‘The Status Quo Is Tolerable’


Efraim Inbar is a professor of political science at Bar-Ilan University and director of its Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies (the BESA Center). Inbar holds a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Chicago and has served as a visiting professor at Johns Hopkins University, Georgetown University. His specialty is Middle Eastern strategic issues with a special interest in the politics and strategy of Israeli national security.

Q: Critics say Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made a cynical move by reportedly saying Israel is ready to resume Palestinian peace talks by first negotiating Israel’s borders knowing that Palestinian preconditions would make such talks impossible. Do you agree?

A: There is no limit to the cynicism of critics. The offer to negotiate settlement blocks is a great concession by Israel. Our only leverage in negotiations is territory, and Netanyahu has been serious for the last several years in willing to accept a two-state solution provided [the Palestinian state] is a demilitarized state and that Israel keeps control of the Jordan Valley.

Israel has said that as long as Hamas’ objective is the destruction of Israel, it cannot negotiate with it. But there are increasingly other voices saying Israel cannot live this way — fighting a war with Hamas every few years.

I think the status quo is tolerable. We have been to war with them for many years. What would you suggest? We cannot go into the sea. We have to fight back — they’re fighting us. What can you do?

How serious is the threat to Israel from ISIS, al-Nusra in Syria, and Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, the Sinai-based terror group that has swore allegiance to Islamic State?

It should be made quite clear that states are more dangerous than terrorist groups. Syria with nonconventional weapons is more dangerous than Hamas and al-Nusra. They don’t have tanks or airplanes or the ability to develop nuclear weapons.

In light of President Obama’s recent remarks at a Washington synagogue, are you now reassured that the president will not sign an agreement with Iran unless every pathway to the development of a nuclear weapon is blocked?

You have a great sense of humor. American policy is to legitimize the vast nuclear infrastructure in Iran and, according to Secretary of State [John] Kerry, they will be just three months away from having enough fissionable material for a bomb. So this is not very reassuring.

I know you view any agreement that leaves Iran with the capability to develop nuclear weapons as the greatest threat to Israel. Yet others argue that because it is unlikely Iran would ever use the bomb against Israel, Hezbollah and Hamas rockets and missiles pose a greater threat because of the greater likelihood they will be used.

The destructive power of a nuclear bomb is very great, and I wonder if those who do not think it is a big danger are willing to take chances. Even if the probability is low, they are playing with the lives of hundreds of thousands of Israelis. You do not act only on probability but on capability. That is what we are concerned about. As for the many missiles in the hands of Hezbollah and Hamas, we can parry them with Iron Dome.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said he plans to try to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. What is your reaction?

I wish him good luck. We are in favor of peace. If he can bring it, fine.

What is your reaction to E.U. foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini also calling for new talks and saying the current situation is “not sustainable?”

In many ways the E.U. is accepting the Palestinian narrative. It is hypocritical. It marks Israeli products produced in the West Bank but not products from Turkish-occupied Cyprus, Chinese-occupied Tibet or Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara. Why pick on us — because we are Jews?