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.

But Bibi was a very capable diplomat, very capable presenter of our cause on American TV, I still remember it.  One day in California I remember he called me in California and said watch PBS tonight  I’m going to fight with a Palestinian about our cause. I asked myself, what the hell is he doing? It was the height of the examination time and a leading Ivy League university buried him under these mathematics, and he had time to go and fight on the TV? He was extremely effective at this, and extremely effect as no. 2 in the embassy and he ended up being really kind of a star, a meteor in Likud politics.   He was the only one who voted for the change in the election system from Likud, and he made it possible. It was a somewhat [garble] law but he was elected, against Peres. I at the time just came out of the armed forces and asked by Labor to be in politics on their side. And I remember I was immediately minister of interior, I was not even member of the Knesset. I took a helicopter to go to see Barcelona against Be’ersheva. It ended 7 to zero but we took Bibi with us; he was a member of the opposition. Along the way we talked,  because we knew each other for a long time.  And he told me, you know, I assess  we won’t compete in 96, it’s too short a time for you to come to power in Labor, so I can share with you some of my lessons from politics.  He says, I don’t know how to tell you, it’s a crazy place, I was brought up in a political theory. I know a little about politics before I entered. It took me probably two years to understand the motivations and the nuances of the tricks behind the maneuvers that political plans are taking.  I took over the party because I was more operational and I’m convinced that you will take over your party because you are operational. You will end up knowing the constitution of the party better than those who are serving for 20 years, because you always ask yourself, okay, what are the rules? What could be done? How to achieve targets?

(MORE: Israel’s New Coalition: Why Netanyahu Has Moved to the Center)

So it really happened this way. I really became, very fast, probably because of the assassination of Rabin I ended up immediately minister of foreign affairs, then elected to the Knesset and won over, when Peres lost after some year and a half, I led opposition, and so found myself head on with Bibi in the next election. And I always said just, given the truth, make sure that the playing ground is level, then we will win, don’t worry.  There was a period where we considered establishing a national unity government, even before I ran against him. It was 98.  And we discussed for ten days probably, evening after evening, in the Mossad headquarters, how to do it, how to do it, how to cooperate, how to do everything…. When he finally started to prepare the coalition it went out. …So finally I became prime minister and we changed the election very tightly, but continued on both the Syrian issue he handled the transition very kind of fairly and accurate and in a proper manner. I appreciated it. He left and spent some time. And then he came back, but he was not the one I was — I had a very short  [term], decided it wasn’t worth sitting in the chair of prime minister if I cannot do what can be done, change reality. Somewhat like Rabin. I felt committed to continue his legacy. Basically I was there because he was assassinated. The middle of the struggle so I felt committee…  So basically we entered into this wedding knowing each other very well for very long, there’s a lot of mutual respect, we can work together. And I believe we are doing what should be done for the country. Basically we see eye to eye some of the major issues and when there are differences we know how to handle them. We made some kind of contact before elections and then we followed, and later on I felt I had to depart from my party, and I established a new party; some people predicted it won’t be more than a few months before it exploded, and then on the eve of a final legislation about a new election we made another kind of maneuver to bring Mofaz in and to enable the government to be quite unprecedentedly [broad], probably with a potential to [last] the last day or the last quarter. And I think that we are in a way old enough and more mature to know that there are many things that on the national agenda that are much more important than…we can kind of moderate sometimes.

In Israel generally speaking politics is much more familiar than any other place. We all know each other. I knew Sharon for decades, I knew Rabin, Peres. We all know each other. It’s a tiny, tiny community and the elites, the upper echelons of all kinds of pyramids, knowing each other, it’s no more than 3,000 or 5,000 people who, for quite a long time know, and you can’t take someone, you can’t  the new crime reporter and make him editor in chief. It takes time. And so the people coming to the top, you usually already know them.

TIME: You described a wedding. Is it almost a marriage?

BARAK: Eeeeh, it’s not a marriage, but you know I believe that bibi knows there’s certain issues that for me are so important that you try to do them you find out doing it without me, and in a way I know certain things are so dearly important to him, if I insist on doing them, it will end up with a  divorce. But sometimes we sit with [Israeli president] Shimon Peres,  we all have been in all positions. Although Bibi was not defense minister, Peres was in all roles, I have been defense minister…I don’t know how to describe it. We are a little bit relieved from the need to prove anything to anyone and we happen to be autonomous. I feel fully autonomous. I don’t do anything to impress anyone, quite successfully I can tell you. I do not impress many people in the streets and the public. I would love to have kind of applause whenever I do something, but I don’t care if I don’t, if I think it’s the right thing and it will be judged so in retrospect.

(MORE: Behind the Israel Protest Turmoil: A Middle East Without a Peace Process)

TIME: On Iran: What is Israel’s current capability in terms of launching a pre-emptive attack, and to what degree is Israel still reserving the possibility or even the right to launch such an attack?

