Book Interview: At 70, How Secure Is Israel?

Author:Breger, Sarah

In his new book, Israeli National Security: A New Strategy for an Era of Change, Charles Freilich, a former Israeli deputy national security adviser, presents what he calls the first-ever public proposal for a comprehensive Israeli national security strategy, one that addresses Israel's challenges through greater emphasis on restraint, defense and diplomacy Freilich speaks with Moment about the threat of the Iranian-Hezbollah-Syrian axis, whether Israel is too dependent on the United States and why Israel cannot let Iran establish a permanent military presence on its border.

How worried should Israel be about Iranian influence in Syria? Very worried. Iran is in the process of turning Syria into an Iranian-dominated state. In effect, it's erasing the border between Syria and Lebanon, turning it into one big front against Israel. The Iranians seem to be trying to establish military bases in Syria: air, naval and ground bases. I'm the guy who's always writing that Israel should exercise restraint and act defensively, diplomatically, but I think we have to continue air strikes to prevent this. And if this escalates to a war, then so be it, because we can't allow it to happen.

Could Israel work with Russia for a diplomatic solution? In the short term, Russia is the primary player. Paradoxically, it's the only stabilizing force in this situation because the U.S. isn't playing in Syria. I don't see that changing, the Trump administration's rhetoric notwithstanding. The Russians really don't want to see a war in that region, but they've got strong interests when it comes to Iran and Syria. I don't know if they're really going to be the balancer. So I'm afraid that this is going to lead to a military clash--and maybe in the not-so-distant future.

How has Donald Trump's presidency affected the U.S.-Israel relationship? Short term, there's an improvement in the atmosphere. But he's made a fundamental mistake with the Jerusalem decision--he could have kept that as a major inducement or a carrot for Israel. If there were a deal with the Palestinians--or even progress toward it--then he could give that to Israel as a present. But he gave it away for free. Now, the Palestinians are angry. They say they don't trust the U.S. anymore. They'll probably get over it because they have no alternative. If they want a state, they've got to work through the U.S.

Is Israel too dependent on the U.S.? Israel is extraordinarily dependent on the U.S., and it almost never...

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