Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon speaking Jan. 28 at Israel's Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv. (Israel Defense Ministry)
TEL AVIV — Two weeks after apologizing for a scathing attack on US Secretary of State John Kerry and the US-led Mideast peace drive, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon delivered a relatively temperate, yet no less critical assessment of US policy and its impact on the region.
In a Jan. 28 address kicking off an annual security conference here, Ya’alon assailed Washington for disengaging from conflict zones, relinquishing its role as global policemen and succumbing to an interim deal with Iran which he assailed as an “historic fumble.”
Unlike his tirade against Kerry, whom Ya’alon blasted as “inexplicably obsessed” with pursuing an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal unworthy of “the paper it was printed on,” the MoD boss offered a constructive assessment of a strategically shifting region.
Washington, said Ya’alon, will remain the world’s sole superpower, despite “the current situation, when the United States decides to disengage from conflict zones and is unenthusiastic about serving as the world’s policeman.”
While the US is challenged in the region by Russia and China, “there is no one that wants to step into the shoes of the United States.”
Russia is leading in the Syrian theater by default, Ya’alon told a gathering of Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), due to Washington’s decision to “lower its profile.”
According to Ya’alon, a former head of military intelligence and Israel Defense Forces chief of staff, only two nations divide the world into territorial sectors of operational responsibility: the United States and Iran.
And while Washington has disengaged forces from Iraq and is drawing down from Afghanistan, Iran is rushing into those countries and elsewhere around the globe to fill the vacuum with terror and export a “messianic, apocalyptic” version of Islamic revolution, he said.
“The United States has its commands and Iran has its Corps. … It’s a regime that is now well received in the world despite the fact that it continues to spread its balance of terror in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, the Palestinian theater in Gaza, South America, Asia and Africa,” Ya’alon said.
On the US-led drive to reach a two-state peace deal, Ya’alon dismissed as “legend” claims that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a main source of Sunni-Shi’a wars and other troubles roiling the region.
“There is an argument between us and our friends about the [larger regional significance] of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But you can’t hang what’s happening in the Middle East on this conflict,” he insisted.
He also rejected arguments articulated by the US government, most world powers and many experts in Israel that failure to conclude a Palestinian peace deal deters Saudi Arabia and other moderate Sunni states from forging a united front against Iran.
“People in the Arab countries don’t raise the Palestinian issue; it’s only lip service for external consumption. What does the Palestinian issue have to do with the Iranian threat?”
In a televised interview presented Jan. 28 at the same INSS event, Palestine Authority President Mahmoud Abbas utterly dismissed Ya’alon’s assertions, insisting that 57 Arab and Islamic states — “from Mauritania to Indonesia” — would grant “full recognition” of Israel once a two-state deal was concluded.
“The opportunity for peace might not return,” Abbas told attorney, INSS fellow and former Israeli peace negotiator Gilead Sher.
But Ya’alon, a prominent, yet relatively pragmatic hawk in the right-of-center coalition government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said peace with the Palestinians “apparently won’t be realized in my generation.”
It is way too premature, he insisted, to consider US-crafted security arrangements when Palestinians are unwilling to accept Israel’s right to exist in the region as a sovereign homeland for the Jewish people.
“You can’t talk about security coming from unmanned aerial vehicles and sensors. As long as the Israeli flag does not appear on their map, and Palestine extends from Rosh Hanikra [bordering Lebanon in the north] to Eilat [at the Red Sea]…. As long as they are unwilling to declare an end of conflict and end of claims until the last Palestinian refugee is satisfied, what is there to discuss? This is the essence of the conflict.” ■