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BarLev in Swiss-Israel Association, Geneva

Bar-lev's speech in Swiss-Israel Association, Geneva, 22/06/2018

Mrs. Corina Echinberger Walter -  President of the Swiss-Israel Association and the European Association for Israel,

Mr. Joel Herzog,

distinguished fellows,

The last couple of months were very hectic in Israel, from President Trump’s decision to step out of the nuclear agreement with Iran, to the Iranian military presence in Syria and the clashes we had and still have with Hamas in the south.

Iran’s threat

From the Israeli perspective Iran’s threat should be divided into three types:

First, the biggest threat to Israel today, is Iran’s efforts to establish its military presence in Syria. Iran tries to do it in several ways: via proxies most of which are Shiite militias south of Damascus, and in parallel, establishing Iranian missile bases north of Damascus in operational range to threaten and cover almost all of Israel.

There is no other reason for these actions apart from Iran’s interest to establish a direct threat to Israel which will enable Iran upon its sole decision and interest to easily rovoke a total military confrontation between Iran, Syria, Hezbollah in Lebanon and probably Hamas in the south all against Israel. Israel cannot accept such a threat and therefore will not tolerate with such intention.

The second threat by Iran to the Middle East as a whole and to Israel, is its ballistic missile development plan. By aggressively continuing the plan, it violates the UN Security Council 1929 resolution of 2010 against such activity. I believe that the world and specifically the permanent members of the UN Security Council should not continue and tolerant Iran’s ignoring the resolution. I believe that the Security Council should consider implementing sanctions on Iran due to such violation, unless it freezes all such activity.   

The third, the Nuclear Deal with Iran, I as many others do not think the Nuclear Deal is a good deal but even a bad deal sometimes is better than no deal. Looking ahead after President Trump’s decision to walk away from the deal, it puts enormous pressure on Iran and will accelerate their decision how to go on.  It also brings Israel to a situation that we were expected to be in five years or more from now.  Due to the US decision Iran can decide now to stick to the Deal or walk out. If Iran walks out, it can still limit its nuclear enrichment according to the Deal but on the other hand it may as well decide to break forward to a nuclear bomb at a relatively short time.  And this will be very bad for Israel and the entire Middle Est.


Hamas in the Gaza Strip is desperate. The reconciliation between Hamas and the PLO was an outcome of Hamas’ distress due to its isolation within the Arab world and due to the difficult humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip which endangers the population’s support of the organization. And it failed.

The Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas refuses to take any civil responsibility on the Gaza Strip, threatens each month not to transfer wages to tens of thousands of workers in the Strip (civil servants) and in other words he couldn’t care less.

The situation in Gaza today is worse than that of the summer of 2014, which was the main cause of the outbreak of the armed conflict.  Since Hamas has no interest now in opening an overall campaign against Israel, it decided to act in other ways and continue and brake the status-quo and in the last couple of months sent tens of thousands of Hamas activists and Palestinian civilians to the border fence with Israel to try to break through it.

Crossing an international boundary of a country without a permit is a violation of international law.  It is not permitted. It allows the country whose sovereign borders have been compromised to act even using force against such a violation.

Thus, according to all moral and international criteria the state of Israel has the right to use all means to prevent violation to its sovereignty.

When tens of thousands of people move to the border fence, some of them reach the fence itself, some of them, place explosive charges in order to break into the fence, some throw Molotov cocktails ( fire explosives) at IDF forces, IDF soldiers are to act stop them not to kill them. And the instructions are clear, to fire accurate sniper fire only at the foot when it is seen at those men who arrive near the fence in order to stop them not to kill them. Not only that, but a sniper is allowed to open fire only when a company commander or a battalion commander is standing by him and confirms the decision. 

As thousands of people are coming at you from a distance of 100 meters or less – you are in front of this crowd almost alone, maybe with several other snipers and have to stop them.  Mistakes happen and some people are hurt above the knee and even are killed. The IDF is not an insurance agency, and thinking about my son that might be there, he or his fellows are not insurance agents.

