- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 22, 2015

NEWSMAKER INTERVIEW:

Having struck a nuclear deal with Iran over Israel’s strong objections, the Obama administration and its allies now must step up to ensure the security of the Jewish state through military aid and greater intelligence-sharing, a top foreign policy voice for Israel’s opposition Labor Party said in an interview.

Hilik Bar, a deputy speaker of the Knesset, said Israel’s major parties were lined up behind Likud Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in opposing the agreement with Tehran, which will give Iran relief from punishing international sanctions in exchange for more restrictions and monitoring of its suspect nuclear programs for the next decade.

With the deal now in place, Mr. Bar said, Israel needs additional aid and support from Washington to ensure it can defend itself from a resurgent Iran and its allies in the Middle East.

“First, it is important to make sure that Iran does not cheat” on its commitments under the agreement, Mr. Bar told reporters and editors at The Washington Times on Monday.

“But the U.S. and other stakeholders also must provide all the possible tools needed to make sure Israel retains its strategic and military advantage in the region,” he said. “To lose that would not be good for Israel and not good for the West.”

He declined to give details on what military systems and weapons might be on Israel’s wish list, saying discussions are underway but “not for the newspapers.”

Equally vital, he said, is for the U.S. and Israel to improve the sharing of intelligence. He noted that Israel was totally sidelined in the final negotiations with Iran. With the deal going forward, Mr. Bar said, it is critical that Israelis know of any emerging threats from Iranian allies such as Hezbollah and Hamas and that close tabs be kept on the new funds flowing to Iran’s government after sanctions are lifted.

Cooperation between Israel’s Mossad and U.S. intelligence services traditionally has been close, but Mr. Bar said the Iran deal introduces a new level of concern, putting “a kosher stamp on something that should never be given a kosher stamp.”

“One thing the U.S. and Europe must promise is that Israel will be provided with increased warnings about immediate threats that arise within the region,” he said. “One thing that most concerns all Israelis is that [Hezbollah and Hamas] will have more money and resources now that the sanctions are over.”

President Obama has vowed to maintain and increase support for Israel in the wake of the Iran deal, despite strains in the bilateral relationship following Mr. Netanyahu’s open campaign to torpedo the deal.

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported last week that U.S. and Israeli officials have begun informal “day-after” talks to repair the relationship. Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon is slated to visit Washington next month for talks with Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, and it was announced last week that Mr. Netanyahu will meet with President Obama in the Oval Office on Nov. 9.

Among the subjects in the preliminary talks, according to the newspaper, was the consideration of additional American sanctions to counter any cash transfers from Iran to Hamas or Hezbollah. The two sides also discussed ways to preserve the Israeli Defense Force’s “qualitative advantage” over its regional rivals.

Mr. Bar addressed a number of issues in the interview, including:

• The Syrian civil war, where he said Israel is reluctant to intervene because it “wasn’t our war” and it isn’t clear who deserves Israel’s support.

“I think it is mainly a question of bad against bad, and there are many factions, such as the Kurds and Druze, that have their own interests,” Mr. Bar said, adding that it’s not even clear that Syrian President Bashar Assad has full control of his own army.

• The Israeli-Palestinian dispute, in which the Labor lawmaker said a strong push is needed for a durable two-state settlement. The Netanyahu government’s decision to shut down talks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on a political deal while discussing security issues with the militant Hamas faction sends the wrong signal, Mr. Bar said.

Any prospect of striking a larger peace agreement with hostile Arab states is impossible so long as the Palestinian question remains unresolved, he said.

“There are those who want to live here with us, and there are those who want to live here instead of us,” he said, adding that Israel should take up an Arab peace initiative, first floated more than a decade ago, as at least a starting point for comprehensive talks.

Given the demographic trends inside Israel and in the region as a whole, he said, “a one-state solution means the eventual elimination of the state of Israel.”

Israeli politics, where he contended that the opposition Labor Party is steadily rebuilding its strength despite the demoralizing victory of Mr. Netanyahu in March’s general election, with Labor increasing from eight seats in the aftermath of the fall of Labor Prime Minister Ehud Barak to 24 seats (out of 120) in the Knesset. Much of Likud’s success in the vote came at the expense, not of Labor, but other conservative factions, Mr. Bar said.

“I am confident if we continue on our current path, we will only be getting stronger,” he said.

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