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tv   Israeli Defense Minister on Middle East Security  CSPAN  April 27, 2018 9:52am-10:53am EDT

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good afternoon. good morning, my gosh. good morning. good morning and welcome to the washington institute. i'm the director of the institute. i'm delighted to welcome all of you this morning to our
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institution for this very special event. our guest was kind enough to remember that events in the middle east took him away at the last moment a year ago when he was due to come and speak at this institution. and although there are no shortage of complicates and even tragic events going on in the middle east today, we are grateful to him and to his team and delegation for making time in this important mission to come and speak to the washington institute. i don't really have to list all of the issues that confront israeli security today. one need only look at the headlines, look at the map and see that on virtually every front surrounding israel there
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is red ink, the ink of challenge, the ink of threat going from lebanon to syria, going from gaza to the sinai. it is the responsibility of our guest today to address these issues, to lead in both the political and military sense israel's response to security challenges near and far. and our guest, i think it's fair to say, as israel is about to celebrate its -- by the american calendar, its 70th anniversary, our guest is somewhat of a poster child for the zionist experience. he is an immigrant from the former soviet union. not born into a noble and historic zionist family of six generations in the holy land.
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but someone who came to israel and created for himself a new life, a career and an important role at the top of the leadership of his country. it doesn't happen very much in countries anymore. and this is, i think, one of the great embodiments of what it means to have the jewish state. our guest, victor lieberman, he has headed the ministry of defense since 2016, he has served in the israeli parliament since 1999 and in that time he has served as deputy prime minister, foreign minister, minister of infrastructure, minister of transportation and minister of strategic affairs. in other words, there are few significant ministries in which victor has not offered his
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leadership, his commitment and his determination to support israel. we're delighted that he is here with us. i have invited him to off smeere remarks. he and i will sit down and have an impromptu conversation about the entire range of ishz fasues facing israeli security. i would like to ask everyone to please put your cellphones on sigh lenlen silent. this is an on the record event. we are beaming live with c-span. feel free to tweet out all the blil yan brilliant remarks of our guest. please keep your cellphones on silent. victor lieberman. >> good morning. thank you for opportunity to express my views.
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i think first of all, remarks to your introduction. first of all, happy to see headlines today, it's not regarding middle east but far east. so it's very, very remarkable meeting in korea peninsula. and it's really something really good, good news. the second point as you mentioned, i came to israel. i am not immigrant. i am repatriot. when i came, i came to israel, i was 20 years old. the fact that today i'm minister of defense, it's maybe another illustration that israel is small america. america is sky is the limit. i don't know any other country
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when you come as a young guy without background, without money, without language and one day you become minister of defense. it's phenomenon. another short introduction from my side. you know, for many years the first issue in israel and middle east was palestinian issue, our dispute with the palestinians. and it was real misunderstanding that our dispute with the palestinians, it's the heart of the middle east conflict. i think since arab spring, everybody understands that there are no linkage between our
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dispute with the palestinians and civil war in syria or situation in libya or the complicated situation in iraq or lebanon. for arab world for many years, the palestinian issue was only excuse to justify their failure in the domestic issues and for them it was very easy to incite crowds and blame israel in their domestic problems. another remark, because everybody asks me how you see what will be in the middle east.
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we can hope to achieve one day real peace in the middle east. i think it's really something no non-realistic. i think it's illusion. the biggest problem of the middle east, it's not israel but it's arab society. at least in my opinion, what we see in the arab world, i don't see even two states, they are living in peace, one with others. it's 99% of conflicts and bloodshed in the middle east, it's not between israel and the arab states, not between jews and muslims but between muslims themselves, not without any connection to israel.
