U.S. stance that any resolution should be based on a two-state solution, hoping that would spur the two sides to look for more creative solutions. But other members of his administration, including Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, have said the United States remains committed to a two-state solution.
He has also threatened to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, which would effectively recognize the disputed city as Israel’s capital and infuriate the Palestinians. Although Trump seems to have backed off publicly planning such a relocation, his vice president, Mike Pence, reiterated this week that it was still under consideration — although that’s the position that most U.S. administrations have taken for years, without ever carrying through.
“President Trump stands without apology for Israel, and he always will,” Pence told a group of Israeli diplomats and others gathered Tuesday on the White House grounds to mark Israeli Independence Day. Trump previously hosted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House.
Fundamental issues as well as small details have sunk previous attempts to solve one of the most challenging foreign policy riddles any U.S. president faces, and many experts remain skeptical about whether Trump has the knowledge or patience to make good on the bold vows he made Wednesday.
“Never in decades of involvement [in the Middle East peace process] have I heard a U.S. president more confident with less prospect,” Aaron David Miller, a longtime Mideast negotiator for Democratic and Republican administrations, said via Twitter.
J Street, a liberal, pro-Israel lobbying organization in Washington that is often critical of Trump policy, said in a statement that it welcomed the president’s “determination” but added that he would have to unequivocally commit to a two-state solution “without further delay if he is serious about pursuing peace.”
Daniel Shapiro, the last Obama administration ambassador to Israel, said he was glad to see the White House effort but hoped Trump’s aides learned from past mistakes and failures.
“Not sure if [Netanyahu] or Abbas is more nervous,” Shapiro said on Twitter. “Both could find themselves in the uncomfortable position of being asked 2 do hard things, saying no 2 [Trump] & shifting blame.”
Asked what was different this time around, given the repeated failures of past administrations to reach a Middle East accord, White House spokesman Sean Spicer said it was Trump: “I think the man is different.”
“This president’s style is one to develop a personal bond with individuals,” Spicer added in a briefing with reporters. “And I think you saw that today with President Abbas, him talking so kindly about the president.”
Personal contact and “backroom diplomacy” will pay dividends for the country, he said.
Trump also hopes to enlist some Sunni Muslim Arab allies in crafting a deal. Several, especially among the Persian Gulf states, have quietly signaled a willingness to cooperate with the administration — and, by extension, with Israel — in exchange for tougher actions against their common enemy, Shiite Muslim Iran.
Why didn’t Israel strike Iran? Ehud Barak explains
In a special interview, the former defense minister and prime minister reveals what happened to his and Prime Minister Netanyahu’s plan for a military operation against Iran’s nuclear program and responds to criticism over the billions invested in preparation for the attack. ‘We must remember,’ he says, ‘that the Iranian project has not disappeared—it has only been postponed.’
by Nahum Barnea Ynet News
Only three living Israelis have led the country from the prime minister’s chair. Only three have faced this crucible, with the responsibility, the power, the experience and the understanding of the world that the position provides.
Benjamin Netanyahu doesn’t respond to questions; this term, he speaks to the nation one-sidedly through Facebook posts. Ehud Olmert is unable to respond to questions for known reasons. The only one who can is Ehud Barak.
I met Barak last week for a conversation that lasted several hours.
Do you believe that the conflict between America and North Korea could develop into a war?
“Once, during a meeting with a senior Chinese government official, I asked him what he thought about North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. ‘What do you want from us?’ the Chinese man replied. ‘He was educated with you, in the West (which is true—Kim attended a boarding school in Switzerland for children from rich families).’
“What’s unique about this conflict is that it has more than one unpredictable player. Kim Jong-un is faced by an American president whose next move is very difficult to predict. There is a certain advantage in uncertainty, but there are risks as well.
“A few positive things have happened in the first 100 days of the Trump administration. He quickly broke off ties with Gen. Michael Flynn and replaced him, as national security advisor, with Gen. McMaster, who is indisputably a good man.
