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March 6, 2014 11:55 am

President Peres Defends Israel Capture of Iran Ship in Arab Media Interview

avatar by Joshua Levitt

Screen shoot of Israeli President Shimon Peres' Ramadan greeting. Photo: Youtube.

Israeli President Shimon Peres on Thursday spoke to the Arab world in an online interview with Tayibe-based news outlet Panet, answering questions from viewers in Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt about Israel’s recent capture of an Iranian ship carrying Syrian missiles bound for Gaza.

In a statement, the Israeli government said Panet sent out a request for questions on their website and, within hours, thousands responded from across the Middle East. Interest in hearing the interview crashed the website as its server was overwhelmed by requests to watch Peres.

In the live feed, after describing how the Israel Defense Forces intercepted the smuggling ship, Peres said, “I don’t understand why the Iranians continue to do this. Do we need more weapons and more bloodshed in the Middle East? Gaza needs development and infrastructure, not weapons.”

“If Hamas continues to fire missiles from Gaza, we will be forced to respond strongly,” Peres said. “What do they stand to gain from it? Nothing! Terrorism brought nothing aside from destruction and division.”

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“My opinion on the situation in Gaza is clear – if the terror from Gaza stops then there will be no need for a naval blockade,” he said. “We have no interest in seeing the people of Gaza suffer, we want to see Gaza developing and prosperous. But instead they invest millions in arms, why? Israel acquiesces to requests from Gaza – we transfer fuel when there is a shortage and have expanded the fishing zone.”

An Iranian viewer asked about Israel’s relationship with the Islamic Republic, and Peres answered, “I don’t understand why Iran continues to threaten to destroy Israel.”

“Iran has become a center of terror, which is developing nuclear weapons,” Peres said. “The Iranian people are not our enemies and we have never threatened them. Why does an Iranian leader stand up and say he wants to destroy Israel? What has Israel done to Iran? Historically we had good relations and today the whole world condemns Iran.”

“The former Iranian president denied the Holocaust, something that is simply unthinkable,” he said. “Iran must be honest or the world will expose its true face.”

Peres also discussed the ongoing peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. “The aim of the negotiations is to build bridges of agreement,” he said. “I have no doubt that there will be peace and it will come sooner than we think. The whole world is watching and expects a peace deal.”

“I believe we can solve the disputes over land and the dispute over recognition of Israel as a Jewish state by agreeing that the peace deal is signed between two states; a Jewish state, Israel and an Arab state, Palestine. The UN designed two states; a Jewish state and an Arab state. We can find language that allows both sides to overcome the disagreement.”

Peres also addressed Prime Minister Netanyahu’s visit to the United States this week and the importance of the U.S. in the peace process and said, “Secretary [of State John] Kerry and [U.S.] President [Barack] Obama are trying to bring the two sides together during the current visit. I believe that President Obama asked Prime Minister Netanyahu to take some steps towards the Palestinians, and in a few days will ask the same of Abu Mazen when he visits Washington.”

“This isn’t a simple process,” he said. “I remember the total lack of trust during the peace negotiations with Egypt and with Jordan. There were those who said we would never be able to speak to Arafat, and we did.”

At the end of the interview, Peres spoke of Israel’s relations in the Middle East, urging cooperation, rather than conflict: “I think the Arab world understands that its main problem is not Israel. There is no country that wants to see a prosperous Arab world more than Israel. What Israel achieves through high-tech the Arab world can achieve as well. Israel can assist its neighbors – it’s a shame to waste time on rivalry and rhetoric.”

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