Hours after President Trump on May 8 announced that he would withdraw the United States from the Iran deal, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak declared that Israel today faces “no existential military threat.”
During a wide-ranging discussion with The Atlantic Editor in Chief Jeffrey Goldberg, Barak detailed why he believes that internal political struggles pose the biggest danger to Israel’s future.
Barak, who served as Israeli prime minister from 1999 to 2001, visited Washington D.C.’s Sixth & I Synagogue on May 8 to promote the release of his new book, “My Country, My Life: Fighting for Israel, Searching for Peace.” The new memoir follows the senior Israeli statesman’s life and political career from his kibbutznik childhood through the Oslo Peace Accords, his service as prime minister, and his final political chapter in the cabinet of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Responding to the day’s news, Barak stated that he had “mixed feelings” on the Iran deal; the former prime minister was skeptical of the agreement during negotiations, but had publicly expressed concerns with backing out. Barak predicted that in the short term, Iran will be extra cautious and soften its rhetoric out of fear that the U.S. is looking for an opportunity to use military force against the regime.
Barak expressed his belief that Trump’s decision to withdraw from the deal was rooted more in politics than in strategy, a desire to show that the Commander in Chief is “anything but [former President Barack] Obama.” While Barak praised Trump’s decision to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem and praised both Trump and Obama as “pro-Israel,” he stated his view that the “extremely intelligent and thoughtful” Obama understands the Middle East better than the current White House occupant.
The former prime minister also addressed recent and escalating protests along Israel’s border with Gaza, which have turned violent. Barak defended Israel’s right to defend its border with force to prevent it from being breached. “The border is the border. Period.”
Barak did not directly answer a question by Goldberg about whether or not he regrets, during his tenure as defense minister, failing to launch a preemptive attack on the Iranian nuclear program. When pressed, Barak blamed his inability to do so on shortcomings in Israel’s political system, stating that he could not convince other cabinet ministers to support such a move.
Barak had sharp criticism for Netanyahu and the Israeli political right, decrying the use of “fear tactics” to divide and “brainwash” Israeli citizens. Barak stated that all “autocratic movements” begin by creating divisions among the population, and warned that movement toward a “messianic one state” poses the biggest threat toward Israel’s future.
Despite his harsh criticism for those prioritizing “unity of land” over “unity of people,” Barak expressed his belief that a two-state solution is still possible, stating that Israel has faced much greater challenges in his lifetime.
Still, he emphasized his strong belief that “no other task is more important than putting a wedge on the slippery slope” toward a single Israeli-Palestinian state.
By Ben Goodman