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A Discussion on Israeli Foreign Policy and Netanyahu with Likud Foreign Affairs Director Eli Vered Hazan

This month Platform got a chance to sit down with Mr. Eli Vered Hazan, the Foreign Affairs Director for the Likud. He shared his thoughts on the foreign affairs record of the current Israeli government, his experience working with Benjamin Netanyahu, the future of the Likud leadership, and the legacy of Netanyahu's foreign policy.

Platform: What has been the biggest success and greatest failure of the current government in their handling of foreign policy?

Eli Vered Hazan: I don't think they have had any success, the opposite is the truth. Look what's happening with the impending agreement with Iran. This failed government didn't do anything significant to prevent it or avoid it. This is contrary to how Netanyahu acted. In 2015, Netanyahu went to Congress to fight against the agreement because an agreement with Iran is a disaster. It means Iran will have a nuclear weapon in the future. Netanyahu uses all his skills and abilities to speak to those with influence, members of Congress, the American media, and world leaders. While Bennett and Lapid decided to neglect this struggle, which means that Israel lost the game before it even started. The main issue is the aggression of Iran and the indifference of the US and Western countries and because of this the grade of the Bennet, Lapid, Sa’ar, and Gantz’s government is an F, for failure.

Platform: With regards to the ongoing crisis in Ukraine, would you agree with Bennett’s approach in being slow to condemn Russia and trying to protect Israel’s relationship with both countries?

Eli Vered Hazan: Bennett is not the main issue. He is the alleged prime minister, but he’s not the real prime minister. Don't forget the attitude of Yair Lapid. I even wrote an article about Lapid’s irresponsible behavior. He fought with the Ukrainians, even before the fighting started and then he fought with the Russians and he did a lot of damage. At the end of the day it is true that Bennett is prime minister but de-facto he's not because he doesn’t determine anything. So in this case they are also a total failure, because of the behavior of Yair Lapid. He fought with both sides. How much skill do you need to fight with both sides? Both of them are disappointed. I don't think there is any country in the world that damaged their relations with both sides as a result of this crisis. Not to mention that he destroys the foreign affairs of Israel, for example with his definition of anti-Semitism and his fighting with this with the Poles and the Hungarians. Bennett isn't the issue, Lapid is the issue.

Platform: In terms of the Likud leadership, there are rumors that a number of Likud members are considering challenging Netanyahu’s leadership of the party, is there any idea yet of, when, and how a Likud primary would take place?

Eli Vered Hazan: First of all, only Yuli Edelstein said he wants to challenge Netanyahu right now. All the other candidates say that they won't compete for the leadership now against Netanyahu but only after he will leave. The second thing to understand is the Likud mechanism. In order to create primaries you need the approval of the central committee members. According to the Likud constitution you need to do it once a term, but for the exact date you need the approval of the central committee members. Right now, the chairman of the central committee is Chaim Katz and the chairman of the secretariat is Yisrael Katz and they both don't want to do it. Netanyahu couldn't care less about primaries because he's going to win in any case. So as long as Chaim Katz has the authority to determine when it's going to happen, then it won't be on the table for now. In any case, I believe Netanyahu will defeat any candidate who will run against him.

Platform: Regarding the many years of Netanyahu's foreign policy, do you believe he made any mistakes in handling the relationship with the Obama administration?

Eli Vered Hazan: I just want to emphasize that Netanyahu had some great cooperation with Obama as well. They disagreed on a few things such as the agreement with Iran and the policy towards the Palestinians but don't forget that the cooperation on military and civic issues was amazing.

Platform: From an American and Jewish right wing (and Zionist) perspective, I don't think it was a good idea for them to demonize Obama to the degree they did. Obama was more pro-Israel then he was made out to be. Prehaps he wouldn't be considered as pro-Israel relative to the policies of other presidents but he's certainly pro-Israel relative to other Democratic candidates, such as Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders.

Eli Vered Hazan: As a Likudnik I never said bad things against Obama because of a simple reason, I don't think he's anti-Israel. He has a certain ideology, but when you look at his actions we had a huge degree of cooperation and of course we disagreed with him and it was legitimate. There are some disagreements with friends. Netanyahu fought against the Iran deal in Congress and prevented the establishment of a Palestinian state. We must recognize that Obama isn't anti-Israel; he just sees life in the Middle East in a very different way than we do. To say that he's anti-Israeli or anti-Semitic is completely untrue.

Platform: Under his leadership he supported the funding of the Iron Dome and increased aid to Israel in the new memorandum of understanding. Going to the Trump Administration, there has been a lot coming out in the last couple of months about Trump’s relationship with Netanyahu that highlighted tensions between them that previously wasn't known to the public. Do you feel like Netanyahu handled the relationship 100 percent correctly or was there anything that could have been done better? Is the only reason for the tensions the fact that Netanyahu wouldn’t take a side over the presidential election?

