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Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak spoke on Thursday at the Institute of Politics about the need for closer U.S.-Israel political and military cooperation in the wake of the historic Iran nuclear deal reached between Iran and the P5+1 countries in July.
The John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum event, moderated by Kennedy School of Government professor Graham T. Allison, came just hours after Senate Democrats blocked a third attempt to pass a resolution of disapproval against the Iran deal. The international agreement would significantly restrict Iran’s nuclear capability for the next 10 to 15 years, limiting plutonium production and uranium enrichment in exchange for sanctions relief.
Barak—who also served as Israel’s defense minister from 1999 to 2001 and later between 2007 and 2013—called for greater American support for Israeli defense.
“The most urgent objective should be to resume [a] working relationship between the Prime Minister’s office in Jerusalem and the White House,” Barak said.
He added that it was a reasonable time for Israel to “request or expect that the American administration find a way to equip Israel with the tools to carry out an independent operation, if the need arise [sic], against the ... Iranian nuclear program.”
Barak said the United States and Israel should work together to decide what would constitute a significant violation of the nuclear deal by Iran, and what kinds of violations should bring sanctions or even a military option back on the table.
Barak said the Iran deal gives a sense of legitimacy to the Iranian government and, more importantly, has diminished global authority to “block any other third-grade players who wants to turn into a threshold nuclear power.” He suggested a “suspect, and verify” framework in dealing with Iran, a reference to President Ronald Reagan’s “trust, but verify” policy on relations with the Soviet Union.
When asked about the extremist militant group the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, also known as ISIS or ISIL, Barak advised not overestimating the group’s military strength.
“There are 30 or 40 thousand people basically driving Toyota pickups with one or two of the ’70s machine guns—they don’t have a single artillery battalion, attack helicopters, a drone, or jet fighter,” he said. “They were not trained by your Marine Corps, they were trained by Saddam Hussein officers—this is the same army that couldn’t take over Iran for eight years.”
Still, Barak called for a decisive, coordinated action against the group, which he did not think could be dealt with peacefully.
“If you want to shoot, shoot — don’t talk,” Barak said. “Every passing week that ISIS is still on its feet … gives them a huger [sic] prestige and ignites the imagination of young Muslims.”
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