“Trump reduced the influence of the radical Steve Bannon and normalized the National Security Council system. This proves an ability to learn. At the same time, he is rewriting the rules under which the US president operates.
“Take his decision to strike Syria, for example. The significance of the operation is nowhere close to Netanyahu’s exaggerated praise. Trump chose the narrowest hit in the book. Nevertheless, he managed to surprise.
“The United States is still the strongest country in the world. The American defense budget is larger than the sum of the defense budgets of China, Russia, Germany, Japan, France and other countries. When the US president says, ‘Enough, we’re done being latched onto,’ it means something.”
Trump has clashed in this short period of time with Russia, China, North Korea and Iran.
“Russia is a different story. In spite of all the contradictions, at the end of the day (Russian President) Putin leads a European state, a Christian state. Trump is figuring him out.
“The places where there is a risk of a mishap are Iran, North Korea, and—in a different manner—China. There are considerations of prestige, and it’s difficult to understand the rival before it’s too late. The crisis could erupt over an American ship sailing near one of the islands in the South China Sea or over an aircraft sortie.
The Chinese are saying, ‘It’s time for the Americans to understand that we are equal. Just like the Americans won’t let our planes approach the coast of San Francisco, we won’t have their planes approach our coasts. Our skies are like their skies.’
“In the end, Trump gathered around himself a group of serious people. Nevertheless, they aren’t immune to mistakes. Groupthink, being dragged by the leader, reading risks incorrectly—all that could happen, and such things have happened.”
I’d like to go back to your years as defense minister in the Netanyahu government You and Netanyahu pushed for an Israeli military operation against Iran . What did you really want? Three possibilities come to mind: First, you wanted a war; second, you thought that the Israeli threat would make the Americans increase sanctions; three, you thought that a limited Israeli military operation would force the Americans to undertake an extensive war with Iran.
“The intention was both to make the Americans increase sanctions and to carry out the operation. I was more of a hawk than Netanyahu.
“We assumed that the Americans knew everything—both about the operation and about the opposition to the operation on the part of Chief of Staff Ashkenazi, Mossad chief Dagan, Military Intelligence Director Yadlin and Shin Bet chief Diskin. We knew that there were people here who were speaking to them on a daily basis.
“I spoke with President (George W.) Bush and, at a later stage, with President Obama. I made it clear to them that when it came to Israel’s responsibility for its security, we would be the ones to make the decisions, not them. The two presidents didn’t like our plans, but they respected our right to decide.
“At some point, the secretary of defense asked me how much warning we would give the Americans. I said to him, ‘We have to surprise. We won’t be able to give you more than a few hours. Our announcement will be worded in a way that won’t put a single American soldier at risk.’
“Despite their objection to the move, they made it clear that even if we did attack, they would keep all their commitments to Israel.”
Opponents claimed that you invested NIS 11 billion in preparations that went down the drain.
“The investment was completely justified. We built a web of abilities. You need to also remember that the Iranian project has not disappeared. It was only postponed by 10 years.”
‘Bibi doesn’t like making decisions; I do’
Meir Dagan , the then-Mossad chief, argued that a military operation would be ineffective. In fact, it would make it easier for Iran to advance its nuclear program. He described your discussions as a party of whiskey and cigars.
“Dagan described us as a trigger-happy group. That wasn’t true. The operation was intended as a last resort. Iran didn’t choose a nuclear program like Libya’s or South Africa’s, which was basically meant for deterrence purposes. It chose North Korea’s way. If Iran obtains a nuclear weapon, it will fundamentally change the situation in the region and could turn into an existential problem for Israel.
“Opponents said it would take the Iranians only few years to restore the project. That’s inaccurate. Before we bombed the nuclear reactor in Baghdad, we were unable to accurately estimate how long it would take the Iraqis to rebuild it. The other side is usually afraid to go back and build what has been destroyed. Other things happen.”
That likely also applies to the reactor which Israel attacked in Syria (according to foreign sources).
“In Israel, an operation is approved only if the three corners of the triangle exist—an operational ability, international legitimacy and a need to operate now because it will be impossible to operate later.
