Israel’s deputy defense minister not afraid to speak his mind

Click photo to download. Caption: Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon speaks at the 4th Likud Party conference at Ganei HaTaarucha in Tel Aviv on May 7, 2014. Credit: Tomer Neuberg/Flash90.

By Jacob Kamaras/JNS.org

In March, ahead of what would have been Israel’s fourth release of 26 Palestinian terrorist prisoners for the now-collapsed peace talks, Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon (Likud) said he would resign from his position in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government if the prisoners were freed. 

Danon’s words were never tested because Israel did not proceed with the release, but his vow itself is indicative of his reputation for making bold statements. 

“I take a direct approach, not being wishy-washy on issues, even if it means I have to confront the chairman of my own party—the prime minister—on very important issues,” Danon said in a recent interview from his office at the Knesset. “And I think in general, the public appreciates it.”

Speaking to JNS.org before the bodies of the three kidnapped Israeli teens were found, Danon said the U.S. should end its $450 million in annual aid to the Palestinian Authority (PA) now that PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah movement is in a unity government with the terrorist group Hamas—which Israel says was behind the kidnapping. Danon reiterated his sentiment on PA funding after the teens’ fate was revealed.

“I call on the international community to end all aid to the Palestinian Authority and its Hamas-backed government,” he said in a statement. “President Abbas cannot continue to claim to want peace with Israel, while at the same time partnering with Hamas as they kidnap and brutally murder teenagers.”

In the rest of his interview with JNS.org, Danon discusses his current government role, both Israeli and Palestinian construction, and the complexities of the Mideast region.

JNS: What have you learned so far as deputy defense minister that you didn’t know before?

Danny Danon: “I got familiar with the threats and the challenges that we are facing. Today I am more aware of the global threats that have made it to the civilian population, to the home front. … I became aware of and exposed to the capabilities of the IDF and the other forces we have… I fall asleep at night, because I know what they are plotting in Hezbollah, Hamas, Iran—I know more. But on the other hand, I know exactly what we have in terms of protection capability and intelligence capability, so it balances out.

“The home front, it is a different game today. In the past the minister of defense or the deputy minister of defense had to be worried ‘What will happen with the soldiers who will fight against Hezbollah?’ or against the Syrians, Egyptians, Jordanians, you name it. Today we are worried about it, but we know that we’ll take two days, four days, five days, [and] we will win, no doubt about it. The question is, how many missiles will the civilian population have to absorb?

“My son is only 13 now, but let’s say he was in the army. I wouldn’t be worried about him, I would be worried about my mother, who needs to go to the shelter… and that’s the way we see it today. We think a lot about the home front.”

What do you make of America’s willingness to work with the recently formed Palestinian unity government between Hamas and Fatah?

“I think in terms of the unity government, the U.S. approach is a mistake. You cannot accept a government with Hamas, the very same organization that was celebrating right after 9/11, the very same organization that condemned the U.S. for killing [Osama] bin Laden. It’s like working with al-Qaeda. For many Americans, Hamas sounds like something that is very vague, but it’s exactly like working with al-Qaeda or supporting al-Qaeda.”

Speaking of Al-Qaeda, its splinter group—Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS)—now has its sights set on conquering Jordan. What is Israel’s role in this conflict?

“I think that we have an experience in the region that you need to look long-term. Sometimes when you think short-term, you make mistakes. And maybe today the U.S. wants to create stability in Iraq, and they are reaching their hands to the Iranians, but they need to look long-term. Long-term can be a year, it’s not 50 years. We understand the need to add stability in Iraq, but we don’t think the way to do it is to actually have Iran being more involved.

“Our region is complex. We feared the same in Syria when we saw what is happening there. We don’t take sides on this issue. The only thing we do is, we tell our friends in the U.S., ‘Be careful with the alliances you are making today, because they can be used against you.’”

The [recently held] Jewish Media Summit, which was organized by the Israeli government, took Jewish journalists to see Rawabi, the first Palestinian planned city in the West Bank. What do you think of that project?

“Personally, I support the economic growth of the Palestinians. We want them to have better education, a better economy, but we always have to look at it in terms of security. … We want them to have a better life, but we don’t want to be in a position where we are putting our interests in danger.”

Jewish settlement construction, meanwhile, comes under frequent international scrutiny. What is the best argument in Israel’s defense on that issue?

“For me it’s clear that building in Judea and Samaria is not a problem. It’s not a liability. Jews have rights to live and build in Judea and Samaria. We have biblical rights, historical rights, legal rights, security rights, and I add always another one: the common sense. We won the war. We shouldn’t give a prize to the aggressor, and we should not be apologetic about that.”

With Hamas being part of the Palestinian unity government, where does your Likud party, including the prime minister, stand right now regarding Israel’s relationship with the Palestinians?

“Before Passover, I was in the middle of a clash with the prime minister, when he was planning to move forward with fourth phase of prisoner release. I said I would resign.

“Today we are not there. We blocked the fourth release, and I can tell you the prime minister knows that as long as he is loyal to the values and to the Likud platform, he has the backing of the party. … If he goes to the direction of [Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi] Livni and [U.S. Secretary of State John] Kerry, of releasing more prisoners, making more concessions, he will find the party against him.”

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Posted on July 4, 2014 and filed under Features, Israel, News.