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only in syria in the last years, more than half million people killed, slaughtered. every day hundreds of people killed and injured. in yemen, middle east, in sudan, in syria and iraq, who cares. you can see about football, basketball, some other news. you cannot see even one report about hundreds of people killed in the middle east every day. the main problem of middle east in my opinion of arab society is that the middle class doesn't exist. it's the main reason. because for peaceful policy and for readiness to coexist, to accept different people, different states, you need
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strong middle class. if i take, for example, most successful country in the world, like norway, switzerland, 90% of population, very strong and successful middle class. maybe 3% -- 2%, 3%, who knows. in the arab society, the situation completely different. 90% of population, really they are suffering poverty, misery, no hope. it's a very young society. if you take, for example, you will compare the demographic of arab muslim states and european states in completely different
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demographic. 70% of people very young in arab world. 50% of unemployment among young population, it's really crazy situation. again, israel, we proved our desire to achieve real peace with sacrifice. we gave up sinai and we signed a peace agreement with egypt. we gave up half of jordan. we withdrew from gaza strip until the very last inch, according to 67 line. we see the results that we have missiles on israel and everyday provocations. i cannot understand what demand
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we have from the gaza strip. we evacuated 21 settlements, more than 10,000 jews back to israel. we're ready to establish industrial zones to create jobs for people in gaza. by the way, i remember my last conversation with our late prime minister before disengagement, and i ask what are you doing. he explain to me that he wants to create an opportunity for palestinian people to prove that they can lead their own state. and he told me, you will see one day gaza strip will be a single
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in the middle east. we see single in the middle east. today, when we speak about tough situation in gaza strip, i expect people will ask what the reason for this tough situation within gaza strip. there are two reasons. first of all, hamas. they are collecting taxes from the people of gaza and they invest all of this money in tunnels and missiles. they not ready to divert even one dollar from missiles and tunnels to the benefit of people. not to invest money in electricity and water management, medicine, nothing. for them all those money, it's only to destroy the state of
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israel. the second reason they decided to stop refunding to any support of gaza strip, include payment for electricity, water. they try also the last border, i'm not sure if people really pay all attention. what is their slogan? what is their demands? not to live side by side with israel in peace. not to create jobs. but to destroy the state of israel. they are speaking to about the law of return to take over tel aviv. not demand for negotiation for peace. opposite.
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of course, you mentioned all challenges that we are facing around our borders. maybe we are facing more challenges than any other country in the world. of course, gaza strip have hamas and islamic jihad. in sinai we have islamic state. lebanon, we have hezbollah. in syria, al qaeda. behind all of them, iranians. of course, our reality, we are trying to manage the situation. we're trying to create modern society, moderate society. the same time to protect
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ourselves. it's really a huge challenge. i think we have challenges. thank you. [ applause ] >> mr. minister, thank you very much for those opening remarks. let me begin with your trip here to washington. an appropriate place to start. you met in the last couple of days with very senior american officials, the white house, the pentagon. what can you come away with, what do you return to israel with in terms of your sense from the administration about understanding your security challenges and any new understandings with washington and how to address them? i will specifically focus on the syria front in this regard.
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>> first of all, as always, we have really very, very good friends in washington. it's not only political interest. it's not only security. i think, first of all, the main reason that two states were sharing the same values, the strong commitment to democracy, to freedom of speech. and especially in washington, people understand that in middle east to keep democracy, it's also another very, very big challenge. as i mentioned, open society. sometimes i feel with our press that we more america than
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america. it's a real friendship. i think there is also deep understanding how big a challenge for israel to handle in the same time with all threats that you mentioned, i mentioned. especially with syria. there's atrocities in syria. this kind of regime that kill his own people. we know others, especially hezbollah and iran and everybody ask me, what was with the russians? the russians, of course, they have their priorities and their interests. there's a difference that
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russian russians, they don't hate israel, they don't seem to destroy the state of israel is the right policy. opposite hezbollah, iran, every day you see another statement that their intention, their policy, their goal, their policy is to destroy the state of israel. russians have their own interests. it's not our interests. but we try to keep open channels, open line. what we call de-con fliction policy. we have enough problems and enemies. it works. the same americans also, the
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united states also keeps their channels. we try to concentrate on iranian nation. with all due respect to our army and israel, at the end of the day, we are a small country. we are not a world power. our official policy not to interfere in the domestic issues within syria. not enough power and security council and u.n. and european union and arab league, it is their problem, not our problem. what our problem and what we will not allow, it's for iranians to establish a base in syria against israel. it's for us clear, we clarified
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our position here in washington and also around the world. i think there is understanding in washington to our challenges, to our problems. we, of course, discussed and we have some understanding. we have cooperation. we are enjoying very, very good relations at the end of the day. in israel, we have only one real strategic alliance, united states. we appreciate. >> do you leave washington with any confidence or more confidence that the united states will be remaining in syria, or do you leave washington with the sense that, in fact, the united states will be removing its troops from syria some time in the not too
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distant future? >> i don't know. it's not our business. i'm not in position to give advice to american administration. but i think there is understanding to our concern regarding situation in syria. modern situation in syria, it's possibility to create a land bridge from iran to syria and lebanon. if you want one huge continuity from iran through iraq, syria and lebanon. also i think that everybody in washington understands what it means. we explain the opposition. i'm sure that you will take right decisions here. >> you were quoted just recently saying, quote, we will destroy
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every site where we see an attempt by iran to position itself militarily in syria. we will not allow it at all costs. of course, there are thousands of iranians and iranian-backed militias in syria. what precisely is israel's red line in syria? >> you know, there are many iranians, but not so much iranians. i think also there is some misunderstanding regarding iranian presence in syria. i would say about iranian military base in every part of syria. there is military presence we will not allow. smuggling drugs or have some business, even if they own in capacity of advisers, it's
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another story. but to establish some military base, it doesn't matter. arab base or navy hub or some base for their ground operations, we will not allow. i think it's also this position, we explain to everybody in the world. we have political will and determination to protect ourselves. >> let me ask you if you could put on your analytical hat for a minute. because i think people here and in israel and elsewhere turn to you for special insight into understanding russian strategy. how do you evaluate what russia really wants in syria and what the limits of russian objectives are?
