We are witnessing Iranian meddling through Hizbullah. Through this meddling, Iran is trying to convince Syria that Israel is about to attack them. This is a lie.
[translated from Hebrew]
Yonit Levy: Good evening, Mr. Prime Minister. King Abdullah says that if there is no political progress, there will be a war in July, which, by the way, is a view shared by many in the Israeli security system. Are you aware of the concern in Israel that until there is forward momentum, until something on the political front moves forward, there could be a conflict soon?
PM Netanyahu: First of all, we very much want to move the political process forward. We took several steps to advance it. On my first day in office, I called on Abu Mazen to come and negotiate, and on my first day, unfortunately, he set preconditions. We did other things – we removed roadblocks and hundreds of checkpoints. We also approved the moratorium [on new construction in the West Bank]. We took all these steps, some of which…
Udi Segal: He didn’t say it after you did all these things. I mean, the question is if you share his estimation that we are facing a fight, a war?
PM Netanyahu: No. I am saying two things. A: whether or not there is progress, it won’t be because we didn’t want progress, but rather that the Palestinians climbed up a tree. They climbed up a eucalyptus tree – like the one I see outside my window – and they set all kinds of preconditions. They need to climb down from that tree and I hope they do so soon.
Levy: So if it’s their fault anyway, if we accept that narrative, then that means there will be a conflict soon.
PM Netanyahu: I’m saying that moving the political process forward is first and foremost our desire. No one needs to prod us. Now, with regard to the likelihood of war – we don’t want war; we do not seek war; and in my estimation, we are witnessing Iranian meddling both direct and indirect through the Hizbullah. Through this meddling, Iran is trying to convince Syria that Israel is about to attack them. This is a lie. We can always defend ourselves; we know how to defend ourselves; we are prepared to defend ourselves; but this is a lie. If a lie is repeated often enough, even good people and good leaders may begin mistakenly to repeat it. Israel wants peace. Israel does not want war.
Segal: To the best of your knowledge, has Syria transferred Scud missiles or other long-range missiles meant to strike Israel to the Hizbullah?
PM Netanyahu: I’m not going to go into detailed intelligence, but I can say one thing: at all times, weapons are flowing from Syria through the Lebanon-Syria border, both from Iran and from Syria and its flowing to the Hizbullah – indisputably. This is in blatant violation of Security Council Resolution 1701. Unfortunately this continues to happen.
Segal: Is this transfer of weapons like Scuds, like other long-range missiles, like anti-aircraft missiles, a casus belli? Is it cause, as far as Israel is concerned, for war or to attack? Did you pass such a message on to the United States as the Minister of Defense claimed he did?
PM Netanyahu: I think Syria understands that the United States is sharply critical of the transfer of weapons of this kind, as of course is Israel and other peace-loving nations. I am not willing to go into specific details. I hope they understand that this is unacceptable. We’re not threatening war against anyone.
Levy: We’re talking about Hizbullah missiles, you talk about Iranian meddling. These are dark and dangerous threats. Is this really the time to anger the United States, Mr. Prime Minister?
PM Netanyahu: It’s not the time to anger anyone. We’re not defying anyone and we’re not angering anyone. We need to stand firm for our vital interests and we are. I agree that there are sometimes disagreements, some of which are reported and some that are misreported and some of which is wildly exaggerated.
Levy: Why then does it seem like the President of the United States is hostile towards you and humiliated you during your recent visit there.
PM Netanyahu: He’s not hostile and there was no humiliation. I think things have been wildly exaggerated.
Segal: What? You weren’t humiliated during your last visit?
PM Netanyahu: Let me tell you, first of all, there were many pure inventions in the reports about the meeting. I’m not saying we agree about everything. That wouldn’t be true either. But the talks were good talks and open talks. I appreciate that during our talks President Obama said some really true things, completely honest, and I was also true and honest. I told him: "I can move towards you on this matter; I want to move towards you on this matter; I’m prepared to move towards you on this matter; there are things I can do but there are things I can’t."
