Former PM Ehud Barak calls Trump unpredictability 'challenge for Iran'

'The man is absolutely unpredictable, and the Iranians, artists when it comes to evaluating enemies, are having a hard time with this enemy'

Mordechai Sones ,

Ehud Barak
Ehud Barak
Flash 90

Former Prime Minister and "Democratic Union" leader Ehud Barak spoke on Galei Tzahal about U.S. President Donald Trump and the Iranians, how he explains the divergent opinions regarding the U.S. President, and his reasons for believing Iran has no interest in opening another proxy war against Israel.

Beginning on the personal level the interviewer asked for Barak's explanation of Trump's simultaneous popularity and opposition. "I can't explain; I'm looking from the outside like you, but we're talking about a man with life experience that brought him to become the President of the United States. He has some talents. And in a world where politics have become a kind of extension of reality TV - he for twelve years did a reality TV show that was pretty successful. He's definitely sharp-witted, and he operates in an unexpected manner; you can't call his method systematic. That's one of the bothersome aspects, like what happened yesterday with that strange letter in which he informed the Iraqi government of a withdrawal. It was strange. If such a thing happened to some regional IDF Home Front commander in Karmiel they'd say he was unfit for the post, but in America that's what's going on today. One of the advantages in his Suleimani operation was that it really does make the world safer in the long-term, but less stable in the short-term. The man is absolutely unpredictable, and the Iranians, who are artists when it comes to evaluating the enemy, are having a hard time with this enemy."

Barak was evasive when first asked whether the Suleimani assassination surprised him, answering "I think it was a correct decision." When pressed, Barak admitted being surprised by the Trump decision, allowing himself a subtle dig at the U.S. President: "Me, it surprised; I think it surprised everyone. Had you asked him a week earlier he wouldn't have known he was going to do it.

"But that's the man, that's given; I don't want to pretend as if we can decide how to improve him according to how we'd like it. He is the way he is and he'll continue being that way. It has advantages and it has disadvantages. In the end he's the U.S. President and not our president. The Middle East will be a less sure place in coming months; there's no doubt the Iranians will use all their power to annul the effects of the U.S. attack."

The interviewer challenged Barak on the point, surprisedly asking whether he actually meant to say Iran would utilize "all its power": "That would mean danger of war erupting between the United States and Iran." Barak qualified his earlier words: "The Ayatollahs understand that all-out war with the United States would mean the end of the Ayatollah's rule. Not the end of Iran, but the U.S. is immeasurably stronger, and if forced it will have no choice but to fight with all its strength." Recovering, Barak continued, "No, I mean they will fight with all their strength for this goal: To turn Trump's stated goal - 'We eliminated Suleimani in order to save American blood' - to turn that on its head and cause more loss of life to soldiers and people in U.S. government service, and in this way to prove to the Americans that it didn't pay."

Referring back to the leaked draft portending a U.S. Iraq withdrawal, Barak was asked whether he nevertheless foresees such a situation in coming weeks or months. "I hope not, but it's impossible to know. That letter didn't come out of a vacuum. It reflects a deep dimension of Trump's will: Trump's saying 'I and America are willing to do single attacks from time to time'. He did it in Syria, now he did another one much heavier in significance. But on the other hand he's saying to the American people, 'I'm going to put a stop to all these unnecessary wars, which can drag on for dozens of years in the Middle East with U.S. military participation.' Therefore it's not absolutely inconceivable that Trump will exchange some skirmishes with the Iranians, and after a certain stage when the skirmishes become serious enough, one day you'll wake up and find out that Trump ordered U.S. forces to leave. And when they ask him, 'Wait a minute, what about the struggle?' he can answer truthfully, 'In the past generation we passed half a trillion - 500 billion - dollars in military aid to Israel, Saudi Arabia, to the Gulf states, to Egypt and all the rest. They're our allies, but let them work it out themselves.' America's allies in the Middle East don't especially like this equation."

Is there a danger Iran will use its proxies against Israel? Barak is again circumspect, saying "Anything is possible, and we have to be alert, both in intelligence and operationally, but I don't think it's Iran's main goal. If Iran brings its assets in the Middle East to bear against Israel or Saudi Arabia or the Gulf states, the message they will receive in the world, including in the Middle East is that Iran is afraid to confront the U.S. directly and will make do with substitutes. But the Iranians have an interest in not using substitutes."