TIME’s Interview with Ehud Barak: The Transcript

Benjamin Netanyahu's political and strategic partner talks to TIME about Syria, Iran, the Palestinians and his friend the Prime Minister.

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JACK GUEZ / AFP / Getty Images

Israeli Minister of Defense Ehud Barak speaks during the annual International Cyber Security Conference at Tel Aviv University on June 6, 2012.

Ehud Barak carries the title of Israel’s defense minister, but his ambit extends a good deal further; no one is quite sure how far.  His chemistry with prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is such that, on matters such as Iran’s nuclear program, they are regarded as very nearly the same person. When it comes to Washington, he functions as Israel’s foreign minister, though another cabinet member carries the title. At the same time Barak is so unpopular as a politician that polls showed he might well not have been elected to the Knesset had Netanyahu gone ahead with announced elections.  In an interview with TIME, Barak, 70, spoke at length of his political “marriage” with Netanyahu, who served under him in the elite commando unit Sayeret Matkal; the dangers of Iran and Syria; the conflict wit the Palestinians he tried to resolve in one fell swoop at Camp David asprime minister; and his equanimity with his status as perhaps Israel’s least popular politician.  Barak spoke in his Knesset office on June 20 with TIME International editor Jim Frederick, Jerusalem Bureau Chief Karl Vick and Israel reporter Aaron J. Klein as Israeli forces answered rocket fire from the Gaza Strip.
TIME: What’s going on with Hamas? They’re quiet for all these months. Is it the Egyptian election?

BARAK: In Gaza? I cannot penetrate souls, but probably it is some connection.  We’ve seen – and it’s not all by Hamas — we’ve seen rocket launches into the Negev. I don’t know who did it. A day after there was an attack on a group of subcontractors for the building of the fence, we are building a fence along the Egyptian border, a multi-purpose kind of fence – against terror, smuggling, labor force, whatever. They attacked, killed one of the workers, we killed one of the terrorists.  I believe it was some kind of World Jihad.  Later on there were attempts from within the Gaza Strip.   Most hit near the Gaza Strip, but two at an air force base near Be’ersheva.  Basically all hit outside the area, the choices the interception system Iron Dome makes.  If it sees something come toward the populated area, it intercepts.  According to the extrapolation of the trajectory, if it’s into an open area, it leaves it alone.   And still it’s not clear whether it’s the end. Right now we hit, probably killed another one– I apologize, I was a little bit late.  We hit two people on a motorcycle. Missed, a little bit, probably only one of them was killed. But it had to do with the last operation in the Sinai, from the Sinai attack, and we had some reason to suspect it’s not the end.…. Our air force hit some military sites from Hamas, some from Islamic jihad, a launching site from what we believe a long range rocket.

TIME: Long range?

BARAK: It’s not long range. I mean something longer than the short range that are usually operating from Gaza. Only 40 or more than 40 kilometers we call it long in regard to Gaza. It’s still short range in regard to Lebanon.  There’s never a dull moment. We are cursed by the old Chinese curse ‘may you live in interesting times.’ Always interesting here. But I hope it will not resonate with developments in Egypt and expectations that the kind of grip they have now in Sinai will allow more operations, more terrorist attacks. We hope once it will become known who will run Egypt, they will resume title, hold on the security of Sinai.

(MORE: 10 Questions for Ehud Barak)

TIME: What was the significance of the tank [photographed being unloaded on Egyptian border after the attack]?

BARAK:  I don’ t think it was…There are always several tanks around Gaza. We didn’t reinforce the tank force. In fact Gilad Shalit was taken out of a tank. Quite a painful terrorist attack.  It’s a good picture, it means the photographer was at the right place at the right time, made it news.

TIME: Talk a little about your relationship with the prime minister.

BARAK: Mine?

TIME: Your personal relationship.

