Defense Minister Ehud Barak is likely regretting an exchange he had with interviewer Charlie Rose on the latter's Bloomberg TV show Wednesday. As a result of that comment, MKs and political officials from left to right have been having a field day Thursday, castigating Barak for what in the best case was perhaps a slip of the tongue, and in the worst, an example of what MKs called "irresponsible," "silly," and worse.
Barak, who is on a diplomatic visit to Canada, discussed the Iranian nuclear program – and the likelihood of Tehran's acquiring nuclear weapons – with Rose. The interviewer asked Barak if he would seek a nuclear bomb if he was Iranian – and Barak answered in the affirmative. “Probably” he would, he told Rose, adding that Iranians have good reasons for seeking a bomb. “I don't delude myself that they are doing it just because of Israel. They look around, they see the Indians are nuclear, the Chinese are nuclear, Pakistan is nuclear ... not to mention the Russians," he said.
Barak tried to defend himself in an interview with state-run Voice of Israel Radio Thursday, saying that he had no “empathy” with Iran. “We must make clear to the world that we understand the situation and are ready to deal with it, and that this is a challenge not just for us, but for the whole world,” Barak said, skirting the question on his comment. When pressed, Barak simply said that his comment was taken out of context.
In a statement issued later, Barak's office said that the Defense Minister did not make the comment attributed to him. “In response to a question by interviewer Charlie Rose – about what he would do if he were Iranian – Barak responded 'Could be, I don't know, but I don't delude myself that they are doing it just because of us.” The statement continued to outline the work Barak, along with other government officials, were doing to convince other governments to push Iran to end its nuclear program.
Despite his effort to pooh-pooh the comments, Barak's soundbite continued to reverberate Thursday. MK Zvulun Orlev (Bayit Yehudi) called the comments “irresponsible and unnecessary, and causing damage to the ability of Israel to defend itself against the Iranian threat.” MK Michael Ben-Ari (National Union) said that “Barak always thinks about what he would do if he were Iranian or Palestinian. It is about time he thought about what he would do as Israel's defense minister.” Ben-Ari was referring to another Barak gaffe from several years ago, in which he said that “if I were a Palestinian I would probably join a terror group” as a way to fight Israel.
In a twist on Barak's take on the matter, the Samaria Residents' Council said that “If we were Ehud Barak, we would have resigned as Israeli Defense Minister a long time ago.” Instead of worrying about the Iranians' interests, the Council said, “Barak should think of Israel's best interests and resign.”
But MKs on the right weren't the only ones to slam Barak for the comments. Kadima MK Yoel Hasson said that “Barak is leading 'chatterer' on Iran, and this chattering is clearly damaging Israel. What's most amazing is that he tries to be an 'independent commentator' in these interviews, and not the man who is responsible for Israel's security.”
Barak got grief from within the coalition as well. MK Miri Regev (Likud) suggested that Barak, and all other defense officials, refrain from making any public comments on Iran. “We would expect the Defense Minister to be an example for others and remain silent on Iran instead of making comments that do not benefit anyone."
Media commentators, however, said that the best comment was the one made by Meretz MK Ilan Gilon. “I don't understand Ehud Barak,” he said. “He says that if he was a Palestinian he would join Hamas and if he was Iranian he would develop nuclear weapons. It's a good thing he's not Israeli, because then he would want to be Defense Minister,” Gilaon said.