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for example, there's a big debate in the united states on the russian-iranian relationship. can we divide russia from iran? what do you think the possibilities are here? >> also, you know, i don't think it's right approach for me to start with someone about russia. but it's important to understand that the russians, they are very pragmatic players. at the end of the day, they're reasonable guys. it's possible to close deal with them. we understand what their interests and their interests really different from our interests. but we respect they have their priorities. we have our priorities.
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we try to avoid frictions and tensions. they are very pragmatic guys. one of the problems of the middle east that you have too many non-pragmatic, not reasonable guys. it's biggest problem. you know? for people from islamic state, al qaeda. they're fanatic guys and radical guy. it's a problem. also when you speak with arab people, it's good news from the moderate states. the first time they really understand that the threat for them, it's not israel, not jews, not zionism, but radical islamic groups within their society.
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first of all, it's iranians. it's a real threat for them. i think that russia, like every power in the world, they have their interests. it was russian political dream from 18th century, their presence in the mediterranean was the first time that they have the navy base in mediterranean. also it's not our business. we try only to protect our security interests and to keep our security interests. only one issue will never compromise. it's our security. >> does it give you any particular concern that for the first time when you look to the north, you see russian presence
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and russian sort of control of syria, but the americans are very far away? >> our concern is iranians. iranians and hezbollah. their ambition was readiness to sacrifice their own people. pragmatic guys are not reasonable guys. i think what we are facing with iran, it's really crazy situati situation. iranian iranians in very difficult economic situation. problem with travels within iran, the situation with inflation. it's very complicated situation.
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still very, very shaky within iran. despite all their domestic problems, they continue to be a biggest sponsor of world terror activity. they spent $2 billion every year for all this crazy support for terror. you know, in lebanon, hezbollah, hamas and jihad islamic in gaza strip, houthi tribes in yemen, shia mailitia in iraq, they spet $2 billion every year for this. it's crazy with all their own domestic problems. they invest up until now in
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syria since this war about $13 billion. we think that it's biggest problem that the iffanatic leadership is not reasonable. we don't have any problem with iranian people. hundreds of years we enjoyed very close relations. we have a problem with their leadership. ideology. we hope also one day we see today in korea peninsula to establish good relations with iranian people. we will see political change. we will see leadership. certainly, we don't have any dispute with iran, but they
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remain political and destroy the straight of israel because of fanatic ideology. >> this leads to my next couple of questions i wanted to ask you. you are in washington in a very auspicious week. you are in good company with the president of france and the chancellor of germany. they are here to -- in part, to convince president trump not to withdraw the united states from the iran nuclear deal. you are quoted as saying, quote, europe is wrong again. in the past, europeans made a mistake when they signed the munich agreement with germany. we know what happened. you use that analogy to describe the iran nuclear deal today. first, there's a great guessing game. what do you think president trump is going to? >> first of all, i completely agree with me again.
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i think the west has grown soft and they lost their political will and determination. the deal with iranians, it's something that i cannot understand. because they know exactly that iranians are cheating the west, that their political goal, it's not only nuclear energy for peace. but they need an additional for their peaceful nuclear energy, they need the ballistic missiles to spread this peaceful ballistic energy all around the world. the regimes, they are approached to the minorities, to the freedom of speech, to democracy.