BARAK: Very good. I believe that we respect each other,  we know each other for a long time, about 40 years.  Or more, more than 40.  We met at 28, probably he was 20, he was a non-commissioned officer in an elite unit. A very good officer.  His older brother was my deputy.   We had to make sure when we established the unit — like the American Delta Force but long before that came into existence, and a much tighter, compact unit.  All the other officers were a group about the size of what we have here [a room of six] so we knew each other very intimately. It was always a problem how to make sure that both Netanyahus didn’t come into a single sensitive operation together. Separate them. There was  a certain competition.  If Bibi was chosen for one operation, then Yonni would say, take me. They always discriminated against the younger one.  Just a sergeant, an NCO.  We after Yonni’s death kept in contact, got to know the family much better, but some other members of the family, we had some contact when we both started at American universities.  He [Bibi] was at MIT, I was at Stanford. Later on I remember he was deputy, no. 2 at the embassy, while I was J-5 for our headquarters. I believe it was probably in ‘86 that some newspaper here wrote that oh in ten years time the term of giants, Peres or Shamir will be behind us, and Netanyahu and Barak will compete. It turned out to be a prophetic article.

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38 comments
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YehudaElyada
YehudaElyada

Let’s get a few facts straight:

1.      Religions are dynamic cultural constructs. They change in time, just like languages and arts. Jews today do not practice Moses Law, but the Rabbinic re-interpretation as formulated in the Talmud and it’s ever continuing evolution. Jesus wouldn’t recognize any of the current brand of Christianity as his own; he was a rather decent Jew concerned with social justice, not a self proclaimed inventor of a new religion. And not even the most fundamentalist of Muslims adheres to the exact rules explicitly laid out in the Korean. We should base our judgment on what people do, not what their scriptures record.

2.      Jews, in particular Israelis, learn at school that the Imperial Persians were far better rulers than the highly cultured Hellenic Greeks or the Law and Order obsessed Romans. We also call the period at the end of the Middle-Ages, when Islamic Spain was the center of Jewish life, our “golden époque”. There is no intrinsic gulf between us and our neighbors, not even genetic, as long as they accept our right to exist in Israel.

3.      The only limiting factor in the total integration of Arabs in the Israeli society is the reflection of animosity projected by militant forces from outside on the Arab youth within Israel. Regretfully, we can’t overlook the participation of some Israeli Arabs in outrageous act of terror. And we can’t overlook the fact that the Arab members of the Israeli parliament are eager to support any movement that aims to liquidate Israel and dissolve the remains into the surrounding Muslim Middle East.

4.      We’ll never agree to this demise, so the state of hostilities will continue until the Arab leaders will opt to change their usual modus operandi: Make your people hate Israel and they won’t notice that their own government is their real enemy.           

Ali Mostofi
Ali Mostofi

The Ayatollahs have only remained precisely because they provide a credible threat to Israel. That threat produces the fear the banks and arms traders like. Imagine we had a civilized peaceful Iranian government. Who would lose? Both sides love fear. Even a war would soon end and the fear would end and peaceful people would take over. But for 33 years the mullahs have earned their keep by playing the role of bogey man. That has provided bumper profits for all those dealers. The last thing Israelis want is a descendant of Cyrus the Great.

arvay
arvay

 ranians have an ancient moral philosophy much older than any Abrahamic religion. It is similar to Hinduism. Study Zoroastrianism.

I know. I think all religions need to be swept aside in favor of rationalism and science. I agree the Zoroastrian religion was a great achievement, and helped produce a great civilization, but all religions have outlived their usefulness. Unfortunately, Alexander's dream of a hybrid European-Persian civilization did not materialize -- that would have been a wonderful development.

ricardo lion
ricardo lion

  But if you live in a democracy and not in Iran, Nort Korea, one of those Muslim Arab bloody dictatorsips or medieval kingdoms, etc. you are free to worship those ancient Greek and Persian 

gods.

arvay
arvay

I am not the sum-totalof humanity. Humanity needs to be freed from nonsense and ignorance, that's a much bigger consideration than my personal luck. 

Ali Mostofi
Ali Mostofi

Zoroastriansm is not a religion. It is a philosophy of free will.

arvay
arvay

I don't know what it may have evolved into in the moder world. My impression is that its adherents are slowly disappearing. 

Ali Mostofi
Ali Mostofi

The Ayatollahs have nothing to do with the ancient culture of Iran. They want to wipe out our culture. But the people are ignoring them non violently. We all celebrate Nowruz only.

ricardo lion
ricardo lion

  But today Iran's religion, Islam, as nothing to do with free will.

arvay
arvay

I'll reply here: You say:Iran's issue with Israel is not religious. Hezbollahis issue with Israel is religious. Big difference. Don't say Iran when you mean Hezbollahis.