Segal: Let’s clear up the central question: did the President of the United States Barak Obama demand that you freeze construction in Jerusalem and did you give him a clear answer – yes or no?
PM Netanyahu: I’m not going to go into details.
Segal: And then you claim that reports are exaggerated.
PM Netanyahu: That’s true. I keep reading about a seemingly endless list of demands. It’s just not factual. But I’m not going to go into details…
Segal: But did you answer him, "We are not prepared to freeze construction in Jerusalem"?
PM Netanyahu: Let me tell you something – you don’t have to focus on our last meeting. At our first meeting a year ago, I made it very clear – and have since then on countless occasions, including my speech to AIPAC, and (if you’ll forgive me) in my interview with ABC news just this week and in diplomatic conversations. I have consistently said one simple thing: our policy on Jerusalem is not going to change. This is not just my policy, this was the policy of all the prime ministers who preceded me going back to the Six Day War.
Levy: The Americans are demanding specific things that they aren’t demanding from the Palestinians…
PM Netanyahu: How do you know that?
Levy: Alright, then tell us. Aren’t they making demands of you? Aren’t they demanding that you freeze construction in Jerusalem?
PM Netanyahu: Let me be clear: there will be no freeze in Jerusalem. Not now, not later. I also think that the demand for preconditions is beginning to create… more than just beginning – that there is complete understanding that the idea of preconditions must be abandoned. This doesn’t mean that the United States agrees with us on everything, it doesn’t.
Levy: What does that mean, doesn’t agree with us on everything? You were invited to the White House; you had to sneak in like a thief in the night. There weren’t any briefings, there weren’t any photographs. The President of the United States, the Secretary of State and the Vice President all reprimanded you in public. Such behavior is unheard of, at least for the past 30 years. The ambassador you appointed to the United States said so.
PM Netanyahu: It’s true that there are ups and downs. We’ve been through more difficult situations by the way, much more difficult. I have nothing to hide. We do share very strong bonds that will eventually help us overcome these problems and reach understandings. But you asked me if I was standing firm on the question of Jerusalem. I don’t hide my position – I am standing firm. In the end, the argument isn’t whether or not there will be Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem. Everyone knows that these neighborhoods will be Jewish. In the end, the argument is whether there will preconditions or not. Because the peace process in this regard is dependent on only one thing – in my opinion it depends on removing preconditions to negotiations.
Segal: And if these preconditions are removed, is there an understanding between you and the President? The question is – what is the source of the problem? Is it a personal problem that he doesn’t believe you, that you haven’t made a basic personal connection wherein you can say to him: "Look, trust me"? Or is the problem that he is hostile towards you and Israel? In your best estimation and judgment, what is President Obama’s problem?
PM Netanyahu: It’s not about people. There is too much personalization on both sides… It’s a little naïve and simplistic to deal with the issue in this way. In the end, two democracies like Israel and the United States act in accordance with shared values and interests that find expression in public opinion. At the end of the day, we’re public servants. Our public wants a peace process, but it also wants us to safeguard our vital interests: security, Jerusalem and others. The American public wants to support the State of Israel and does so, and every American president, including President Obama, ultimately recognizes and expresses the fundamental support of the American people for Israel. These things will help us overcome our differences. I’m not papering them over and I’m not trying to hide them. Those differences exist, but we share something powerful beyond these difference.
Levy: There’s a problem here. Either you’re painting a very positive picture or we’re painting a darker one. It’s one or the other: you’ll either follow the path outlined by Obama, and then you’ll lose your government, or you’ll follow the path outlined by Liberman and you’ll lose Obama. Perhaps the Israeli public has the right to know which path you’ve chosen one year into your tenure?
PM Netanyahu: Perhaps reality is not quite as you described it? Perhaps a prime minister will stand by his word? Why do I need to give up on Jerusalem? I don’t understand. Why? There is no logic… Where do you live?
