Q&A with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak
Edited excerpts of interview by Washington Post's Janine Zacharia, with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv, Friday, July 23, 2010
WP: You arrive in Washington on Monday. What is the primary objective of your trip?
Barak: I will go to look into the situation, what can be done in order to give a momentum to the peace process, especially with the Palestinians, but without losing sight of other issues from regional security, to the Syrians but mainly the Palestinian issue. We have of course to see what's going on with our relationship with the American defense establishment. The administration is doing a lot to support Israel's qualitative military edge. At the same time there are considerations in Washington about moving forward with major deals with our neighbors and we want to make sure that we are in an understanding with the administration regarding to this issue as well and of course while I'm there we'll talk about other regional issues from Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza and, of course, Iran. I'll find an opportunity to meet with friends in the intelligence community and Secretary Clinton and Secretary Gates, probably General Jones. While I'm in the United States I'll also meet with Ban Ki-moon and some other U.N. officials regarding remnants of the Goldstone report and what they plan regarding the [Gaza] flotilla, the review panel. Very busy schedule. Probably meet the press a little bit and some of the Congress leaders.
WP: When you refer to "major deals'' do you mean the United States' planned sale of F15s to Saudi Arabia?
Barak: We understand the American need, under the strategy of the administration, to kind of strengthen the moderate Arab countries facing the same threat from hegemonic Iran. But, at the same time, we have a tradition of understanding with following administrations to keep Israel's superiority in weapons' systems andmunitions and so on and we would like to make sure that while you are following your strategy, Israel will keep the overall balance, that under the kind of changes in the landscape that might happen in the Middle East even in longer time frames we won't find ourselves somehow in an inferior situation.
And we'll discuss the coming deal with Israel about the fifth generation warplanes, the JSF [Joint Strike Fighter]. We are interested in it and want to look and find the right balance. We need of course to be able to participate in production of some parts in our industry as well as making sure that we can continue keeping our real edge which stems out from Israeli electronics and from our weapons' systems to find the balance, an agreed upon balance between our needs and the American readiness to give us access to these advanced planes.
We are not in a point or position to tell the Americans what to do with our technologies but we feel from our experience because once we take a major weapons system like an advanced aircraft we will have it for 40 years. Most of us won't be here when these airplanes will end their service, probably Shimon [Peres], only kind of such kind of eternal figures. But if the plane has to serve us for two generations practically we need to be able to adapt to technological developments along the way, EW [electronic warfare] and weaponry, where we have highly advanced systems of our own and we want to find an agreed way with the Americans how to be able to adapt probably not in the first round of these planes but in the next round because we cannot afford buying all of them in one stroke.
We are talking about probably several dozens of them but at first we cannot buy all of them and in fact it has not yet passed the point of no return in our decision because of many considerations to do with the price, timetable, certain modifications we would like to see in it, but we will have to make the final decisions in relatively short time.
WP: On the Saudi deal, are you telling the United States not to sell it or would Israel would be satisfied with the Saudis getting a dumbed-down version?
Barak: I don't feel easy to kind of talk about it explicitly. I don't think that Israel is in a position to tell the United States not to sell it to other allies' weapons systems because if we don't sell probably others will. But we would appreciate it if we could be compensated and the qualitative edge will be assured as well as certain aspects of the quantity. Beyond certain point, quantity turns into quality especially when the planes themselves are extremely sophisticated one.
WP: How would you like Israel to be "compensated?''
Barak: don't know. We would like to see in what way, not compensated, probably not the right term, what steps can be taken in order to ensure that in the long term -- especially if we enter into a major peace agreements with our neighbors and in each such agreement we are raising the level of potential risks while getting the fruits of peace we expose ourselves -- and we have to be somehow deployed with better technologies, better systems to compensate for the loss of territory and space that results from political or diplomatic agreements.