He speaks the truth.
The Obama Administration will put forth new peace initiatives only if Israel wants it to, said Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman in his first comprehensive interview on foreign policy since taking office.
“Believe me, America accepts all our decisions,” Lieberman told the Russian daily Moskovskiy Komosolets.
Lieberman granted his first major interview to Alexander Rosensaft, the Israel correspondent of one of the oldest Russian dailies, not to an Israeli newspaper. The role of Israel is to “bring the U.S. and Russia closer,” he declared.
During the interview, Lieberman said Iran is not Israel’s biggest strategic threat; rather, Afghanistan and Pakistan are.
This comes after years of Lieberman warning about the growing Iranian threat. Now, he has dropped Tehran to number two, with Iraq coming third.
Lieberman also discussed Moscow’s under-utilized role in the Middle East and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and said he aims to correct this. The newspaper emphasized Lieberman’s intention to develop closer ties with Russia and to resolve international issues jointly.
“Russia has a special influence in the Muslim world, and I consider it a strategic partner that should play a key role in the Middle East,” Lieberman said in the interview.
“I have argued for some time that Israel has insufficient appreciation for the ‘Kremlin factor’; I intend to mend this gap,” he said.
Political sources in the Commonwealth of Independent States have told Haaretz that they believe Lieberman’s appointment will result in “greater understanding” between Israel and Russia.
Regarding his changing view on Israel’s greatest threats, Lieberman said that since he began warning against the nuclear threat from Iran, nuclear threats have become more prevalent. Meanwhile, a more urgent problem has developed in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
“Pakistan is nuclear and unstable, and Afghanistan is faced with a potential Taliban takeover, and the combination form a contiguous area of radicalism ruled in the spirit of Bin Laden,” Lieberman said.
“I do not think that this makes anyone in China, Russia or the U.S. happy … these countries [Pakistan and Afghanistan] are a threat not only to Israel, but to the global order as a whole.”
In response to a question on Israel’s role in countering these threats, Lieberman said, “Our role is that we should bring the U.S. and Russia closer … it is unclear to me why the U.S. needs to confront Russia on Kosovo or Ukraine’s entry to NATO; however, Russia needs to understand that close cooperation with Hugo Chavez does not build western confidence.”
Later in the interview, the foreign minister spoke unkindly of the road map, which he called binding, unlike the Annapolis process, in his view. The Palestinians “are not very familiar with the document,” he said. Lieberman called a two-state solution a nice slogan that lacks substance.
On Tuesday, Army Radio reported that Lieberman ruled out an Arab peace initiative, after previously announcing that Israel was not bound to the U.S.-backed Annapolis process.
“This is a dangerous proposal, a recipe for the destruction of Israel,” he was quoted as telling a closed meeting of senior Foreign Ministry officials.
Meanwhile, Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman was due in Israel on Wednesday for talks with senior officials, but as of Tuesday night, there were no plans for a meeting with Lieberman.
A senior political source in Jerusalem said Tuesday night that a meeting would take place, but neither the Foreign Ministry nor officials in Cairo would comment on the matter.
Suleiman was scheduled to meet with President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai.
This will be the first exchange between the new Israeli administration and Egypt. The senior Egyptian official will discuss the security situation along the Gaza border, the Hezbollah terror ring uncovered in Egypt, and arms smuggling through Sinai.
Another central issue in the talks will be the negotiations for the release of Gilad Shalit, and Israel’s position on the resumption of peace talks with the Palestinian Authority.
Lieberman sparked outrage in Egypt last year when he criticized its president, Hosni Mubarak, in a speech before the Knesset, saying that the Egyptian leader could “go to hell.”
His remarks were over Mubarak’s refusal to make an official state visit to Israel. The Egyptian leader’s sole trip to Israel was for the 1995 funeral of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin.
At another time, Lieberman said Egypt’s Aswan Dam should be bombed.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said earlier this month that Lieberman would not be welcome in Egypt unless he changes his positions.
“If I meet him I will keep my hands to myself,” Aboul Gheit told a television reporter in Cairo, declaring that he would refuse to shake the hand of Israel’s foreign minister.
There is a power struggle over Israel within Egypt, between the General Intelligence Service and the Foreign Ministry. The former manages the Israel “file,” while the Foreign Ministry officially represents Cairo vis-a-vis Israel. If Suleiman and Lieberman do meet, it will be another factor within this power struggle.