Levy: Tel Aviv, but I’m from Jerusalem originally. Let me ask you: Is Abu Dis Jerusalem? Is Shoafat Jerusalem? Is it?
PM Netanyahu: That’s a different question. You’re asking about Arab neighborhoods, which is a legitimate question. There are those with differing viewpoints. Many of them… no one is rushing to nor wants to annex more Arab population to Jerusalem, but some people say: if you pull out of there, we’ve already seen what can happen. We left Lebanon and Iran came in; we left Gaza and Iran came in; and if we will leave Jerusalem, Iran may come in. This is a legitimate concern. This is a question that will arise during the final settlement talks. It’s not a question that we are discussing right now. The question we are discussing now is whether or not I will stop construction in French Hill where you grew up? Now people say that that place, where you grew up, is an area of dispute. People tell me that I can’t plan or build there. With all due respect, I say to them: as Prime Minister of all the people of Israel – "Gentlemen, I have red lines. This is a red line I will not cross."
Levy: Even if the cost is conflict with the United States?
PM Netanyahu: We’re not in conflict with the United States.
Levy: By the way, do you trust that Obama will support Israel regarding the Iran issue? Do you trust him implicitly?
PM Netanyahu: I trust him that he understands the problem – a problem which we all share – and the solution to that problem, which we must all face together. When Barak Obama was still Senator Obama, he visited Israel during his presidential campaign. At the time, I was leader of the Opposition. I said to him: "It could well be that you will lead the United States and I will lead Israel," and I said: "Of all the problems that flood your desk and keep you busy, in the end one will stand out – and that is the question of Iran’s military nuclear program because that program will decide the fate of the world. In that sense, if you’re elected president, your obligation will be to stop it, to try to organize a coalition to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons." I think that there are certain steps that can be taken now that can be effective.
Segal: But can we trust Obama to stop Iran, meaning can he use all means necessary, including military force to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons?
PM Netanyahu: Barak Obama demonstrated his determination with regard to issues he felt were important, and his determination was quite impressive. I think President Obama can show that same determination with regard to Iran. If he does so, then certainly the United States can stop the Iranian nuclear program. But before military means, there is an obvious path that can be chosen and that is the path of strong sanctions, not necessarily only in the framework of the Security Council.
Segal: In the meantime, he’s taking his time and has postponed imposing sanctions twice. He’s not taking your suggestion for imposing sanctions on petroleum products.
PM Netanyahu: What are petroleum products? It’s fuel, gasoline for cars. You’re imposing sanctions on gasoline for cars.
Segal: But they’re not going for it. They’re going for softer sanctions. The question is, can we trust the United States under Obama’s leadership to stop Iran or can Israel only trust itself and the IDF?
PM Netanyahu: First of all, our preference is that the United States lead this effort; that is crystal clear. If the United States can impose stiff sanctions, especially on importing gasoline to Iran – not necessarily through the Security Council, since I highly doubt such a move will pass there – outside the framework of the Security Council, there are several leading countries, led by the United States, that are part of such an effort and this could seriously impact upon the Iranian regime. Will it stop them? This remains to be determined. I hope it does. We just celebrated our 62nd Independence Day. What does independence mean for the Jewish people? First and foremost, it means having our own country and the ability to defend ourselves, so Israel will always reserve their right of self-defense.
Levy: One final question, with your permission: when we come back one year from now and interview you, will we be speaking to you after the next war or at the height of the peace process?
PM Netanyahu: My prayer – mine, yours and all of ours – is that we can truly advance peace. What will really determine peace? Peace will be determined not by our desire alone, but also by the desire of our neighbors. We can complete the circle of peace with those of our neighbors who seek peace. One cannot make peace with those who do not want peace. But those who want peace will find in me and in the citizens of Israel unwavering partners in peace. My hope, my prayer is that we will reach this goal soon, in the next year or two. This is my sincere hope.