Israeli General: "Israel has historic chance to strengthen its strategic position in the Middle East"
General Ephraim Sneh is one of few Israeli politicians, who are walking legends. His family history is deeply rooted in the history the country. He grew up in the home of fervent Israeli patriot whose ideas future historians would call prophetic. General’s father Moshe Sneh was hero of both movements that strived for liberation of Jewish home from under British occupation.
Born in Poland, homeland of more than 3 million Jews, Mr. Moshe Sneh received a degree in medicine from University of Warsaw. He became a member of Zionist Executive Committee. Mr. Sneh was not only a doctor but also famous journalists and commentator as well as editor of important Jewish newspaper Nowe Slowo. Like many heroes of first years of Israel Mr. Moshe Sneh continued his battle for Israel during the World War II. In the jacket of partisan of the underground Polish Home Army, Armia Krajowa, Moshe had weakened German occupant. After the war he reached Eretz Israel where he became one of the first leaders of Jewish Paramilitary Movement Haganah. In independent Israel Mr. Moshe Sneh was elected to Knesset. He established also his own political party that emphasised social values and appreciated community life in Israel.
Like his father General Sneh followed the path of medical service. He studied medicine. In July of 1976 he commanded a medical unit at the counter-terrorist Operation Entebbe where IDF rescued 248 passengers of plane hijacked by Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. The commander of counter-terrorist unit Yonni Netanyahu severely injured during the operation, brother of current Prime Minister of Israel, died in his arms. He was prominent politician of Israeli Labor Party. He was commander of elite Unit 669. In 1999 Prime Minister Ehud Barak appointed General Sneh as Deputy Minister of Defense.
Today General Ephraim Sneh chairs prominent strategic institute. He is one of the Israeli public figures who, throughout his career, has been actively looking for ways to reach Israel’s troublemaking neighbours, Palestinian Arabs. There were times when it appeared that dialogue could conclude with its happy end. Sometimes situation was dramatic. Like many Israeli politicians he had faith against hope that the time of historic opportunity for Israel will come. General Sneh has no doubt that this time is now.
During our talk he emphasizes, “Israel today has historical chance to craft a new strategic alliance in the Middle East with all the Arab countries, which are afraid of Iranian expansionism”. But he immediately clarifies: “the indispensable condition the sine qua non is to solve a conflict with Palestinians.”
We began asking General Sneh to give us his assessment of recently implemented nuclear deal of United States, European Union and Russia with Iran.
General Ephraim Sneh: These negotiations achieved to succeed the only one limited and not unimportant goal –the suspension of activity of the heavy water reactor in the nuclear plant in Arak and the suspension of uranium enrichment by Iran. By doing so Iran postponed using its nuclear weapons if it would keep agreement’s interiors. So this is the only achievement that the negotiators of Iran agreement can speak about. All other aspects… due to the UN are not becoming any better. I will tell you all that in details. First, let’s talk about weapons. The development of long-range ballistic missiles continues. Only recently there were tests of long-range new missiles with the capacity to carry nuclear weapons. So in this area, the progress of Iran continues.
The subversive activity of Iran in the Middle East continues, augmented by the Russian intervention Iran succeeds to keep Bashar al-Assad in power.
“Israel today has historical chance to craft a new strategic alliance in the Middle East with all the Arab countries, which are afraid of Iranian expansionism”
Iran took control over Iraq. Shias militias trained by the Revolutionary Guards are spread out all over Iraq. The government stays under the influence of Iran. In Yemen the Houthis are also trained and supported by Iran are gaining firm ground including [the area] along the seashore of the Red Sea from the Straits of Bab el-Mandeb. In Afghanistan there is vast further activity of Iran mainly in Western Ansar Province waiting for the moment US will not be there any more. So the picture that you see is that subversive activity of Iran in the region continues. Not only continues but progresses. More than that with the more money that Iran has they are going to Moscow with the shopping list which includes: the jet-fighters, the state of the art anti-aircraft defence, the long range and high accuracy anti-ship missiles. All these are tools that Iran is going to procure and ask to procure from Russia to bolster its military capacity.
