Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Sunday warned Iran that Israel would never allow Iranian leaders to develop a nuclear weapon, as he addressed a powerful US-Israel lobby.
“It is Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear capability which is the greatest challenge facing Israel, the region and the world today,” Barak told thousands of delegates at the opening of the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
World powers leading negotiations with Iran to rein in its suspect nuclear program concluded talks in Kazakhstan last week, after putting forward a proposal to ease biting sanctions if Tehran halts its uranium enrichment.
However, Barak, stepping down as defense minister as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu draws up a new Cabinet, cast doubt on whether the negotiations, due to resume later this month, would have any success.
“Frankly, while exhausting all diplomatic means is understandable, I do not believe it will lead to a moment of truth when the ayatollahs will give up their nuclear situation. Therefore, all options must remain on the table,” Barak said.
“We expect all those who say it to mean it. Ladies and gentlemen, we mean it. And let me repeat it, we mean it,” he added forcefully, receiving loud applause at the pro-Israel conference.
AIPAC, which touts itself as the most influential US foreign policy lobby, was also to hear a speech live from Netanyahu yesterday via video link, following an address by US Vice President Joe Biden.
About 13,000 people are expected to flock to the three-day event being held at the Washington Convention Center, but the gathering is more muted than in previous years, with neither US President Barack Obama nor Israeli President Shimon Peres in attendance.
Obama is preparing to make his first trip as president to Israel in two weeks’ time, and Netanyahu has stayed at home as he seeks to patch together a coalition following January’s elections.
Barak also called for “a daring peace initiative vis-a-vis the Palestinians,” adding that “a two-state solution is the only viable long-term solution.”
The talks have stalled since late 2010, after the Palestinians insisted that all Israeli settlement building must cease.
However, Barak blamed the stalemate on the Palestinians, saying “they clearly bear most of the responsibility for past failures.”
Stressing he was speaking in a personal capacity, he also insisted that if Israel could not even reach an interim agreement with the Palestinians, “we should consider unilateral steps in order to place a wedge on this extremely dangerous slippery slope toward a bi-national state.”
“It involves demarcating a line within which we would have the settlement blocks and a solid Jewish majority for generations to come,” he said.
There have also been fears that Israel could take unilateral action against Tehran, but the threat has somewhat receded after Obama vowed the US would not pursue a policy of containment if Iran seeks a nuclear weapon.