“The nuclear project is not like a car that can be attacked so long as it’s exposed on the road. It’s more like a train that is slowly entering a tunnel: Each car that enters the tunnel reduces the operation’s effectiveness. That’s the meaning of the immunity zone,” a term coined by Barak that refers to the critical point in time after which Iran’s nuclear program will no longer be vulnerable to a military strike.
“The chief of staff’s objection to the operation doesn’t necessarily prevent it—the decision is in the political ranks’ hands. But when the operation was raised for discussion in 2010, Ashkenazi said: ‘We have no operational ability.’
“When a chief of staff says there’s no operational ability, that’s it, the approval doesn’t pass the threshold. Unfortunately, those who opposed the plan were backed by the President’s Residence, by Shimon Peres. I failed to convince both him and the other opponents, although I put many hours into it.
“Obama asked me about the opposition to the operation in Israel. I said to him, ‘Don’t you have these kinds of things in America? When they, the opponents, look up, they see us. When we look up, there’s nobody there. The responsibility is on us.’
“In 2011, the IDF chief of staff was Gantz. He said, ‘I believe the operation is wrong, but there’s an operational ability.’ We convened the forum of eight ministers. We estimated that if it passed the eight-minister forum, it would pass the cabinet.
We divided the work between us: Bibi said he would handle Ya’alon and Steinitz. ‘It’ll be okay,’ he told Lieberman and me. And then Steinitz and Ya’alon spoke against it.”
Do you think Bibi changed his mind?
“I’m not sure he made such a big effort to convince them. From year to year, my doubts concerning his determination to act increased. I suggested that he advance the Palestinian issue, if not to reach an agreement, then at least in a bid to secure broad international support for an attack on Iran.
“I said to him, ‘It’s like in chess: You sacrifice a pawn to get the queen.’ He may have been scared by the need to do something on the Palestinian issue.”
Or he may have been deterred by the magnitude of the decision. He was afraid to take responsibility for a decision that all the security establishment heads were against.
“It’s possible. Bibi doesn’t like making decisions. I do.
“In 2012, Netanyahu toyed with all kinds of ideas. I was against them. I reiterated my stance: We would not put a single American soldier at risk.”
One of Barak’s less successful political adventures was splitting the Labor Party in 2011 and creating a faction called Independence, which didn’t last very long but helped Netanyahu remain in office.
“Only because of Iran. I saw how difficult it had been to pass the decision when I was inside, and I knew it would be even harder if I were outside. When I didn’t manage to convince my friends in Labor Labor Party, I split (the party). There are things that are more important than a party.”
What did you think about Netanyahu’s address to the two houses of Congress against the agreement?
“A day after the Americans signed the agreement with Iran, Netanyahu summoned me for a consultation. I was outside of politics.
‘The deal is bad,’ I told him. ‘We don’t need to hide our opinion, but moving the battle to Congress is inadvisable. The chance of succeeding is slim. Speaking at AIPAC and speaking at the Congress committees, as is customary, will suffice.’
“But the actual appearance there was important to him. He couldn’t resist the temptation. If he quarrels in public with the president, he’s as big as the president. Apart from that, he wanted to serve the right wing of the Republican Party. It ended in a lot of damage.”
“Because he missed the opportunity we had had immediately after the agreement had been signed. At that time, we could have received $45 billion in aid for 10 years, not 38. We could have expanded intelligence collaboration and reached agreements on the conditions for increasing sanctions. We could have got measures that would have allowed us to take military action against the nuclear program under the new conditions. We could have reached a completely different kind of trust.”
Why do you think Obama accepted such an agreement?
“Because Obama isn’t naïve. He realized that Iran would live up to the agreement at first, when it would be worth it to them, but would return to the nuclear project later on. The solution was to provide Israel with the means that would allow it to act. That was thwarted by Netanyahu in his address to Congress.”
In one of his meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Barak spoke highly of the immigration to Israel from the former Soviet Union and its great contribution to Israel’s education, economy, science and art. “Why don’t you give us a million more immigrants?” Barak suggested at the time.