If we take all of this together the security situation of Israel even after this deal is concluded is not any better.
New World Standard Critique: Should we interpret closer relations between Jerusalem and Moscow in this context? Perhaps Israel wants to influence Russia to not to sell modern military hardware to Iran?
For years Moscow suspended delivery of the anti-aircraft missiles. Recently they delivered it or began to deliver it. It does not influence the good relations between Jerusalem and Moscow but it tells only that nothing is perfect.
Would it be beneficial for Israel to be closer to Russia than to United States. Current American government seems to distance itself from Israel.
Nothing, nothing can substitute for the alliance with the United States. No country as stronger can become is able to replace the close alliance with America – it is crucial strategic asset for the state of Israel. Obviously Russia is super-power, so Israel is in good terms with Russia but it should not come and it does not come for the expense of our special relations with America.
The crucial part of presidential campaign is about the begin in America. It will be run most likely between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Which candidate offers better policy from the Israel’s point of view?
It would be mistake to take the position during the time of election campaign. It would be stupid to do so. Whoever is elected will be good for Israel.
Do you expect change in the policy of the United States towards Israel after elections?
There will be more involvement of USA generally in the Middle East in various parts of the region.
In 2008 you established a new political party in Israel.
I established it in 2008 and it ceased to exist after elections in 2009.
You had a new plan of engagement with Arabs on the Palestinian state. What could have been done and what should be done according to you to mend these relations?
This question is very closely connected to the beginning of our talk that is the security of Israel. Israel today has historical chance to craft a new strategic alliance in the Middle East with all the Arab countries, which are afraid of Iranian expansionism. But the indispensable condition the sine qua non is to solve a conflict with Palestinians. Present government of Israel does not want to do it. And only chance that such an alliance will be built rests on solving of the conflict allowing the Palestinians to have the state. Their own state, which will be, of course, demilitarised that would allow them to live side by side with Israel. The current Palestinian leadership is stubborn and unfortunately our government is not in favour of it. Though Prime Minister declares time and again that he wants direct talks but it is not visible in his policy. I drove to the West Bank and I saw how the settlements are expanded in the West Bank. And the partition of the territory will become more and more costly and complicated.
Forty-three out of sixty five members of the coalition that supports this government are against two-state solution.
So what decision would you make? How would you talk to Palestinians who do not want to recognise Israel as Jewish state? Besides it appears that they started new Intifada without naming this recent campaign of violence.
This type of Intifada is a result of the status quo. This is quid pro quo of the status quo. Intifada is showing how that people are desperate. They are not organised. They take screwdriver, scissors or knife to stab Israelis. The status quo, which is stalemate, creates this kind of atmosphere. Only changing the atmosphere through offering a political solution can stop this Intifada. Not by force. The issue of the recognition of the Jewish state is an artificial obstacle that Prime Minister put to the Palestinian side. Israeli state is a sovereign state, which does not need approval of anyone else including Palestinians…. To put this condition for the agreement is sheer stupidity. This is the way to make more complication for the negotiations. I will give you two examples as an illustration. Israel signed peace agreement with Sadat of Egypt and King Hussein of Jordan without any preconditions. We did not do it. Why we are setting preconditions now? Secondly, Palestinians are making mistake refusing to recognize Israel as Jewish state when Yasser Arafat did it. He said it at least twice on the camera that Israel is Jewish state. Moreover in the Palestinian Declaration of Independence from November 1988 it is written that territories would be given to Palestinian state and Jewish state. So why now they are opposing it? I cannot understand it.
Some would say that Palestinian use their denial as a tactics for acquiring of more land.
This refusal will not bring them one more square inch. They know it. But maybe it is linked to the Israeli Arabs who are stubborn.
What will happen in the next few months regarding this stalemate in the peace negotiations?
Nothing will happen unless the international pressure will not increase on Palestinians and Israel to sit down and talk. Forty-three out of sixty five members of the coalition that supports this government are against two-state solution. Roughly one third of parliament is an opposition. This is why during this government and this ruling coalition the tension between Israel and Palestinian community will increase.