Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said the U.S. and Europe should put aside differences with China and Russia over human-rights and missile-defense issues to focus on working together to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
"The triad of nuclear proliferation, radical Muslim terror, and rogue states, epitomized in the Iran case, can be defeated only through a paradigm shift in international relationships, Barak said in an interview at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv late yesterday.
Barak said criticism of Russia's actions in Chechnya and China's human-rights record are hurting efforts to put up a united front against Iran. He also said that U.S. plans to deploy a missile-defense system in Eastern Europe, which the Americans say is aimed at countering Iran and which Moscow perceives as a threat, also aren't helpful.
"The other issues are not as urgent, he said.
The U.S. and its European Union allies, who accuse Iran of using its nuclear energy program as a cover for developing a weapon, are pressing for a fourth round of United Nations sanctions. Iran has rejected UN demands to halt its work on enriching uranium, which can be used to fuel a power station or form the core of a bomb.
Iran has already produced enough nuclear material to make one atom bomb, The New York Times said today, citing a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
"The time for sanctions is still there, but it is short, said Barak, 66, who heads Israel's Labor Party and is the country's former prime minister. "The way I see to make it effective is to cut through the psychological obstacles about cooperating with Russia and China and open a new discourse.
Elections Next Year
Barak is leading Labor's campaign as Israel heads for elections on Feb. 10, about a year earlier than scheduled, after Ehud Olmert announced his resignation as prime minister to defend himself against allegations of corruption which he denies. The elections were called after Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Olmert's Kadima Party colleague, failed to form a new government. Labor trails Kadima and the Likud Party in polls.
Gerald Steinberg, chairman of Bar Ilan University's political science department in Ramat Gan, said Barak's comment tying the lack of progress on confronting Iran to the West's disagreements with China and Russia is noteworthy.
"It is certainly a much broader statement than I've heard from any other Israeli leader on Iran, Steinberg said. "This is aligning Israeli policy, or at least Barak's policy, with the recognition that Barack Obama is coming into office."
U.S. President-elect Obama, who will take office on Jan. 20, said during his campaign that he would seek more cooperation from Russia and China to make the sanctions against Iran effective. Barak said he has expressed his views about Iran to Obama and President George W. Bush.
Barak, the military's former chief of staff, noted that Israel faces threats not only from Iran, but also from its proxies in south Lebanon and the Gaza Strip, where a fragile five-month cease-fire with Hamas, a militant Islamic group considered a terrorist organization by Israel, the U.S. and Europe, has been shaken by violence over the past two weeks.
Barak reiterated his position that Israel should not rush into a broad military operation against Hamas and other unaffiliated armed groups in Gaza.
"We hold Hamas responsible to keep discipline, he said. "We see them trying, short of being perfect, and take into account that the cease-fire could be broken any day and then we have to decide if to hit heavily against Hamas.
More than 140 rockets and mortar shells have been fired at Israel from Gaza over the past two weeks, and 14 Palestinian militants were killed in Israeli strikes.
Other Israeli politicians have called for sending in troops to eliminate Hamas rule in Gaza. Barak said that may not resolve the problem.
“Hearts and Minds'
"We could go in and destroy Hamas, but that will not necessarily erase the thoughts of Hamas from the hearts and minds of the people there, he said.
Barak said the current round of talks to negotiate peace with Syria, which are being brokered by Turkey, had "potential.
"The Syrians are looking for an opportunity to secure the long-term continuity of their regime, said Barak, who as prime minister held the last direct round of talks with Syria in 2000. "They would like to settle issues in Lebanon, and get goodies from the U.S. They are facing a major economic crisis.
On efforts to shield Israel from the global economic slowdown, Barak called plans announced yesterday by Finance Minister Ronnie Bar-On to boost government spending by 21.7 billion shekels ($5.5 billion) next year "too little, too late. Barak said he favors even more expansive government investment.
"An economic tsunami is headed toward our shores from the rest of world, he said. "This is a once-in-a-century type of crisis. We have to prepare and what should be done is clear. We have to loosen the monetary reins.
To contact the reporters on this story:
Gwen Ackermanin at ten.grebmoolb|namrekcag#ten.grebmoolb|namrekcag;
Calev Ben-David at ten.grebmoolb|divadnebc#ten.grebmoolb|divadnebc.