WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Now for another voice on
the fraught process of trying to avoid new wars in the Middle East. Ehud Barak was prime minister of Israel from
1999 to 2001, and has served in many other senior positions in Israel’s government, most
recently as defense minister. His political career followed three decades
of service in Israel’s military, first as a special forces commando, and rising to become
the military’s senior-most officer. He’s chronicled his life and the birth of
his nation in a new autobiography. It’s called “My Country, My Life: Fighting
for Israel, Searching for Peace.” I spoke with Ehud Barak earlier today. Mr. Prime Minister, welcome. We will get to the book in a moment, but,
first, let’s just talk a little bit about today’s news. Can you just tell me your reaction to President
Trump deciding to pull out of the nuclear deal? EHUD BARAK, Former Israeli Prime Minister:®MD-BO¯
The speech was good and coherent. And it’s always good to hear a determined
leader say the Iranians will never get a nuclear weapon. But the question remains, to what extent that
was the optimal way to achieve it. You know, the fact that America pulls out
doesn’t cancel the deal. It’s there. The Europeans will stay. Everyone will stay. And probably some multinationals will feel
more constrained in making deals, but, you know, some of them might find companies in
the Far East or somewhere who can… WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Work around it. EHUD BARAK: Yes, go around it. So, basically, the question is, what is the
best way? The Iranians, they are bad guys. They develop missiles, which my view, but
that’s out of the agreement. They spread terror around the region, including
in the Golan Heights. That’s part of the agreement. They even make insurgencies in certain place. That’s not part of the agreement. So, probably, the better way would have been
to approach the allies, those who are willing, and establish a new forum to come and convince
Iran to do more. I don’t see how… (CROSSTALK) WILLIAM BRANGHAM: You mean to renegotiate
some aspect of the deal? EHUD BARAK: No, not of the deal, because the
deal is there. I thought it’s a bad deal when it was made. And — but once it was signed, it became a
matter of fact. In a way, we don’t have to spend too much
words about the situation before the announcement, because once the American president announced
that America is out of the deal, so that’s a new fact. So, the most we can say is that we hope now
that he might be able to convince the other participants of the deal, other parties to
the deal, to move together with him. I doubt it. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Let’s shift a little bit
to your country’s dealings with Iran in Syria. As you well know, Iran has been building up
a military presence in Syria. Israel has been pushing back on that. This keeps escalating. Do you have a sense that Israel and Iran are
going to come to a more overt conflict in Syria? EHUD BARAK: I hope not. And I’m convinced it’s not needed. Israel is a stronger power around. We should be self-confident enough to, first
of all, hit, whenever it’s needed, any Iranian deployment in Syria. In this regard, I would say, if you have to
shoot, shoot. Don’t talk, like Wallach said in the famous
movie. But, having said that, the developments are
disturbing, especially the effort to upgrade the accuracy of the 140,000 rockets and missiles
which the Hezbollah has in Lebanon, and many of them cover most of Israel. So, basically, it’s a real challenge. And we will keep acting against it. I don’t think that we have to talk so much. I feel that there’s more deterrence in keeping
some aspect of our operations as a sort of kind of mystery. So, basically, it seems that the public aspect
of it says more than the domestic needs of this or other nature, not the real sense. But Israel has been good, and its founder
formulated so clearly, we have to win any war, each and every war we have. Our enemies have to win only once. So, that’s an asymmetry. Israel developed, advanced, and became stronger
during the interval between war. We don’t have any interest in accelerating
the duration toward the war, but we have the make sure that we win one if it is imposed
upon us. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Let’s talk a little bit
about your wonderful autobiography. You tell the story of your own life, and you
tell the story of your country. And you obviously were born before Israel
was born. You grew up. You were there at the creation of so many
pivotal moments in Israel’s history. And I’m just curious, at the time, were you
aware of the sense of mission? Because now, as you look back on your life,
it certainly seems that you are — you feel that sense of Israel’s purpose. But, at the time, did it feel that way to
you? EHUD BARAK: I felt very clearly, even at the
age of 6, that we are part of a huge drama. The war of independence was something that
didn’t hurt the small kibbutz that I was in. But I was already reading a newspaper. It was clear that something dramatic that
never happened is happening in front of our eyes. Later on, I also witnessed many of the events. And whenever there was a drama, I felt this. I remember fighting in Sinai during ’67, exactly
50 years ago, and the news reached us that we took over the Temple Mount. That’s — you cannot, being a Jew, totally… (CROSSTALK) WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Enormous moment. EHUD BARAK: I never put feeling. I never went to a synagogue, did even bar
mitzvah, but I was deeply moved. So I was aware at the time of the importance,
the historical importance of the events. I wasn’t aware usually of the importance of
myself in it. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: The other thing that really
comes through in your book is that Israel continues and must find some resolution to
how it deals with the Palestinians. As you well know, the government in Israel
has very much right now a fortress Israel position. Do you have any sense of hope that the resolution
with the Palestinians will come? EHUD BARAK: Yes, of course. I have not just hope. I’m quite confident it will happen. The government of Israel, it’s a freely elected
government. It’s my government as well. But I did dispute with them about what is
good for the country, especially in the last three years, with Bibi more and more deeply
diving into this mind-set of extreme pessimism, passivity, anxiety and self-victimizing mood,
which is a quite good recipe for practical domestic politics, but very poor one for statesmanship. I think that we are heading — beyond these
daily events, we are heading into a direction which is clearly wrong. The intention of this government, led and
directed by extreme right, is to torpedo any possibility of separation or disengagement
between us and the Palestinians. This leads us basically into one state named
Israel covering or reigning over the whole area from the Mediterranean to the River Jordan. But that means, because we are 13 million
people there, 6.5 million Jews and 6.5 million Arabs. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Yes, the demographics are
not in your favor. EHUD BARAK: It means — yes, it means that
it will end inevitably either non-Jewish or non-democratic. Neither is (INAUDIBLE). And based on our successes, we — you know,
founding of the state of Israel is the most successful national project of the 20th century. We have a huge amount of achievements. But, based on these achievements, we are the
strongest country, and we can take our fate in our hands. I am not caring about the Palestinians. I am caring about our own identity, future,
and security. And our interests demand that we will disengage
from the Palestinians, delineate a line within which we will have all our security interests,
most of the settlers, and a solid Jewish majority for generations to come. I always follow — I used to quote Robert
Frost saying good fences make good neighbors. And we need it in the Middle East. Never lose the focus on the objective and
on understanding. Whether it takes time, more or less time,
we will ultimately reach a normal situation in the Middle East. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: The book is “My Country,
My Life: Fighting for Israel, Searching for Peace.” Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, thank you
very much. EHUD BARAK: Thank you.