August 3. Moshe (“Bogie”) Ya’alon is Israel’s minister for strategic affairs. He joined the Knesset in 2009 as a member of Likud after 37 years in the Israel Defense Forces, most recently as chief of staff. Born near Haifa, Ya’alon, 61, expects no benefit to either Israel or the Palestinians from bringing a vote on Palestinian statehood to the United Nations. He is regarded as Israel’s master strategist for preventing Iran from gaining nuclear weapons capabilities.Q. What if a Palestinian state is endorsed at the United Nations this fall? A. This Palestinian unilateral approach will serve neither Israeli nor Palestinian interests. We believe that if the U.N. Security Council votes for a Palestinian state along the ’67 lines, we will get in Judea and Samaria a failed, hostile entity. Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas] knows it and doesn’t like this option. He knows that if the IDF will not have the freedom of operation it enjoys there now, [he] will have to fight them himself and he has already been defeated by them in the Gaza Strip.Q. Since Yasser Arafat’s death, have Palestinians moved closer or further from peaceful coexistence with Israel? A. Nothing has changed since Arafat’s death. Abu Mazen hasn’t so much changed the strategy as his approach to terror. He realized that…terror just does not pay off. [Neither] is he ready to recognize Israel’s right to exist as the nation-state of the Jewish people….
Q. Do you perceive changes in the Palestinian Authority under Abbas? A. The P.A. president [uses] political tools like propaganda and delegitimizing our right to exist. This is done by bringing us to the International Criminal Court and the Goldstone Report, which [he] was behind. None of these activities may have been rooted in reality—such as equating us with apartheid, which doesn’t exist here. Unfortunately, he succeeds in deceiving certain circles in the West…that believe the problem started in ’67. He doesn’t claim the occupation is since then, he claims [it] is from ’48. So the conflict is not even about the size of Israel’s borders. It is about our very existence…. Yet Fatah was created as a movement against occupation in 1964. Which occupation existed in ’64?
Q. The Palestinian Authority and Hamas have forged a common front. How do you view this development? A. Hamas cannot be part of any political engagement with us unless they meet three criteria: They must denounce terror, recognize Israel’s right to exist and be committed to all existing formal agreements between the [Palestinian Liberation Organization] and Israel. Hamas has stated clearly that they will never meet these criteria. We must insist, nonetheless, since allowing Hamas to participate in any political process might bring about a second Hamastan in Judea and Samaria.
Q. Should Israel give Hamas a chance to reform? A. Before the Palestinian election in 2006, we said Hamas should be allowed to participate in the political process without any conditions. So they went to the ballots with bullets and…exploited the democratic rules of the game to gain power and impose a nondemocratic regime. They threw Fatah activists from the 18th floor of buildings in Gaza and started shooting political rivals. This is democracy? So we must insist that Hamas meet these criteria to participate in any political process.
Q. What do you think of the sweeping upheavals across the Arab world in the first half of 2011? A. The good news is that the young generation in Libya and elsewhere initiated the uprisings, and they have clearly been exposed in the last two decades to Western ideas like freedom, human rights, women’s rights. This is encouraging, and we want them to democratize their societies. Unfortunately, they do not enjoy the political strength and sophistication required. The most organized power today is the Muslim Brotherhood. The internal conflict is between the moderate younger generation and radical Islamists. We worry that radical Islam might ultimately prevail. This chapter will not be completed in the near future, and we won’t see a stabilized situation for a long time.
Q. How serious is the risk to Israel of Egypt’s decision to open its border with Gaza? A. Clearly, Israel is not happy that the Egyptian military regime decided to open the Rafah crossing point without consulting us. As long as the Egyptian security forces check what is going on there and do a good job, we might be satisfied. We have to watch very carefully.
Q. Will this move shift the Israel-Gaza balance? A. Egypt is committed to the peace accord and to fighting terrorism. We have open channels to Cairo when it comes to security [and] will determine if they are doing their job properly. Yet we must look for lessons for the future. Israel cannot rely on third parties, as was the case once in Rafah when a European monitoring group was there; then Hamas took over the Gaza Strip and this idea of an international force proved worthless. We must defend ourselves independently and not rely on anyone else. The second lesson relates to the future, in Judea and Samaria. We cannot tolerate rockets or missiles launched from these places at Ben-Gurion Airport, at Tel Aviv, much less mortars or snipers firing at Jerusalem from Bethlehem or Ramallah.
Q. What do these developments tell us about Iran’s role? A. Although it didn’t initiate the uprisings in most of the countries other than Bahrain or Yemen, Iran clearly exploits and leverages the instability to serve its interests. We see with crystal clarity that none of this is because of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict…yet we hear time and again, even from our allies, even in Washington, that they believe the Israeli-Palestinian struggle is the core of instability in our region. One of our main challenges [is to prove] that linkage doesn’t exist between Israeli-Palestinian strife and the uprisings and conflicts in the region.
Q. Was the Stuxnet computer virus disruption of Iran’s nuclear program, in July 2010, sufficient to halt Iran’s nuclear weapons program or just a delaying tactic? A. No technological challenge to the Iranians will derail their nuclear and military projects. The Iranian regime is determined to acquire military nuclear capabilities and the way to stop this is to force the regime into a choice: either to have the nuclear bomb or to survive. We believe this is achievable. [We must] isolate the regime politically, impose more sanctions—and to intensify those sanctions enough to threaten their actual survival. In so doing, Iran’s internal opposition might actually rise to power, supported by the West.
Q. Is there enough time? A. Iran is executing reformers on a daily basis. The regime is violating all human rights—we are talking about women’s rights and every other basic freedom. This issue should be raised by Western parties as a compelling justification to impose sanctions, not just because of the nuclear project. Beyond all this, any kind of strategy should also have a credible military option…. A four-element strategy—political isolation, economic sanctions, moral support of the internal opposition and a credible military option—can still force Teheran to decide whether it wants to have a bomb or wants to survive.
Q. You left a military career to jump into Likud Party politics. Who do you identify more with, the ideology of Ze’ev Jabotinsky or the pragmatic course of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu? A. I believe Jabotinsky was very pragmatic, and I am very pragmatic. I was born and educated in the Labor Party camp. I supported any kind of compromise that would bring about peace and tranquillity, since I sanctify human life more than I value land. I changed my mind because of the reality, not due to any principles or philosophical values. I can actually quote [Jabotinsky and] the Labor movement, whose leaders said pretty much the same thing: We will have to fight the Arabs until the last one realizes there is no way to defeat us and we are here in the Land of Israel as a Jewish state forever.