BARAK: I think first of all that Iran is a problem for the whole world. And I believe thatcompared to the situation a few years ago, the whole world is looking now at the same intelligence. The recent reports of the IAEA leave no doubt in themind of anyone that Iran is determinedly trying to become a nuclear power. Even our rhetoric has converged significantly in the last several years. All leaders of the world, at least of the free world, are talking the same language: a nuclear military Iran is not acceptable. We Americans, we Europeans, are determined to prevent Iran from turning nuclear and in the last half year or so many leaders, all leaders of the free world, including the American president are saying all options except for containment should be on the table. We say the same, we see the same intelligence, we use the same rhetoric, and when we use it we mean it.

I don’t think that we have to talk about the operational capabilities, without operational capabilities of some sort we would not talk about all options being on the table or saying that we mean it. I don’t underestimate the impact of the recent sanctions or the recent diplomacy; it did not happen in the past, it’s something new, and it has certain impact.  Um, I think that we all wish that it would be solved by a combination of sanctions and diplomacy, but to tell you the truth when I try to judge whether these ayatollahs as we watch them for decades, are they going to brought to a point where they can say, okay, we’ll look in each other’s eyes, no way to continue under this kind of pressure, we have to give in? The way that the Libyans at a certain point gave in their military nuclear program? The way that south Africa gave in under different circumstances? I’m very skeptical this is going to happen.   We have seen all examples. We have seen Pakistan maneuvering against many steps, diplomatic and otherwise, and reaching nuclear capability. We have seen North Korea. I’ve just mentioned Libya and South Africa. And of course there’s the examples of Iraq and Syria, that were derailed from their aspirations by other means. So basically the world has seen examples of all possibilities, and that probably might explain why we are a little bit skeptical.  Because we don’t doubt the intentions of the American administration at the time and the world at the time to stop North Korea, but it happened.

(PHOTOS: Marco Grob Photographs Benjamin Netanyahu)

We do not question the intention to block Pakistan,  but it happened.  Now we believe the American administration fully understands that Israel for obvious reasons looks at this from closerrange. It covers a wider part of our screen of attention. And I believe that the Americans as well as others understand that Israel should be able to defenditself against any kind of threat and to be able to keep its right or responsibility to finally take decisions when it comes to its security and future.  The dialogue that we are running with the administration as well as with other leadership in the free world and even with Putin or the Chinese, we are talking quite frankly. We don’t go into details, but we don’t hide that we believe in the same intelligence, we believe in the same rhetoric and we think that the clocks are not ticking at the same pace. Because our capabilities if worse comes to worse, to contemplate what to do if sanctions and diplomacy doesn’t work, we’ve a shorter time frame to make up our mind about what should be done.

America has much wider capabilities.  They have a different consideration, they have  more time and more capabilities. It changes the perspective.  And now I think we all know they have the ambition. They have the knowledge, they have the technology. They have kind of the tenacity.  In some time they will enter into what I call the zone of immunity, where no practical surgical operation can deprive them of their nuclear capability, and probably then, when they can feel assured that neither Israel nor America can derail them or stop them by any surgical operation, that will be the natural time for them to consider, okay, now wehave the option to decide when and how to approach nuclear military capability.

TIME: How long until they enter that zone of immunity?

BARAK: We have said several months ago that it’s not a matter of weeks but it’s not a matter of years. It’s not a binary situation; you’re in the room or you’re out of the room. Or for a lady, you are pregnant or you’re not pregnant. It’s a process. But it becomes clear from quarter to quarter that the capacity to influence a significant delay in their plans is becoming more and more remote.

TIME: Israel has done a masterful job of teeing up this question for the international community, especially the run-up to the December IAEA report, thinking that you guys were lunging for the trigger. But you can only be credible for so longwith the threat, right? Does that become one more pressure to act itself?

BARAK:  I do not underestimate our contribution. Probably indirectly, probably we had certain influence, probably, on the clarity of the position of the world right now, the readiness to take action. And I believe the Iranians will be moved only by the combination of carrots and a big stick in the background. But I can tell you honestly we are not there because — we are not part of a performance to impress Iran. It’s probably one of the by products of the sincerity by which we are dealing with our real challenges that we believe should be shared by the rest of the world for obvious reasons. I do not believe in ‘fak-ed’ kind of operations.   Probably some succeed in it from the other side, sometimes succeed, but cheating from the good guys for a long time. We never saw the thing in these terms. We are not bluffing in a way. We are sincere on the merits of the issue. And we are aware of the effect that probably it helps the negotiations with Iran in the same way that when people in American or senior civil servants in Israel or in other places say loud and clear, we don’t think that it’s justifiable, we don’t think that it’s possible, we don’t think that we should do it, they are blurring the big stick, and at a certain point it even makes an operation once it, if and when it has to be executed, slightly more dangerous in a way.  I don’t want to over-estimate this aspect of it, but sometimes it’s better to talk a little bit less.  Let the interpretation be done by the Iranians on their own; they’re extremely sophisticated people.

