On Sunday, I interviewed the former Prime Minister and current Defense Minister of Israel, Ehud Barak. We spoke about Israel's "window of opportunity" to strike Iran and the future of the Palestinian Authority.
Here's a transcript of our discussion:
Fareed Zakaria: You have long argued that we need more pressure on Iran. President Obama announced recently that he believes that the supplies of oil in the world are sufficient to pursue an even more stringent set of sanctions against Iran. These will be the tightest, harshest sanctions that have ever been put in place, I think, against any country.
Do you think that this will be enough to put the kind of pressure on Iran that you have wanted?
Ehud Barak: No one can predict, Fareed. It is clear that the depths of the sanctions is different for what we had in the past, and it has its impact both the closing of the swift clearing system as well as the sanctions on the oil export and, of course, the coming negotiations that will probably encourage them to move.
But to tell the truth, we hope for the better, but I don't believe that this amount of sanctions and pressure will bring the Iranian leadership to the conclusion that they have to stop their nuclear military program.
Fareed Zakaria: If the Iranians were to make some proposal or agree to some proposal, would you be satisfied, would the Israeli government be satisfied if they were to accept some version of a very intrusive international inspections regime, or to accept that the enriched uranium be made in Russia? Are these kinds of compromises ones you could accept as a solution to this problem?
Ehud Barak: Fareed, we see the Iranian nuclear military program as a challenge to the whole world, not just to Israel. We are convinced that to deal with it once it's nuclear will be much more complicated, much more dangerous, much more costly in terms of both a human life as well as financial resources.
But at the same time, we are not against any kind of effective and urgent sanctions, not even against negotiations. But we told our American friends as well as the Europeans that we would have expected the threshold for successful negotiation to be clear, namely that the P5+1 will demand clearly that, number one, no more enrichment to 20 percent. All the already enriched 20 percent material out of the country to a neighboring trusted country. Then all the material enriched to 3.5 percent, probably except for a few hundred kilograms, should be taken out of the country, once again, into a neighboring trusted country.
Number three, the installation in Fordo near Qom under the ground should be decommissioned in order not to enable them to resume enrichment to 20 percent, and tight inspection by the IAEA, according to protocol 3.1, should be imposed. If all these are met, even if they get in exchange fuel rods for their TLR, their research reactor and so on, that could be OK. It would be a different regime.
But if the P5+1 will settle for a much lower threshold, like just stop enriching 20 percent, it means that basically the Iranians, at a very cheap cost, bought their way into continuing their military program, slightly slower, but without sanctions. That will be a total change of direction for the world.
Fareed Zakaria: And if that were to happen - if you were to end up with what you regard as a suboptimal or less-than-perfect solution, you have argued that Israel has a closing window of opportunity to act because, at a certain point, the Iranian sites get hardened.
Is there time pressure on you? Do you believe that you have only a certain amount of time before which military strikes would not be effective against Iran?
Ehud Barak: You know, by definition, we have a limited time. Every quarter it becomes shorter by a quarter. But I expressed already my view that we don't have to make a decision next week and we cannot wait years, though.
It is not a matter of weeks, but it is not a matter of years on the other hand, before Israel will be practically kind of deprived from the possibility to contemplate what could be done.
But that is not the real issue. I really see it as a major change for the whole world. I really see it as a critical time for the rest of the world as well. And I really think that the tightest possible sanctions and steps against Iran should be ratcheting in a way that will effectively corner it.
Fareed Zakaria: But Mr. Minister, you said you don't have to decide this in a week, but you don't have much more than a year. So, in effect, you're saying that there is a fairly clear timeline here, that around some time in the next nine to 12 months, something has to get negotiated that stops Iranian enrichment. Otherwise, Israel will feel compelled to act.
Ehud Barak: You go much beyond what I've said. We don't have any decision about what to do, a date for the decision.
But it's clear, that for us, it's critical. I strongly believe it's not critical for us. Actually, I believe that it's critical for you as well.
I read into your articles, right, that we - you, Fareed, and me - have differences about it, but I think that you are wrong and I'm right about it - that no mutually assured destruction kind of situation will serve as a modifier or stabilizer in this case, because we are not a continent and Israel is not either the United States or the Soviet Union.
And it's basically - sanctions are the only option by now. And the fact that Khamenei says that he doesn't want to get a nuclear weapon is just the kind of a tricky kind of rhetoric. Amano's report could not leave doubt in the mind of any serious person that Iran is now determined to reach nuclear military capability in spite of the determination of the rest of the world to block them.
And looking into the past, drawing from the examples of both Pakistan and North Korea, we can realize that it can happen. So we feel it urgent. Of course, we look at it slightly different from other nations, but we think that it's important to deal with it extremely seriously and not to remove any option from the table, except for containment.
Those who believe in containment see a ray of hope. I don't believe in containment, so I don't see how easily it's going to be solved. I will be happy to be wrong.
Fareed Zakaria: Mr. Minister, there's a new book out in the United States, called The Crisis of Zionism by Peter Beinart.
And in it he proposes that the West Bank and Gaza should be described not as the West Bank and Gaza, not as Judea and Samaria but "undemocratic Israel," the argument being that you have millions of Palestinians there who have no vote and no state. Is that a fair characterization of the West Bank, as "undemocratic Israel"?
Ehud Barak: I did not read the book so I cannot make kind of a statement about, but it's clear that the deeper reason to have this solution of two states for two people is in order to make sure that Israel, we would delineate a borderline within which we will have a solely Jewish majority for generations to come, and beyond which we will have a viable Palestinian state with a Palestinian majority, that will express their identity, their dreams and their aspirations.
And I think that it's possible - it's not simple, it's possible. It needs goodwill from both sides, a readiness to take a tough decision and certain weights toward it, if Israel remain the only political entity, west of the Jordan River, the fact that there are blocks of millions of Palestinians and they cannot vote to the Knesset makes a problem.
And if they can vote to the Knesset, it make Israel by a nation of state. But that's exactly - it's clear to all of us Israelis, including right-wing Israelis, and that's what drive most of us, including the right wing, to understand that the only solution is a two-state solution. And that's what Netanyahu said more than once.
The only issue we care about is that viewing the execution that the possessing of these two states for a solution, the security considerations of Israel and its national interest, it will be taken into account.
Because, however complicated the Palestinian state will be, a part of community of 20-odd states of Arab nature, and Israel will remain the only Jewish state in the region, and probably the only member of the U.N., which has explicitly threatened to be destroyed by other members of the U.N. That's a situation that needs to be taken care of by us.
We realize we are living in a tough neighborhood, no mercy for the weak and no second opportunity for those who cannot defend themselves. We want to be strong, ready to protect ourselves, under whatever kind of threat, but at the same time, stretching out our hand to make peace with any neighbor who is ready for it.