Lapid on Syria and Iran: Words Are Not Enough

In the Middle East, "you have to have sticks with the carrots," Finance Minister tells CNN.

Elad Benari ,

Finance Minister Yair Lapid
Finance Minister Yair Lapid
Flash 90

Finance Minister Yair Lapid said on Tuesday that, when it comes to Syria and Iran, “words are not enough.”

Lapid spoke to CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, in an interview that revolved mostly around foreign policy.

“If you want to negotiate you better have a big stick in your hand – or in this case a big Tomahawk,” he said when asked about the negotiations with Syria regarding its chemical weapons arsenal.

“It’s the Middle East; you have to have sticks with the carrots,” added Lapid.

“Unless there is a credible threat, all the negotiations [on Syria] are just empty words,” he said. “This is not over. It won’t be over until all weapons of mass destruction will be out of Syria. Then we will know this whole move has succeeded.”

Lapid repeated a point many have made about sticking to U.S. President Barack Obama’s “red line” on chemical weapons, that not only Syria, but also Iran has to be shown that the world “will not be silent when regimes and dictatorships are gathering weapons of mass destruction.”

Lapid was asked by Amanpour about the changing rhetoric coming out of Iran, specifically the recent wishes to Jews for a happy new year made by both President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on their Twitter accounts.

“Of course I rather have people tweeting me happy Rosh Hashanah or happy New Year instead of tweeting that they are, I don’t know, holocaust deniers as it was before,” Lapid told Amanpour. “I don’t want to be sour about everything, but is this the real thing?”

Once again, he said, words are great, but it comes down to actions.

“When the reactor in Qom will be closed, when they will stop enriching uranium, when they take off the enriched uranium they already have, then we can discuss the fact whether we can all hold hands and sing hallelujah together,” stated Lapid.

“I’m happy to listen to any new music coming from Iran,” he said, “but this has to be backed by – not only by words but also by deeds.”

Asked by the renewed peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, Lapid put his faith in “low expectations.”

“The best things are happening when we have low expectations,” he said. “The fact that everybody is going around and telling each other, this is not going to work, this is not going to happen, is actually a good thing.”

While the interview mostly focused on foreign policy, Amanpour also asked Lapid about the recent saga over the failure to appoint a new Bank of Israel Governor to replace Stanley Fischer, who stepped down in June.

Two candidates, Professor Jacob Frenkel and Professor Leo Leiderman, have already withdrawn from the job.

“This is a fine example to the fact that comedies are just tragedies in fast-forward,” Lapid said. “We have managed to choose two candidates who turn out to be the wrong candidates and they decided to withdraw, and now it’s going to take a few days or weeks more.”

Finally, Amanpour asked Lapid a question that he himself, during his career as a TV personality, would ask all his guest - “What symbolizes Israel for you today?”

“I’m going to choose the corniest answer that everybody gave me, which is my children. … Whenever I look at them, I see the reason why is it that I’m doing what I’m doing,” Lapid replied. “Everyone’s a bit cynic when he’s in the media. I’m not anymore.”