(MORE: The Shortest Giant: The Legacy of Yitzhak Shamir (1915-2012))

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.

(MORE: 10 Questions for Shimon Peres)

TIME: The Palestinians are not on anyone’s radar these days.  Will Israel do better than Abu Mazen [aka Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority that rules the West Bank]?

BARAK: I don’t know. I don’t see Abu Mazen as part of the problem.  More probably part of the solution.  I’m more afraid that [PA prime minister] Fayyad will leave. I think that he’s very successful. He’s a very tough type of point contact for us, Fayyad, but he’s very good for the Palestinians I believe. And Abu Mazen is there. He’s the president. I don’t think we have to speculate about who would replace him. I think we have a responsibility to try to move forward with Abu Mazen.

TIME: But he’s been saying the same thing for decades now. Hasn’t he been a centripedal force? [Hamas political chief Khaled] Mashaal is talking about nonviolence now.  Until recently there’s been a hudna [cease-fire]. Do you see in the quiet, a move toward nonviolence, toward Abu Mazen’s approach?  There are people on the West Bank talking about Mashaal as his successor.

BARAK:  A British veteran diplomat who served many years in Iran said about the Iranians, said the Iranian place is a culture where they don’t say what they think, they don’t do what they say, and still there’s no cognitive dissonance as long as you’re moving toward your objective. So the same should be applied toward Mashaal.  I don’t believe that he can change.  It’s an ideology.  There is the Arab political culture something called taqiyya. It’s a kind of practice that started with stories of the Prophet. Even the concept of hudna, if you look closely at the historic roots of it, what it really means to an Arab when you talk about hudna, it’s hudna it’s Banu Quriash, a story fromthe early days of Islam,, when he just couldn’t win, physically, over Mecca. There was a tribe called the Banu Quraish, you basically make a hudna and get a priori holding in advance that the moment he’s strong enough to defeat them he can break it. So he made it, so he made it didn’t have a dissonance, the moment he was strong enough he broke it, and won. So that’s the real story of hudna.

It doesn’t mean that if someone who proposes a hudna for 50 years or 100 years we have to reject it, because we know what will happen then. We also should be practical. But I don’t think that Hamas is going to change. It’s quite natural that once they are responsible for everything – for food for babies, for medication in hospitals in a population of two million, they become more cautious about the implications of what they are doing. But I don’t see them changing their ideology. They want to change over the PLO, not just Ramallah, the leadership of the Palestinian people. They want to change the whole nature of a future Palestinian state.

But at the same time when it comes to Israel they share certain common ground with the Fatah people, see Israel as a rival. But they are not the same. I clearly prefer to talk to Ramallah. I keep telling our people, as well as leaders in the world, what we are trying to say…it’s true they’re quiet. Part of it the effectiveness of our security forces and the IDF, but clearly part of it is the result of the Palestinian security forces and the starting to build the embryonic organs of a future state. And it’s creating a law enforcing chain, short of perfect; it’s not a Canadian standard, but probably better than some other neighboring countries. So they’re moving in the right direction. But if we do not find a way, a ray of hope …. They bear much of the responsibility for the slowdown in the process.  Abu Mazen has said there’s some mistakes abroad, the way he feels he was pushed the summit of a tree and the ladder was taken away from him.   But we have an interest, it’s so important for us not to end up drifting toward kind of a one-state solution, which will inevitably – when you look at the area, the small area between the Jordan river and the Mediterranean, there live some 12 million people, probably five million Palestinian, 7 million Israelis if it’s only one political unit it will inevitably turn into either nondemocratic or non-Jewish. If they can vote, it’s not Jewish. It’s a bi-national state. If they cannot vote I don’t want to put a name on it, but it’s not exactly Jewish democracy!   We have a compelling imperative to kind of disengage from the Palestinians and to draw a line. It’s not easy, but draw a line that will include these main settlement blocs, a certain part of the West Bank, but not a big one, and be ready to compensate them partially at least for this area and to draw a line in which we will have a solid Jewish majority for years to come.

So basically I believe that we have to find a way to move forward. Icannot tell you for sure that there is a way to solve all core issues, right now, immediately with Abu Mazen. Past experience makes us a little more kind of skeptical. But even if intermediate agreement comes out of it, it’s still good, because the calmness, the tranquility is not sustainable. And when the timecomes, and it hits the wall, it doesn’t matter how exactly it develops into a renewed clash, we will face the real truths of the Middle East. If we are aiming at mutual respect and living side, that’s the domain of Fatah. If we are in a clash and violence, Hamas will excel over them.  And that’s what we say also to Abbas and Fayyad: Don’t delude yourself that by leaving it a deadlock and a possible clash that you gain something, it will end up with Israel facing Hamas.

