In an unprecedented interview in Arabic, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman on Thursday told the London-based daily Elaph that his country does not want war with anyone, but will not allow Iranian bases in Syria at any cost, stressing that the Iranian regime is in its final days.
On the eve of his visit to Washington to discuss security issues with his US counterpart James Matisse and new National Security Adviser John Bolton, Liberman asserted that if Iran attacks Tel Aviv, Israel “will strike Tehran and destroy every Iranian military site that threatens Israel in Syria, whatever the cost.”
On the Palestinian State issue, Liberman told Elaph that the solution must be regional, not bilateral, and not in phases, but in parallel and simultaneously: the two-state solution, peace with the Arab states, the solution of the situation of the Arabs of Israel, and the exchange of land and population between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. These will include the transfer of Arab areas such as the Arab Triangle in northern Israel from Israeli to Palestinian sovereignty through moving its border to the west.
Liberman holds Hamas responsible for the casualties in Gaza. “Hamas uses children and women as human shields,” he said, accusing the group of responsibility for the high number of casualties in recent weeks.
On relations with Arab countries, Liberman told Elaph that there is dialogue with Arab countries he refused to name. “Things are moving in the right direction. There is an understanding on 75% of the issues,” he said, and called for a constructive dialogue and full understanding with the Arab states on the regional issues.
Liberman believes that the current Iranian regime is in its late days, and that the US withdrawal from the nuclear agreement will lead to the collapse of Iran economically. This is what the Iranian regime, which has so far spent more than $13 billion in Syria, fears and why it spends $2 billion a year on Hezbollah, Hamas and the Islamic Jihad and other terrorist militias, which has weakened Tehran and emptied its coffers.
“The seizure by the Iranian leadership and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards of their country’s resources, and the exclusion of the people, have caused the economy to collapse severely and led to the emergence of increasingly large protest movements,” Liberman explained.
The Israeli defense minister criticized Israeli Arab MKs and accused them of supporting terrorism, describing them as “enemies of Israel.” He pointed out that it is the duty of every democracy to defend itself.
In response to a question regarding the Arab initiative, Liberman explained his view on synchronizing the dialogue between Israel and the entire Arab world, saying, “The Arab initiative has been on the table since 2002, but there are those who are trying to tell us: find a solution to the Palestinian issue first, and then solve the remaining problems with the rest of the Arab countries. In my opinion, this is unacceptable, and the solution must include everyone in one deal.”
“I wonder, though, is the problem of the Arab world the only Palestinian issue?” Liberman pressed. “What happened in Tunisia was because of the Palestinian cause? What happened in Libya, Yemen, Syria and Iraq is because of the Palestinian cause and Israel? Of course not, for a long time the problem has no longer been the Palestinian issue and Israel, and there are even bigger problems floundering in the Arab world. The solution must be regional rather than phased, and include three basic things: a solution for the Palestinians and the establishment of a state for them; together with a solution of the question of the Israeli Arabs and the exchange of population and land; and peace and normalization with all the Arab countries.”
“We have made it clear that a Palestinian state must be totally demilitarized and that there should be Israeli security sovereignty in the Jordan Valley and the West Bank,” he stressed.
The Elaph editors inquired what he means by population and land exchange – don’t the Arabs in Israel enjoy Israeli citizenship?
“I think this is inaccurate,” Liberman responded. “The majority of Israeli Arabs identify themselves as Palestinians and consider the Palestinian flag to be their flag, and there are Arab members of the Knesset who consider the flag of Israel a worn-out rag. On the other hand, the Palestinians want a Palestinian state free of Jews, so there is no reason why we should not exchange land with them.”
“I think there’s no problem in changing the borders. I don’t want their homes or land, or to force them to take their belongings and leave. Let’s just move the border west, and they will automatically become part of the Palestinian state. But they don’t want to, because they enjoy freedom of expression in Israel, they enjoy social security and rights, privileges and benefits. But in any future solution, I think that the question of the Arabs of Israel must be solved and Arabs who wish to remain within our state must respect its laws.”
But if you say that Israel is the only democratic state in the Middle East, don’t they have the right to express their opinion?
“Yes, but expressing opinions does not mean supporting enemies and terrorists. Take some Arab members of the Knesset, for example, where they took part in the funeral of [Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine leader] George Habash, and we know that he was not that peaceful person. There are those who glorify [Syrian President Bashar] Assad, a war criminal who killed half a million Syrians and displaced half of his people and carried out ethnic cleansing.
“The head of the Joint Arab List, Ayman Odeh, supports Assad and his crimes, and this is unacceptable. On the other hand, they criticize us and say that we commit war crimes, which is funny. Can any Arab say and do what the Arabs of Israel say and do? I don’t think so. Despite everything that’s said and done, the Palestinians in the West Bank live in better conditions dozens of times more than their brethren in many Arab countries. In Yemen, for example, the annual per capita GDP does not exceed $800, while ours is more than $14,000. See what Assad is doing against the Palestinians in Yarmouk camp … Is there anyone who denounces these and similar crimes? No. They speak up only when it comes to Israel,” Liberman said.
What about the dead innocent adults and children in the Gaza demonstrations?
“Hamas sent them to be human shields. Hamas leaders hid in Gaza and sent children and women to be human shields and to be killed in their stead. They say we are war criminals! They are the criminals and the blood of these victims must haunt their consciences. We simply did not allow them to fight us, or try to penetrate the border.”
But you are besieging Gaza.
“We besieged Gaza to prevent them from continuing to smuggle arms to kill us. Hamas has invested about $160 million in tunnels and weapons development and has not developed and invests in the Gazan population. They want terrorism and they do not care about their people. If the Palestinians in Gaza want to invest in the economy and construction, welcome, and for every dollar they spend, we will spend two dollars. We want prosperity for Gaza, but Hamas only wants terrorism. They try to suggest that we are wronging them and violating international law, but they are in fact breaking the law. For years Hamas did not allow the Red Cross to visit our citizens held there or to receive information about the bodies of our soldiers. They are violating international law.”
Israel and Iran are fighting each other on Syrian land, which is not your land or their land!
“This is not true,” Liberman said. “We have not intervened since the beginning of the Syrian war, for seven years and more. There are Iranians, Hezbollah, other militias, Russians, and others, all fighting each other. I wish success to everyone there. We do not interfere in the war, and we do not fight there, but Iran is trying to set up bases in Syria, supplying these bases with sophisticated weapons, and wants to attack us. I can’t stand idly by when I see Iran doing this near the Golan in both Syria and Lebanon, and trying to establish its military footprints in Syria to attack us in Israel.”
“And here I say very clearly: Every site where we see an attempt to position Iran militarily in Syria, we will destroy, and we will not allow it to remain there, no matter the cost,” Liberman insisted, adding that “the Russians know that we will not allow Iran to build bases in Syria nor to provide advanced weapons to attack us. There are contacts and there will be no collision with [the Russians].” He threatened that “if Assad fires at our aircraft, we will know how to send him a painful response and destroy his sources of fire no matter what, and we will not exclude him from our response.”