Hizbollah's politics is religious but its difference with Israel is national liberation vs. neocolonial occupation.

ricardo lion
ricardo lion

  

Hezbollah is an Iranian puppet.

   Iran's religion is Islam, invented by an Arab out of an obsession / jealousy of Jews and Christians (a religion born from Judaism).

Ali Mostofi
Ali Mostofi

Iranians have an ancient moral philosophy much older than any Abrahamic religion. It is similar to Hinduism. Study Zoroastrianism.

arvay
arvay

There's some research that suggests that Islam was originated by a Jewish sect. All three Abrahamic religions are intolerant, based on ignorance and the ravings of mentally unstable "prophets" and should be wiped from the earth. 

Ali Mostofi
Ali Mostofi

Islam was invented by Salman Parsi the first Iranian apostate.

Eric11210
Eric11210

No, Hezbollah's difference with Israel is that Hezbollah doesn't want a Jewish state anywhere in the Middle East. Israel does not occupy any part of Lebanon anymore. The sheba farms were taken from Syria and when Israel pulled out of southern Lebanon, the UN certified that Israel had indeed withdrawn fully.

Ali Mostofi
Ali Mostofi

I am talking Hezbollahis in Iran.

arvay
arvay

 Zoroastrianism is not idol worship.

I realize that. 

Ali Mostofi
Ali Mostofi

No you misunderstood. An Iranian is a person who believes in what Cyrus did in liberating the Jews.

arvay
arvay

Oh, I see. Thanks for clarifying.

I agree with you that Israel does not want an Iran that would be a descendant of someone like Cyrus. Iran, liberated from the mullahs and run by a genuine national leadership -- not an American stooge -- would be a new and positive reality -- prepared to play a defining role in the region.

ricardo lion
ricardo lion

  Are you really comparing Israel, the Jewish

(the religion of Jesus), democratic (rights for all) and civilized (no civil

war,  hanging of gays, women stoning,

“honour” killing of girls by their own fathers and brothers, etc) country to the Iran ruled by medieval Muslim clerics?  

  And Iran issue with Israel is religious.  Both countries dont even share a border.  Iran complains that little Israel is an artificial country, but so are all in the region, created by either GB or France.  In fact all countries in the world are artificial.  Iran wants the Arabs (those tey killed 00 of tem during their war against Iraq) to have Arab country #23, the second in Palestine after Jordan (80% of the region), but at the same time deny their Kurdish minority their one and only country.  Iran complains that Jerusalem is "occupied", but I would like one of the worlds 1,4 billion Muslims to explain me why Jerusalem, the Jewish capital, is holy to them.

  Wathever happened to Irans original religion, the one they followed before being forced by te Arabs to convert to Islam, a religion invented 1,500 years after Judaism, 650 after Jesus out of an obsession of an Arab with Jews (0,2% of the world population, but 100%  of the "prophets" in the Koran)?

arvay
arvay

Iranian idol worship (a gross mis-statement of Zoroastrianism) is preferable to the religions issuing from the anus of that supreme idiot, Abraham. All religion is superstition, and someday progressive governments will eliminate it, and free the minds of the peoples of the earth. The monotheistic religions -- the most stupid and intolerant -- ned to be eliminated first.

arvay
arvay

It's worse than you think. The Israelis are not enlightened descendants of the Jews who got much of their fundamental religious ideas in ancient Persia -- they are far more akin in their beliefs to your occupying mullahs. 

Whether religious or secular, they adhere to the idea that they are a special race destined by heir God to land taken from others. And Persia was not created by "GB or France" as you must surely know. 

I wish you success in removing the aliens who run your country, and extirpating their alien religion. But I don't advise embracing the Israel. Take it from an American, Israel is like a pet rattlesnake that knows how to bite but not how to live with others. 

arvay
arvay

Oh how cute little Boy Blue following me around like a little puppy.

For the record, I said having Israel as an ally is like having rattlesnake for a pet. There are millions of Jews who aren't citizens of Israel, but BlueBoy likes to twist twist and distort things. 

He's also intentionally mis-stated this:

The Israelis are not enlightened descendants of the Jews who got much of their fundamental religious ideas in ancient Persia -- they are far more akin in their beliefs to your occupying mullahs.  Whether religious or secular, they adhere to the idea that they are a special race destined by heir God to land taken from others.He's too smart to be misunderstanding, he's lying, as usual. Put words in someone's mouth and then hope nobody checks. 

