A senior Israeli minister says Israel will keep fighting to oust Iranian forces from Syria, even after Russia delivered an advanced air defense system to the country earlier this month.
Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett discussed Israel’s strategy toward Iran in an exclusive October 8 interview with VOA Persian in Tel Aviv.
As the leader of Israel’s religious nationalist Jewish Home party, which is part of the coalition government, Bennett has an influential role in the Cabinet. He is one of 11 members of a mini-Security Cabinet that makes key decisions on Israel’s foreign and defense policies.
Earlier this year, Bennett described Iran as an octopus trying to strangle Israel with proxy militias acting as tentacles, and said Israel has to make Iran pay a price for that.
Question: Russia recently sent an advanced missile defense and air defense system to Syria, and Israel has been trying for a while to evict or pressure Iran to remove its forces from Syria. So how does this new Russian move complicate Israel’s effort to prevent Iran from entrenching itself in Syria?
Naftali Bennett: Israel will continue to defend itself, by itself. We’re not going to allow Iran to build a stronghold right next to our border. Generally, I think Iran should stop all its crazy adventures, all across the world, and focus domestically on the people of Iran. I don’t understand this strategy of being troublemakers. This regime has a terrible strategy of trouble-making in Lebanon, in Syria, in Yemen, across the world. And they’re just forgetting one thing: that their first task is to take care of the Iranian people.
Q: How realistic do you think Israel’s goal is, of getting Iranian forces to leave Syria completely?
NB: We have to get Iranian soldiers and forces out of Syria because their only business of being in Syria is to create a risk or a threat on Israel, and we’re not going to let that happen. You know why? Because for the Iranian regime, it’s a far away adventure. For us, it’s our lives, and we’re going to fight to defend Israeli citizens, just as Iran would do if an enemy would create a big buildup on their borders. Just put yourself in our shoes.
Q: How does Iran’s support for Hezbollah compare to its support for Hamas, because they (the Iranians) support both groups. Which one (type of support) does Israel find more threatening?
NB: We’re a strong country, we can certainly defend ourselves, both against Hezbollah and Hamas, and Iran. We’ve been in our state for about 3,000 years, or 3,800 (years) if you count from Abraham. And we’re going to be here forever. We can deal with these threats. It’s clear that Iran is way more connected to Hezbollah, but it also is trying to support Hamas. And again, it’s hard for me to fathom why a regime, instead of focusing on water in the faucet and getting food to its people is so obsessed with trying to destroy the Jewish state.
Q: In terms of Iranian activities, they obviously have engaged in nuclear activities for a long time. Israel, earlier this year revealed what it said were some secret Iranian nuclear weapons-related materials. I’m wondering if Israel has any information about how those revelations may have affected what Iran is doing, regarding its nuclear program.
NB: Iran has to stop fiddling around with nuclear weapons. It is, again, leading its people down a very bad path. I feel sometimes that (the) Iran (regime) has hijacked the great Iranian nation. We have no issue with the people of Iran. They want to lead (their) lives. In the past, we had a very strong relationship and I hope soon, one day we can have that relationship (again). But the current regime is an unmitigated disaster.
Q: What does Israel want to see happen to that “regime”? As you know there have been protests all year inside Iran in various cities. Many of them have been denouncing the leaders of Iran. Iran’s leaders are worried that the West, Israel just want to depose them, to have regime change. Is that what Israel wants?
NB: No, Israel wants Israeli security. Israel wants to thrive quietly in this tough neighborhood. And Israel expects Iran to stop its race to a nuclear weapon, to stop exporting terror, to stop its regional trouble-making and to focus on its own big domestic issues. The economy is tanking, the currency is terrible, and quality of life is deteriorating. Man! Take care of your people.
Q: What concluding message would you have for the people of Iran, what would you like them to know about how Israel sees them?
NB: As minister of education, I’m focused on educating the next generation of Israelis for the start-up nation. We have a very deep and longstanding joint heritage with the Persian people. In fact it was King Cyrus who mandated that we can re-form and re-establish our second Jewish commonwealth in the land of Israel. So we have only friendship and warmth toward the Iranian people. However, the regime is a radical, war-mongering regime, and we’re going to do everything in our power to curb its ambitions in this region.
This interview originated in VOA’s Persian Service