Outgoing Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak cautioned that a world promising to step up and act in defense of Israel and against Iran if need be isn’t passing the test well as another crisis nears its second year.
“Look at Syria. You don’t need classified intelligence, it’s on your screens,” Barak said of the evidence of the slaughter by President Bashar al-Assad. “Over 70,000 Syrians killed, yet still there is no sense of direction and no political will to act.”
The onetime IDF commander told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference in Washington tonight that an “extremely relevant lesson” is found in the Syrian conflict: People say that the “root cause of all problems” in the Middle East is the lack of an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, but “that’s not true.”
Even if an accord had been inked to create a Palestinian state side-by-side with Israel, he said, “the Muslim Brotherhood still would have come to power in Egypt, Syria would still be mired in a bloody civil war, Iran would still be pursuing nuclear capability.”
Barak opened his address thanking President Obama and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta — omitting any reference to Panetta as “former” — “for their resolute backing of Israel.”
He extended more carefully worded congratulations for new Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. “I wish Secretary Hagel all the best in his new role as Secretary of Defense. He will no doubt serve his country with the same honor he served both on the battlefield and in Congress.”
His words to Hagel received a smattering of tepid applause in the huge conference hall. Barak will become the first defense minister to meet with Hagel when the two sit down for talks on Tuesday.
“It is no secret, and I’ll repeat it again, that we live in a tough neighborhood where there is no mercy for the weak,” Barak said.
Calling the Iranian nuclear crisis the “greatest challenge in region today,” the defense minister admitted that “while exhausting all diplomatic means is understandable” he does not believe it will lead to the mullahs giving up.
“Therefore all options must remain on the table,” Barak said. “We have stated this time and again and we expect all those who say it to mean it … we mean it.”
Giving his opinions on the region as an outgoing cabinet member, he advocated a regional security framework built around the threat of Islamic terrorism and guided by the United States.
Barak said a “daring peace initiative vis-a-vis the Palestinians” is needed for a long-term two-state solution.
“It is a compelling imperative for us,” he said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, though, “has taken courageous steps” toward attempting to bring the Palestinians to the table, so Mahmoud Abbas and company “clearly bear most the responsibility,” Barak said.
Even if an interim agreement is unattainable, he added, unilateral demarcation action should be taken to avoid a “slippery slope” toward a binational state and preserve a “solid Jewish majority for generations to come.”
Barak said he’s sure Netanyahu “will lead with the same dedication” in the crises facing the region.
“We are at a decisive juncture in our history,” he said.
Vice President Joe Biden addresses AIPAC tomorrow morning, but the White House got off on the wrong foot by getting the name of the group wrong in this evening’s daily guidance: they called it the “American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee.”