After several weeks of using this method the internal criticism within Gaza grew and one of Hamas spokesmen admitted publically that 50 out of the 60 Palestinians that were killed at the Nakba Day were Hamas activists and not civilians. Since that day the number of participants in the demonstrations narrowed gradually and quite coincidently they found another way to renew the conflict. This time using kites and balloons filled with helium. The wind at this time of year is blowing from west to east from Gaza to Israel. The Palestinians are tying homemade fire bombs and explosives to kites and balloons sending them up near the border and letting them fall on the fields and groves in the Israeli side. It causes huge fires in Israel, it burns thousands of acres of wheat, thousands of acres of pasture where the Israeli Bedouin shepherds are making their living, and the villages are in danger of fires.

What would you do in such a case? There is no question that this violate the international law. Just try to envision if French or Germans or Italians would do this on purpose to burn fields and houses here in Switzerland what would you do?

But as usual there are two sides to every coin.  The humanitarian disaster in the Gaza Strip is imminent.  And when it will occur due to any reason, one might be an outbreak of dysentery from the untreated water or any other reason, and then the questions will be asked: what could Israel have done to prevent this?

After the war with Hamas during summer 2014, I presented an initiative called Gaza an Opportunity. I understood that there is no enemy more dangerous than an enemy that has nothing to lose. In a nut shell, this initiative said that it is Israel’s interest that Gaza Strip will be developed including having a deep water harbor and international airport – practically what Hamas wants, and the ultimate formula should be on the one hand demilitarizing the Strip and on the other developing it.

In the last few months the Israeli security establishment said time and again to the government there is no military solution regarding our conflict with Hamas and the only way to deal with it is via economic development. It’s not a secured path but it has a potential for better success than a military one. To my sorrow the Israeli government's didn’t accept the above recommendation and continue with its policy - when they shoot at us, we shoot back and we know how to do it better. When it's relatively quiet in our area, like in the past almost three and a half years following Tzuk Eitan, the prime minister says to himself, "if it is so quiet, why should I take any initiative?".

Nothing is simple in the Middle East and as you probably know Hamas is holding the bodies of two Israeli soldiers killed during Iron Shield and two Israeli citizens that crossed the border to Gaza several years ago. Hamas doesn’t give the Red Cross organization any information regarding the Israeli citizens they hold in prison and surely do not let Red Cross representatives visit them. This is as well violets the International law and there is a justified cry by many Israeli citizens calling the Government not to do any humanitarian steps as long as Hamas doesn’t agree to bring us back the bodies of our soldiers and our prisoners.

So looking at the situation in the south, what do I see?

  • The IDF that does its outmost to prevent Palestinians from challenging our sovereignty and burn our fields and I fully support it and our soldiers,
  • An Israeli government that doesn’t want to take any risk,
  • Mahmud Abas the Palestinian president that doesn’t care less about the conditions that his own people in Gaza live.
  • And the Hamas, a desperate cruel enemy that risks and uses it won civilians as a shield, and doesn’t let the Red Cross any information about the two bodies of Israeli soldiers and two Israelis kept in prison, and doesn’t want to replace them for better humanitarian conditions of its own people.


Looking east the West-Bank

We are 50 years after the Six Day War, and we ourselves define our current relationship with our closest neighbors, the Palestinians, as temporary. And yet we continue to act as if this situation is very acceptable, indeed comfortable, for us. A state with a true vision should be unable and unwilling to accept the temporary as permanent, to acquiesce to the "way things are". To be honest our neighbors have time and again failed to reach a peaceful hand towards us. Still, we are the stronger side, and therefore the majority of the responsibility falls on our shoulders to strive for change now.

I believe that we tend to oversimplify the case when speaking of peace between Israel and the Palestinians. The belief that we and the Palestinians after tough negotiation will reach an agreement and that immediately following that agreement peace will reign between the two peoples – is naive and dangerous. Unlike our peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan (in which I took an active part as a member of the IDF's negotiating team) that were pacts between leaders and between countries with strong institutions and organizations peace took place almost the day after signed.

