WASHINGTON - Israeli President Shimon Peres has floated the idea a functional headquarter of Arab countries and Israel to fight a common danger posed by a network of extremists sweeping through Iraq and Syria, saying, ‘We have to fight them in order to stop it.’
In an interview, the Israeli leader said the threat post by Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) is changing the political calculus in the Middle East, with Israel no longer the most significant threat to the majority of Arabs in the region.
‘Until now, maybe Israel was the first problem in the eyes of many Arabs,’ he said. ‘Today, they have to say it openly, the real problem for the Arabs and for us are not the mutual mistrust but really the problem of terror, which is a common danger to them and to us.’
Peres said the peace process could be kick-started by the new common enemy. ‘We have to take the joint interests, which are many, and didn’t exist before,’ he said, proposing ‘to establish a functional headquarter of Arab countries and Israel to fight a common danger, because the terrorists are destroying the Arab world. They are the greatest danger to the Arab world, as well as to us a great danger. We have to fight them in order to stop it.’
‘The headquarters would be functional, not territorial, because terrorists don’t have a certain place, they don’t respect borders, they don’t respect law, they are mobile,’ he said, never mentioning ISIS by name. ‘We have to fight them in every corner, to search after them in every place they are, to do whatever we can to prevent them before they are killing people.’
The Middle East, said Peres, has entered a new phase of history and won’t turn back. ‘The future is already here. You see the first part of the future, and that is the dismantling of the Middle East as we used to know it. One country falls after another country,’ he said. ‘There is a real need to construct a different Middle East. The Middle East must change because the world has changed.
And instead of oppositional armies that are fighting usually one against another, now we have a net of terrorists that are trying to destroy everything. They are not two; they are hundreds. They don’t have a common ground; they don’t have a common future.’
Peres was interviewed by the newspaper’s blogger after receiving Congressional Gold Medal as he completed his last official visit to the United States. Having served in the Israeli government for 67 years, he leaves the Israeli presidency in July.
Asked if Israel is willing to risk Israeli lives to protect Jordan if ISIS attacks the kingdom, Peres said that doing so would not be purely a selfless act. ‘We are not risking one life for another. We are trying to defend the life of the two of us because we have a common enemy,’ the Israeli president said.
Peres, who met with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office on Wednesday, praised him during the interview. He said: ‘I have the highest respect for Obama. I have worked with 10 American Presidents, both Republicans and Democrats. As far as Israeli security is concerned, he has done the most that an American president can do. We trust, appreciate and are grateful for the support.’ He had harsh words for those who say that Obama has not been a friend of Israel. ‘The people who make these remarks are gossips. We are living in a world where image-making is important, so we ignore the facts. What counts is his record not the gossips.’
He also defended Obama against the critics of his administration’s Syria policy. ‘When it comes to the Sunnis and Shiites, it is not for the United States or for us or for anyone else to settle who was the heir of (Prophet) Muhammad (Peace be Upon Him),’ he said. ‘This is a Muslim and Arab problem and they have to deal with it. I think the best and the right way is to tell the Arab world gentlemen, it is your problem and you must find a solution. American soldiers cannot settle a religious problem that is basically Muslim.’
In Syria, he said, at least one group has come out a step ahead. ‘The Kurds, as a matter of fact, have established their own state. It’s a matter of fact,’ he said. Peres also denounced the formation of the Fatah-Hamas Palestinian unity government as ‘wrong’ and questioned its long-term viability. He emphatically denied that the Obama administration has recognised the terrorist group Hamas, which the administration’s foreign policy critics have charged. ‘Obama did not recognize Hamas,’ said the Israeli president. ‘His position, vis-a-vis Hamas, remains the same.