TIME: But why shouldn’t they use the standing they have in the international community to get UN state status and have access to the International Criminal Court?

BARAK: I think that it’s unilateral and it touches sensitivities in Israel in an improper manner. It cannot help them a lot.  There are many people around Abu Mazen telling him, okay you cannot t hit it withthis government, let’s go to the GA [General Assembly] and try to threaten these things.  I don’t think it can work – well, technically it can work. They can go to the GA.  But I don’t think that it’s good for the Palestinians to the extent we can give them advice, we think there’s an alternative that is better, they can deal with us. Anything that could be achieved through negotiation could be better, more productive than this approach that leads more and more toward confrontation. And I think that the establishment of a new government here creates certain opportunity. We cannot afford –with such a wide government, 94 members of Knesset—the government itself doesn’t feel any dissonance when it starts to come close to the painful decisions that comes with a process. I do not want to be over optimistic. That by jumping into it everything is waiting there, that peace with the Palestinians will parachute from heaven.  It’s a lot of work, a lot of decisions to be made. Probably we’ll end up with an interim agreement, with mutual idea how to move, what’s the process, what are the first steps. Probably not fully inclusive steps but partial. But I think that we have to do it seriously. All alternatives are much worse than talking and trying to translate it into action.

(PHOTOS: The Stone Throwers of Palestine)

TIME: Are you an Arab Spring optimist? Do you think that however long it takes these countries to get governments that are up and running and functioning, do you think that ultimately we will have a more stable Middle East with more democratic and prosperous nations that will be better partners and collaborators with Israel, or are you an Arab Spring pessimist?

BARAK:  It depends on the time frame. We used to joke here that in the middle east that a pessimist is an optimist with experience.  If you look in the very short term, you don’t need assessments: You see developments bode ill for the stability, the harmony of the region.  In the very long term, probably it is something positive. Probably.  To see people standing on their feet, trying to take their destiny in their own hands. But it’s too early to predict and probably it reflects more our wishful thinking in a Western frame of mind than reality.  In the mid-term, I’m not optimistic because it tends to be a green kind of Arab spring. Not in terms of the colors of nature, but in religious terms. There are more and more Islamists, some of them quite radical. Somehow—I don’t want to sound patronizing somehow: it takes time, it takes patience to see change. You cannot expect an Arab Vaclev Havel to take over one of these societies.  It takes time. So you can find, if you look very closely, you find interesting phenomena, but when see the end results in the short term, it’s not extremely encouraging. But we do not pretend to control it. It’s not our choice, it’s the choice of the people. It’s dynamics that are beyond our capacity to intervene with, a dramatic event that did not happen here since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Dramatic events. And we do not see the end of it . you know, no end in Egypt; not clear. No end in Syria yet. When Assad falls it will be  amajor blow to the radical axis, to Iran, to Hizballah.  It’s not clear what will happen to the Iranian nuclear. Americans are leaving Iraq.  They might leave  Afghanistan. The situation in Pakistan is not extremely promising in terms of world balance, regional balance. So we have to be realistic, open-eyed.

It’s a tough neighborhood, extremely tough neighborhood. It’s not North America, it’s not western Europe. It’s a place where there’s really no mercy for the weak, and no second opportunity for those who cannot defend themselves. And I spent all my life in action, not talking or interpreting. I fought against Palestinians, I saw them. Arafat used to ask, oh, while Ehud Barak is talking about blood on the hands of the terrorists, doesn’t he have blood on his hands, of Palestinians?  I say, yes, we have a lot of blood but we were always sent by a government, elected governments to kill terrorists, we never tried to kill anyone; we cannot say no one has been hurt as a result of our operation, but it was always an operation aimed at terrorists or sources of terrorism, never in this indiscriminate manner against citizens, against innocent Palestinians. We don’t hate Palestinians as such. I don’t hate people. I just accept missions.  And I did spend decades doing this. I had black hair. Since I turned to dealing with Israelis I got gray hair. But I spent a lot of time, both leading operations, orderingoperations, but also trying to make peace. I tried very sincerely to make an end to the conflict to the Palestinians.  Proposed, together with Clinton, probably the furthest kind of far-reaching offer, which Arafat rejected and turned deliberately into terror. So we fight terror effectively. I tried to do the same with the father of this Assad, but he was too eager to, probably, passing the torch with his son rather than solving the issue of Golan Heights. And I ordered the pullout from Lebanon, after the tragedy. Some people raise question marks about how we did it but I’m still extremely proud of being able to order it. So I was educated, brought up in action and violence. Sometimes you have to talk a little bit about what you mean, but it cannot replace action, there should be open-mindedness and readiness to act when other alternatives are exhausted.

TIME: Thank you.

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