This visit is intended to strengthen bilateral ties between Israel and the countries of the region. One of Liberman’s aims is to counter the growing Iranian influence in Latin America.
Published in El Comercio, 29 July 2009
(Translated from Spanish)
Interviewer: The Israeli Foreign Minister, Avigdor Liberman, is on a tour that has taken him through various Latin American countries. The leader of the Yisrael Beytenu party visited Brazil, Argentina, and our country and was staying in Colombia at press time. As one of Liberman’s aims is to counter the growing Iranian influence in our region, El Comercio took the opportunity to talk with him about the issue.
Q: This visit to Peru is part of a Latin American tour, one of whose purposes is countering the Iranian influence in the region. What response have you received from the various countries you visited?
Liberman: There have been several responses. We are not asking countries to decide in accordance with Israeli interests, as we understand very well that everyone has their own. The most important thing is to know the facts well, and that was our task: to present them as we see them ourselves. First, we saw how the election in Iran ended and the government’s response to the legitimate demonstrations of the Iranian youth. If the government itself is willing to kill its young people, it is clear to us that it is a vicious regime and that it will not let any kind of democratic considerations stop it. The live broadcast of the death of a young woman is one of the most horrific images I have seen in recent years.
Also, in the two terrorist attacks that were perpetrated in Buenos Aires, Argentina, against the Israeli embassy (1992) and the Jewish community building, AMIA (1994), hundreds of people died and hundreds more were injured. Most of those killed were not Israelis or Jews but Argentineans. An Argentine judge issued an international arrest warrant against eight Iranians who were heads of intelligence of Iran. Iran is trying to develop atomic weapons, and almost every day the Iranian president (Mahmoud Ahmadinejad) denies the existence of the Holocaust. Every day he calls to expel all Jews from Israel and disperse them in the European countries again. They finance all terrorist acts and organizations in Lebanon, the Gaza Strip and Iraq. That is why it is important that the facts be known so that reasonable people may draw their own conclusions.
Q: The Iranian government is strengthening links with governments such as Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador. How dangerous do you consider Iran’s influence in our region to be?
Liberman: It is quite dangerous. We can see that the government of Hugo Chavez is trying to influence several of its neighbors, interfering in their internal processes. Bolivia is doing the same thing and we can see it even in Peru. Chavez is someone who completely denies access to freedom of speech and information. It is no coincidence that he has rigged the Constitution so that he can be elected to infinity, and he has shut down a television station and several newspapers that did not agree with him. So, very clear conclusions may be drawn.
Q: What are they? Can you tell us?
Liberman: I do not want to give advice. But they are trying to develop anti-democratic, terrorist activities, and this will hurt all those involved. You must draw your own conclusions.
Q: You met with Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who is going to hold a meeting with his Iranian counterpart. Are you concerned that this meeting is going to take place?
Liberman: I had a very good meeting with President Lula. As I said earlier, everyone has their own interests. We have different opinions and it is very difficult to change them in a single meeting. Our task is to put forward our concerns and request the change.
Q: The tour includes Brazil, Argentina, Peru, and Colombia, but not Iran’s allies, such as Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador. Have you had any contact to discuss the issue of Iran?
Liberman: Bolivia and Venezuela severed diplomatic relations with us and La Paz did it two days after receiving a high-level Iranian delegation. The Israeli Minister of Infrastructure will travel to Ecuador in a short time. But I want to emphasize that Iran was not the main issue, there were many other topics. This visit is intended to strengthen bilateral ties between Israel and the countries of the region.
Q; What progress has been made with Peru?
Liberman: Here I met with the President (Alan García), with the Foreign Minister (José Antonio García Belaunde), with the Minister of Defense (Rafael Rey), and with the President of the Congress (Luis Alva Castro), and we had very good meetings. We talked about many issues, such as economic development. The investments of Israeli companies in Peru now reach six hundred million dollars and we plan to double that amount in the next few years. We have also signed an agreement under which visas are no longer necessary to travel between our countries, so we are expecting bilateral tourism to grow.
Q: Is it a time of greater rapprochement between Israel and Peru?
Liberman: There are many points of rapprochement. For instance, at the parliamentary level, there is a Peru-Israel friendship group, several members of which have recently traveled to our country and another group will be traveling in a few months. There has been an exchange all along. There are thousands of Peruvians who were trained by Israel in the field of agriculture and, of course, we must mention the influence of the Jewish community that lives here in Peru, which in some ways is the bridge between the two countries.
Q: Due to the Palestinian conflict, today there are conflicting positions between the government of Barack Obama and that of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu…
Liberman: Even among friends there are sometimes disagreements. We cannot agree one hundred percent of the time. There is a very positive dialogue and we must remember that today (27 July), the special envoy of the United States, George Mitchell, is in Jerusalem and yesterday (26 July), the Secretary of Defense (Robert Gates) was there.
Q: One of the most significant points of the disagreement between the two governments is the expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. It is precisely in that area that you have your residence…
Liberman: I would say that there are errors of understanding about historical processes. We must remember that settlements appeared after the Six-Day War of 1967. The first settlements appeared in 1968-1969, but the question is what happened during the nineteen years between 1948 and 1967, when there were no settlements. The situation was exactly the same as today. There was friction, tension, and terrorism. We must remember that during those nineteen years the Arab countries controlled the West Bank and during that stage no one wanted to create a Palestinian state. All the organizations such as the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization) and Fatah were created before 1967. We can go further back: what happened in 1948, before the establishment of the State of Israel? The situation was the same: tension, friction, and terrorism. Therefore focusing the whole problem on the issue of the settlements is a mistake.
Q: Even though the topic is fairly complex, what is then the solution proposed by the Israeli government for the conflict with Palestine?
Liberman: The solution is quite simple. Peace cannot be imposed, it must be created. It cannot be achieved from one day to the next. We have to create several stages: economic security, physical security, stability, and only then can there be peace. You cannot skip any of these requirements to reach the end point. What the Oslo Accords tried to do since 1993 has been to skip these three points. The last three governments of (Ehud) Barak, (Ariel) Sharon, and (Ehud) Olmert offered almost everything, but achieved nothing.