Peace agreement with the Palestinians once reached will be very different. Even if an agreement is signed tomorrow between us, it will take Israel five years or even more to implement it. Israel will have to resettle some 100,000 settlers (to remind you, less than 10 thousand settlers needed to be resettled following the Gaza disengagement). Israel will also need that time to ensure that the Palestinian government that will take over the territories is indeed capable of fulfilling its responsibilities.

Today, in the 21st century, a democracy is a state in which all citizens enjoy equal rights and full citizenship. This is not our situation today in which we capture, occupy, being responsible – you may choose any one of these expressions - for almost 3 million Palestinians with no full citizens’ rights.

Based on the foundation of Zionism Israel's paramount goal is to ensure its existence and security as a democratic state with a clear Jewish majority. In order to achieve this goal, Israel must separate from the 2.8 million Palestinians living in the West-Bank. This is our clear interest!

So what should and what can we do? There are basically two perceptions in the Israeli Center and Left political map. The first, the traditional one – we should begin negotiating with the Palestinians and reach an agreement that will end the conflict. As I mentioned already this I believe is a naïve belief assuming almost “it’s all about us” and once an agreement will be achieved the next morning it could be implemented and we’ll have peace in the region. The second, whom I am leading since I joined the Knesset five years ago and was formally embraced by the Labor Party, is the understanding that separating from the Palestinians is clearly an Israeli interest.

The initiative I presented I called “Secured Separation”. It defines the first four steps to be done simultaneously without infecting Israel’s security:

  1. The immediate cessation of building outside the settlement blocks
  2. Implementation of a "voluntary evacuation and compensation bill” in the Knesset to settlers living out of the Blocks that willingly would like to be resettled.
  3. Expand Area B in the West Bank on behalf of C. That means give the Palestinians additional civil responsibilities in area C as long as it does not affect Israel’s security. By the way, this was Avigdor Liberman Israel’s Defense Minister proposal that was recently rejected by the government.
  4. Offer “demilitarization for development” in the Gaza Strip.

I believe that a set of "first steps" like these will convince the Palestinians and the international community that we indeed have no interest in ruling over a foreign nation, and above all, begin the long separation from the Palestinians, and by that save Zionism.

To Conclude, you might know that years ago I was the commander of Israel’s elite commando unit. During those years I had to do a lot of navigating at night. One of the most important navigation tools we have, is that bright light just above the horizon – the North Star. It is there, always. You walk towards it, always getting closer but never arriving. Though the North Star is our guide in the sky, our path itself is here on the ground, with barriers and obstacles that challenge us. It weaves and winds along various little points along the way and sometimes we have no choice but to veer left or right or withdraw in order to ultimately advance. This is true for navigating and for pursuing a vision: "Know where you are going to."

For 70 years we have had a State, and no doubt it has fulfilled a fair number of our hopes: National freedom, the returning of exiles, safety for persecuted Jews around the world, the galvanizing of the world community against anti-Semitism and terror and more. One of the final paragraphs of our declaration of independence opens with the words "we extend our hand in peace and good neighborly relations."

70 year later, we do have official and stable peace with two of our neighbors, Egypt and Jordan. Is our hand still extended in peace to the other members of our region? I believe it is, but we need courageous, determined and committed leadership in order to implement it.

Thank you very much

חבר הכנסת עמר בר-לב

חבר הכנסת עמר בר-לב (המחנה הציוני) חבר וועדת החוץ והביטחון בכנסת, יו"ר וועדת המשנה למוכנות צה"ל וביטחון שוטף, וממלא מקום בועדת הכספים. מפקד סיירת מטכ"ל לשעבר, מקים ויו"ר תנועת "אחרי!". ממייסדי תנועת "שלום עכשיו". ממייסדי חברת "איתוראן". פועל למען ביטחון ישראל, החזון הציוני ולמען צדק חברתי וחיזוק הדמוקרטיה בישראל.

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