Jacob Blues
Jacob Blues

Oh how cute, arvay likes to declare that Jews are aliens in Israel  with an alien religion. 

Oh wait, no, arvay cannot even declare that Jews today are Jews, they are descendents of Jews (whatever that's supposed to mean). 

But then again, what else should we expect from a bigot who calls Jews rattlesnakes.  Two points for arvay's racism. 

Ali Mostofi
Ali Mostofi

Ancient Persian were the forefathers of Israelis who lived near the Throne of Solomon. Our oral tradition is 20000 years old and we follow the concept of Good Thoughts, Good Words, Good Deeds.

ricardo lion
ricardo lion

  Ancient Persians were idol worshipers and we are the people of 

God, we have been faithful to him if for 3,500 years.    

     Israel is the Jewish (the religion of

Jesus), democratic (rights for all) and civilized (no civil war,  hanging of gays, women stoning, “honour”

killing of girls by their own fathers and brothers, etc) country in the region.

    As for Israelis not being perfect (unlike yourself):  No saints (a Catholic invention) in Judaism.

   Aliens in Israel:  (and Mesopotamia, North Africa, but not Iberia anymore), the Arabs, invaders from Arabia.

Eric11210
Eric11210

Take it from a snake who likes to call others snakes you mean. This guys knows just one thing: he despises Jews and wishes to see a second holocaust.

Ali Mostofi
Ali Mostofi

Iran's issue with Israel is not religious. Hezbollahis issue with Israel is religious. Big difference. Don't say Iran when you mean Hezbollahis.

Ali Mostofi
Ali Mostofi

No I am not. I am comparing Iranian moral virtues as handed down by our oral tradition and now embodied in the Zend Avesta. Iranians are not the same as Ayatollahs. Our culture created The Declaration of Human Rights. We created Israel. We are non violently fighting the Ayatollahs.

Ali Mostofi
Ali Mostofi

The inspiration came to Cyrus from his training as a Zoroastrian. All Jews were Zoroastrians from The Throne of Solomon in Iran. You all prayed in The Temple of Azargoshnasp. Your books do not give the authentic real story.

ricardo lion
ricardo lion

    Good to hear that your morals don't come from the Koran.

  You didn't create Israel, but God, the One from the Bible, did.

  I wish you luck in getting rid of the Ayatollahs.

JohnWV
JohnWV

Dating back to Imperial Rome, it happened again and again. The Jews enraged their host countries and repeatedly suffered disastrous pogroms. Excesses of Weimar Germany's monied Jewish minority led to the most recent Holocaust. Netanyahu's Israel, abetted by treasonous American Jews, has seized of our democracy and would put us to nuclear war for the glory of supremacist Israel. Historically, distinguishing treasonous from loyal Jews becomes difficult, then irrelevant.

ricardo lion
ricardo lion

  John, I can see your parentes chose a Jewish Israeli name for yourself.

  During Imperial Rome the Jews had their country occupied by Rome.

  Jews today are less than 0,2% of the world population, but from our people a Saviour was chosen to todays 2 billion Christians and all the "prophets" of te Koran, 100% of them, were chosen from te 0,2% Jews.  Strange obsession...  You too seem to be osessed with us Jews.  Obsession is a disease, but can be cured.

  I wish shalom to the true Christians.

  And the percentae of Jews loyal to their countries is not irrelevant, quite the opposite, nearly all of them are.

JohnWV
JohnWV

My understanding is that today's Jews are descendants of the few that survived holocausts at the hands of the Romans. Christianity predates these Rabbinic Jews. Over the centuries their breeding with local Europeans diminished Semitic facial contours and made them nearly white. Any racial/blood based historical claim to the Holy Land by today's diluted Jews is inferior that of today's Arabs.

ricardo lion
ricardo lion

  I am not interested in skin colour, not racist.  

The Muslim Arab bloody dictator of Syria, for example, as fair skin and blue eyes. If Jews are from Europe, as you say, then Arabs are from Arabia, you know, like those you Christian Europeans kicked out of Iberia.  

Gibraltar, for example, is an Arabic word, unlike Jewish Palestine.

 

Ali Mostofi
Ali Mostofi

No the roots are from earlier migrations.