Top Israeli Minister Says Timing Is Favorable for US Recognition of Jerusalem as Jewish State’s Capital
Israeli Minister of Intelligence Yisrael Katz has dismissed concerns that US recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state might undercut the expected peace initiative currently being prepared by the White House.
His comments — in a far-reaching interview with The Algemeiner in New York City last Thursday — came a day before the first reports that President Donald Trump planned to unveil the move in a speech this coming Wednesday.
Katz argued the timing of an embassy move was favorable now because Arab states were more preoccupied with the threat posed by Iran than with the Palestinian issue.
“Now it’s the highest chance to do it,” he asserted. “Because everyone that would be potentially against it has other very, very big problems to deal with.”
Katz — a leading Israeli political figure who recently stated his intention to succeed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — said that the issue of recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was one of two major objectives for his trip to the US.
The second, he said, was to “support the president’s policy” that “the United States and the world have to change, correct or cancel the nuclear agreement with Iran.”
For now, Israel still sees the value in working to modify the nuclear deal to include new components that it had initially suggested to the Americans, but were rejected by the Obama administration. The threat of new “paralyzing economic sanctions,” Katz said, may still convince Iran to change paths.
“Now the pain (of sanctions) is very familiar to them,” he said. “You know, sometimes when you do something and you release they are afraid to bring it back, it’s more frightening than even before.”
In the event that such new initiatives fail to bring the desired result — the end to Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapon — Katz said that support for the military option was unanimous in the Israeli government.
“It’s not only on the table. It’s very clear,” he stated. “There were times that there was an argument inside Israel, you know (between late former Mossad chief Meir) Dagan and Netanyahu and others, but it was only a tactical argument because everyone agreed that we won’t let Iran have nuclear weapons, but the question was if it was the last time to prevent it. But I think there is a very, very broad consensus politically, and a security consensus in Israel that, if it will be the last thing to prevent Iran from nuclear weapons capabilities, Israel will act.”
In the meantime, Katz sees in Trump echoes of the late British statesman Winston Churchill, who, ahead of World War II, sounded the alarm about Nazi Germany when the prime minister at the time, Neville Chamberlain, was still pursuing a policy of appeasement.
Trump, he said, “has an opportunity that Churchill didn’t (have), to change the reality before the disaster comes.” The president’s October speech on Iran policy was “historical” for Israel and Jews “because we always ask ourselves what would happen if Churchill would have come before and canceled the Munich Agreement, maybe the Second World War wouldn’t happen with all its horrible price.”
And to the Israelis, the specter of a nuclear Iran is just one of five or six elements of the Iranian issue in its totality. Katz described the broader threat from Iran in the region — over which the Israelis have been voicing concern for some time — as being close to a boiling point.
“When someone jumps from the 20th floor there is no big change until he comes to the floor,” he said. “You are now describing the situation, it’s very close to the floor.”
Katz confirmed reports that Netanyahu had been active behind the scenes in efforts to stop the advancement of Iran-backed militias into Kurdish areas in northern Iraq in late October, described by Chagai Tzuriel — the director-general of Israel’s ministry of Intelligence, who joined the interview — as part of an “Iranian master plan to create an overland corridor from Iran through Iraq through Syria to Lebanon.”
According to Katz, “Netanyahu spoke not only with, let’s say, Tillerson and others, maybe with the president, the vice president, but also with Putin, with Merkel, with Macron and with others… He told them that the world cannot let the Iranians attack the Kurds.”
But, Katz admitted, “we don’t have the influence and the regional power the United States has, especially in Iraq.”
Expressing sympathy for the Kurdish cause, he noted that the Kurds “were the only one army and power that put their boots on the ground and defeated ISIS. The only one. No superpower did it; they didn’t want to do it, okay. It can’t be that one moment after they finish the job everyone throws them to the wolves.”
Regarding the expanding land path under Iran’s sway, Tzuriel lamented, “Unfortunately everybody’s late because to a large extent this corridor has been completed.”
Said Katz, “We have to push with the leadership of the United States to stop Iran and push them out of the region, including the Kurds’ area, including Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and all those places. It’s a common interest of the United States, the new administration of the United States, of Israel, of Saudi Arabia, of Jordan, and of the majority of the Arab Sunni countries.”
Furthermore, he added, “If Iran will not touch the Kurds’ area but will establish military bases, seaports, airports in Syria, it’s even more dangerous for us. ”
The minister also reacted positively to recent developments in Saudi Arabia, where Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been consolidating his power.
“If the de facto leader in Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, is saying that Khamenei, the Iranian leader, is worse than Hitler, I don’t have to say anything after that,” he said. “And Iran, the foreign minister of Saudi Arabia said at the recent Munich Conference that Iran is the biggest supporter of terror in the area and in the world. Those are things that Israel is talking about all the time.”
The Saudis, Katz pointed out, see Israel as the last line of defense against regional Iranian hegemony. “Saudi Arabia knows, even if they buy a lot of weapons, advanced weapons from the United States, maybe from other places, they know and Jordan knows and the Emirates knows that Israel is the only power that can stand against Iran,” Katz said.
In the long term, Katz is optimistic about the prospect of peace with the Saudis.
“I would like to see that Saudi Arabia — they don’t have any conflict with Israel, any territorial conflict — will sign a peace agreement with Israel, will make a full normalization with Israel,” he said. “Maybe it will not happen now, but I think that the threat, the Iranian threat is so big and the only power and only country that can stop Iran in the area is Israel.”