World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2013

  • An Insight, An Idea with Ehud Barak

    Thursday 24th January 2013 - 4:45pm - 5:15pm

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  • A conversation with Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defence of Israel Ehud Barak on the way forward for the Middle East

    Key Points

    • World powers should impose more drastic sanctions against Iran and be prepared for “surgical strikes” to stop its nuclear ambitions.
    • Israel’s election sent a clear message that the public did not want a further shift to the right. 
    • Israelis must find the courage to try to revive the two-state solution because the one-state alternative is much worse. 


    World powers must take more decisive steps to stop Iran’s nuclear programme, Ehud Barak, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defence of Israel, said in a one-on-one televised interview. Interviewed by Christopher Dickey, Bureau Chief, Paris, and Regional Editor, Middle East, Newsweek Daily Beast, USA, Barak said the choice was not a binary one between all-out war, or a failure to block Tehran’s ambitions. Israel understands that all alternatives to military action must be exhausted, he said, advocating “more drastic” sanctions. “But if the worst comes to the worst, there should be a readiness and capability for a surgical operation, he said. 

    Barak expressed “surprise” that a centrist party beat a pro-settler movement to second place in Israel’s elections. The public had sent a clear message to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: “We will not allow Israel to drift further to the right, not only because we would be isolated from the world, but also because most Israelis do not want that.” Barak expressed hope that the peace process could now move forward. “We have to find the courage” to revive efforts to achieve a two-state solution, he said.

    But the Israeli defence minister was far from optimistic that progress with the Palestinians is imminent, saying that would probably require decisions that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad are unable to take. “The real risk is that we will deteriorate into a one-state solution,” he said, describing this as the choice of parts of Israel’s right wing and Palestinian Hamas. Such a state could either be democratic or Jewish, but not both, he contended. If Palestinians could vote for the Israeli Knesset (parliament), its Jewish character would be compromised, whereas if they could not, it would be undemocratic. Fear of that alternative should galvanize Israelis to move the situation with the Palestinians forward, if necessary by taking unilateral steps like former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. 

    Barak referred several times to Israel’s existence in a “rough neighbourhood”, and Dickey said the environment had grown riskier for Israel in the past two years, listing the war in Syria, Iranian progress towards nuclear capabilities and the Muslim Brotherhood taking the helm in Egypt. Barak said two lessons had emerged. One is “to be modest in making predictions”, saying he had worked closely with deposed Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and no one had predicted his fall. Secondly, the Syrian regime’s attacks on its people had disproved the widespread view that the world will intervene if sufficient atrocities mounted.

    The past few years had also, Barak said, discredited the idea that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was the source of the Middle East’s problems. Achieving peace would not have prevented what he called Iranian hegemonic ambitions or prevented the Muslim Brotherhood taking power in Egypt. The rise of jihadist groups, a key fall-out from the past two years of turbulence, poses a challenge not only to Israel but other regional powers such as Turkey, Barak said. “But Israel is still the most powerful country for miles around and it will remain so for the foreseeable future.”

    Asked about his declared intention to retire from political life, Barak said it was “for real”. “There is no vacuum in political life and defence will be in good hands, I believe,” he said. Alluding to 89 year-old President Shimon Peres, he joked: “In Israel, it’s never too late to come back if you want to.” Yet Barak said he would not be able to “refuse to contemplate” accepting the defence minister’s position if asked in the future.


    This summary was written by Lucy Fielder. The views expressed are those of certain participants in the discussion and do not necessarily reflect the views of all participants or of the World Economic Forum. 

Session objectives

A conversation with Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defence of Israel Ehud Barak on the way forward for the Middle East


  • Ehud Barak Ehud Barak
    Prime Minister of Israel (1999-2001)

    1968, BSc in Mathematics and Physics, Hebrew University, Jerusalem; 1978, MSc in Economic Engineerin...

Moderated by

  • Christopher Dickey Christopher Dickey
    Bureau Chief, Paris, and Middle East Editor, Daily Beast, USA

    BA, University of Virginia; MA, Boston University. Formerly, Cairo Bureau Chief and Central America ...