Eli Vered Hazan: Let’s make one thing clear: Trump was the best president we could have when you look at his actions. I am a Trumpist in many ways when it connects to the Israeli point of view regarding the Middle East and his supporting us 100 percent. On the other hand, Netanyahu is the prime minister of the State of Israel and when the election results were official in the United States, he should, must, and he did congratulate Biden. Now when you have lost, you are very angry and that is what happened to Trump. In the end, I believe Trump knows that the heart of Netanyahu is in the right place and that Netanyahu did what he needed to do as the prime minister of the State of Israel. Netanyahu is not just the prime minister of only the right wing or of the conservatives. The best interest of the State of Israel is to recognize Biden because he was the president elect. This is the story. I again want to emphasize I really appreciated Trump.

Platform: To underscore your point, some people would even say that Netanyahu held out recognition for too long and that he took his time to recognize Biden.

Eli Vered Hazan: I want to emphasize that we are bipartisan. We are looking out for the interests of the State of Israel. Trump’s circle admired Netanyahu and met with him regularly and often. Trump is angry because he lost but we still love him very much. We had the State of Israel to look out for and this is the most important thing in the world for us. This is how Netanyahu sees it and he does what is in the best interest for Israel.

Platform: Going to the bipartisan dynamic in US support for Israel, there was a recent visit from Congressional officials led by Nancy Pelosi to show solidarity with Israel. While there still is a solid amount of Democratic support within the United States and Congress for Israel, in recent years this has eroded slightly with the Squad and other such far-left groups. How worried should we be about that ongoing trend of challenging US aid for Israel by the Squad, Bernie Sanders, and even Pete Buttigieg?

Eli Vered Hazan: We need to be cautious all the time because the world is changing all the time. You need to be ready and try to find voices within those progressive groups and create a dialogue. It doesn’t mean that we will be in complete agreement but we in Likud are willing to speak with anyone. More than that, I can tell you I met many progressive activists who didn’t like what I said about the State of Israel, our ideology, and our intentions but at least we had a dialogue. This is what we are trying to do because it is important. Whatever we can gain from this is important. There are some people in the world who were once critics of Israel but the dialogue completely changed their point of view. That is what we do.By the way, Netanyahu met with both Democratic and Republican members of Congress three weeks ago. This is what we do all the time. It is important for us that Israel remains a bipartisan issue. We both live in a democracy. In democracies, administrations can be changed rapidly and often. So we need to maintain a good relationship with everyone who is in power. This is a basic interest of the State of Israel and we go by this.

Platform: Going back to your relationship with Netanyahu, was there anything unexpected that happened when you started working for him? Is there a story you would like to share?

Eli Vered Hazan: The image that the Israeli media is trying to portray of him is completely different from the reality. When I was appointed to work with him, I already admired Netanyahu as the greatest Jew and when I left I admired Netanyahu as one of the big personas in the world. I understood he is not only a great Jewish leader (he is the greatest I believe) but he is one of the greatest leaders in the world. He understands the world. Take Iran, think what would happen if Iran gets a nuclear weapon. By the way, they are signing an agreement (with Iran) very soon. This means that Iran will get a nuclear weapon and that they have a license to do so. Think what will happen if Iran will get it. It will start a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and others will join in and we will have a nuclear Middle East. Netanyahu is the only voice in the world that is trying to prevent this. He has a historical point of view and understands things that others do not understand.The first time Netanyahu spoke about Iran was in 1993 and a lot of leftists in Israel used to laugh at him. Even Lapid himself, when Netanyahu went to the Congress in 2015, criticized him as speaking against Obama. Netanyahu said that he wasn’t speaking against Obama but against the deal with Iran. Today, they too say Iran is a problem and a trouble to the world. That’s the difference. 29 years ago, Netanyahu understood this and today it is common knowledge.If you want to prevent a nuclear Iran, you need two things simultaneously, sanctions and a strong military threat. In 2004 or 2005, Mohamed ElBaradei the chairman of the IAEA paid a visit to Israel and he said to Yuval Steinetz, the former chairman of the foreign affairs and defense committee in the Knesset, “well you can't fight against it all you want but it won't matter. In a few years Iran will have a nuclear weapon. By 2012, Iran will have a nuclear weapon”. Well it’s 10 years after that and Iran hasn’t gotten the weapon yet. It means that military threats and sanctions are the formula to prevent it. Unfortunately, the West is going to abolish this formula and all of us will pay the price.

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