“I’m not sure we have a million more Jews in Russia,” Putin said.
“I’m sure there are a million Russians who are willing to come to Israel,” Barak replied. “If needed, we’ll get them Jewish babushkas, and they’ll become Jewish.”
On the eve of Memorial Day and Independence Day, Barak insisted on seeing the half-full glass. The historian, diplomat and politician Dr. Shlomo Ben-Ami once said that the Zionist project was the most successful national project of the 20th century, and Barak completely agrees.
“We started from nothing,” Barak said. “Despite seven wars, two intifadas and countless military operations, our population has multiplied by 12, the gross national product has multiplied by almost 70, the shekel is one of the strongest currencies in the world, and the number of NASDAQ-listed Israeli companies is higher than any other country outside of North America. The Middle East is a difficult setting. We’re really a villa in the jungle, and nonetheless, we are the strongest country in the Middle East.”
If things are so good, why do you say that things are so bad?
“Because we have a government that is leading Israel to a slippery slope. The threat is to the Zionist project itself.”
Aren’t you sowing panic like Netanyahu?
“Absolutely not. The current government’s agenda is inevitably leading to one state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. If democracy is preserved, there will be a state here with an Arab majority and a civil war. If democracy falls, it will be an apartheid state at a risk of collapsing. This is the existential threat.”
What happened to the Iranian nuclear program?
“The threat has been postponed by 10 years, and there are many other options for dealing with it.”
Barak spoke about Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook, the father of settler messianism, who he said was peeking from behind Netanyahu’s shoulder. “The one-state logic is inevitably leading the Right to weaken the legal system, civil society and the free media. The Right has to undermine the IDF’s world of values.
“Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely said that left-wing organizations are anti-Israel traitors. They are neither traitors nor anti-Israel.: They’re anti Israel’s governments—all of Israel’s governments.
“It wasn’t Begin who said, ‘Without the High Court, without B’Tselem’—it was Rabin. We didn’t like them, but we knew they weren’t breaking the law, and we respected that. Netanyahu is the one who is reinforcing them now.
“The person who tried to terrorize the military judges in the Elor Azaria affair is now the defense minister. He may be speaking differently, but he’s just playing with words. This isn’t a levelheaded government; it’s a troubled government.”
Do you have anything to say to the young Israelis, mostly left-wing voters, who are leaving for Berlin? Can you understand them? Can you imagine yourself at their age, thinking and talking like them?
“I don’t like this phenomenon, but I can understand where it’s coming from. These young people were raised on liberal values, focusing on the individual. You land in Berlin, New York or London and easily find your place.
Right-wing, traditional societies put a greater emphasis on the values of the community—being loyal to the group, accepting the authority of its leaders, and knowing that there are things which are sacred. I’m not belittling these values—they give significance to life, a distinction between them and others. They are a very important political and social tool.
“Over the past 30 years, the balance between these two groups of values has been violated. The Left has adopted the values of the individual and abandoned the values of the community. It has given up David Ben-Gurion’s ambition to create an exemplary society.”
Barak believes that the other Left, which made security its priority, can be revived. ““The government talks about security but harms security when it settles throughout the entire territory. It is trying to undermine the Palestinian Authority. Who does it think will replace the PA? Beitar? Bnei Akiva? No, it will be replaced by Hamas. The Right finds Hamas more convenient. Hamas will come and will bring down rockets on Kfar Saba.”
No interest in returning to politics—for now
Barak turned 75 in February. I asked him if he would return to politics.
“I’m receiving many appeals,” he said. “At this stage, I have no interest. I think that part of people’s willingness to listen to me has to do with the fact that I don’t want anything. If I were perceived as someone who wishes to achieve something, it would have come back to haunt me.”
You do realize that your response opens a small window.
“I can’t ignore the fact that circumstances may be created. This isn’t something I’m hoping for. But I’m not the story. Netanyahu is the story.”
Capturing The Country I Love: A Photographer’s 5-Day Road Trip Across Israel (Ha’aretz)