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.

TIME: Shifting to Syria: What should be done about Assad?

BARAK: I want to connect these two issues. I think when you look honestly at what happens inSyria, you know the father of this guy also massacred some 30 years ago many people in a city called Hama but no one knew about it the world until about a month after the event. At some stage of a crisis people were asking why doesn’t this guy do what his father did? And the answer was clear that you can’t do it in this open world kind of real time kind of coverage. But I have a lesson from watching Syria right now that I think that Israel should take notice.  Even when it becomes fully clear that a totally unacceptable slaughter and crimes are taking place — supported by Iran, supported by Hezbollah, with some advice, some materials, some weapons, even probably some personnel — but basically the family orders its security service to kill it’s own people. The pictures are put into our networks daily. We see this massacre of kids, we see women raped and then carried to hospital, and it continues over a year and a half, terrible.  Still, the distance between realizing beyond any capacity to deny it, seeing something totally unacceptable, and taking action, is a big distance.  The world is much better by now pointing at bad guys when they are really bad guys, but extremely slow in taking action. And we should take notice. And when people tell us, even [in] Israel is telling us, oh don’t worry, if Iran starts to develop nuclear weapons, starts to build a device, oh, that will be known and of course it will lead to whatever kind of steps might be needed to stop it. I say, probably. Looking at what happened in the Middle East in the last two years, you cannot take forgranted the immediately proper response of the world as the need arises.
To the realities of the situation, I think he cannot resume legitimacy, he can still more blood, he can massacre, slaughter more people. The longer it will stretch, the more chaotic the morning after will end up being, and the more it will empower extremist groups, islamist groups and so on.

TIME: Weeks? Months? Years?

BARAK [chuckling]: I tried to predict weeks, I both hoped to help it and to encourage others. But I failed in predictions.   Probably — it’s a continued commitment:  I’ll say within weeks and at a certain point it’ll crack.

TIME:  It sounds like you’re sneaking up on a position in favor of intervention.

BARAK:  Clearly I think that something should be done. First of all the calls should be much more clear and assertive and irreversible.  Namely the guy should know that he will end up in The Hague if he continues. And that he is starting to reach the people around him and others if he continues to massacre. I believe the warnings should be much clearer and the opportunity to go out of it should be much clearer and much earlier. Even the proposals like trying the Yemenite precedent or whatever. I think that with a little bit more coordination between the United States, the Europeans, NATO, with Turkey on one hand, which is a most important neighbor of Syria, and the Russians, which had probably four, five decades of history of huge investment in Syria and the Assad family. And after the experience of Libya, and the way they interpreted, they are not ready to act. But as of now, I think through an honest comparison of the alternatives when the Americans and Russians someone from NATO, the Turks, the Arab League –which made courageous steps we did not see in the past – I believe it could accelerate dramatically the process there, and probably open the door for him to find some place where he can go. And I believe at early stages you could [and] still [could] do it to a certain extent, remove Assad while keeping the main organs, not repeating the mistakes that were done in Iraq. There’s no need to dismantle the armed forces as a whole, or the intelligence mukhabarat as an organ.

There’s certain civil society things [as well]. I think both in terms of humanitarian actions and in terms of guiding, shaping, coercive influence more could have been done till now. There is a need for coordination and trust between major players that are not used to trusting each other.  Try to think for your own why the Russians and the Chinese do not like the idea that whoever takes aggressive steps to keep order within his sovereign borders should not accept others to intervene physically.  The Arab League should have a role in there also. They’ve become more and more assertive, and it’s important, because it means they have the courage. And it also says to the Syrians that he cannot recover, when the Arab League says he’s lost his legitimacy he’s really lost it.

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