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they know exactly the west about funding of terror. you have every steady partner and you report about states that they are sponsored of terror movement and the wealth. iran, every year is the first place, is the biggest sponsor of terror. they know everything. they know that in iran we saw the last year, iranian missile was inscription in hebrew to wipe out state of israel. they deny holocaust. despite all of this, they still are very supportive to in nuclear deal with iran. i think it's first of all, our obligation, our commitment as
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jews to remember everything in our history. iranians, they say we will destroy the state of israel. we can't imagine if they will achieve nuclear weapons. we can imagine today it's possible to discuss publically how was the situation if syria, in assad succeeded to achieve nuclear bomb. i think the same with saddam husain. i think it's a huge mistake for this nuclear deal with iran. the situation really very, very similar before munich agreement and exactly west sacrifice
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czechoslovakia. we have very bad feeling regarding their commitment to our security. we will not take any chance. >> i'm sorry, are you suggesting that the countries that support the nuclear agreement are appeasing iran and are sacrificing israel's security like czechoslovakia was sacrificed? >> i think to pacify iran, it's mission impossible. they understand only the tough language. the economic benefits that they achieved from this nuclear deal create an ability for iran to finance all their activity in
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syria to support hezbollah and houthi militia. you should know i think it's clear that the result iranian support not hezbollah, not houthi militia, not hamas, not islamic jihad. they are not able to exist even one week. 80%, 85% of all their budget include hezbollah and houthi militias and the islamic jihad, comes from iran. i think it's really huge, huge mistake. in their understanding, it's a bad message. it's our position, again. i am not in position to give some advice, not to administration. it's completely unnecessary. but it's our position. >> israel has suggested that if
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there is further escalation with iran because of its presence in syria, that iran itself might not be off limits from israeli retaliation. >> i think also reciprocity will try to hit tel aviv. we will hit back to iran. i hope that it's really no -- only horror movie like in american movie. it's not reality. we hope that they will enough smart not to provoke us, not to create a new conflict. i think it's against interest of people of iran and, of course, we don't have any ambitious to
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destroy iran. what we need, we need security and we need time and possibility to develop our economy, our science, our technology. israel is startup nations. we don't have any like others ambitions, not in lebanon, not to come back in gaza, not in syria. please forget about us. we will be happy. >> if i can, let's turn to the situation on the gaza border, which you spoke about earlier in your remarks. we are in the run-up to may 15th. we have seen various levels of border conflicts. what do you expect?
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do you think there will be an entirely new level of conflict? how would you evaluate your own response to dealing with the conflict over the last number of weeks? >> first of all, i hope that we're really avoid new conflict with people in gaza. as i mentioned, we don't have any ambitions, we don't try to come back to gaza strip, not to establish new settlement, nothing. you have your gaza strip place. try to concentrate all your efforts to build new society, new entity. it's not our business. but if they will try to provoke
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us to launch missiles, to damage our sovereignty, to penetrate to israel, of course, we will do everything to prevent this. can you imagine that somebody will launch a missile on sovereign american territory what will be the response? somebody to launch missiles on russia, on china? what will be their response? despite that we withdraw until the very last inch, every day we have another -- we see another terrorist activity against our peop people, our sovereignty, everything. it's really something unbelievable.
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people try to justify that. also, what we see is they are using their children, their women as human shield. you will never see the leaders of hamas on the front line. they are behind the children and women. we try to avoid casualties and to avoid escalation. but at the end of the day, we will not allow to jeopardize our security. >> what is the strategic solution for gaza? on one hand, the head of the palestinian authority doesn't want to move into gaza until hamas yields its guns. how is it likely that hamas will do so? how do you square this circle? is there a solution out there?
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>> i think solution is reconstruction for demilitarization. it's my view, my approach. i think it's obligation of people to gaza to topple this fanatic leadership, this fanatic urbanization, to replace with normal people. you know, we're ready -- as i mentioned, to create jobs, to establish industrial zones as it was in the past. even to build infrastructure, electricity, water for gaza people, everything. but we need a clear
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understanding that they gave up their intention to destroy the state of israel, that they changed their concept of paragraphs that they have in their charter about our right to exist, they will accept the demands to recognize israel and demilitarization. it's impossible that they invest all their money in a military wing and they complain that they in difficult economic situation. the hamas budget in the last year was $260 million. instead to invest those money in
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health care, in education. they invest it against israel. >> demilitarization for reconstruction. >> yeah. it's one approach. >> let me turn to the west bank for a moment. as minister of defense, you are, of course, responsible for the west bank. there is no publically active peace process at the moment. yet, west bank is relatively quiet. >> not peace and not process. >> fair enough. the west bank is relatively quiet. can you say a few words about security cooperation, your relationship with the palestinian authority, how things are actually operating relatively quietly on the ground? >> first of all, i think that we must ask another question. why we're still in the deadlock with the palestinians despite
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that we sign an oslo accord 25 years ago. to speak frankly, i am very bad guy. i am right wing. i am a settler. i am russian guy with birth. it's very right wing government today in israel. the question, why failure to achieve some agreement, even some strategic breakthrough with the palestinians during 25 years. we remember that we had very damaged governments, included will remember the meetings in camp david.
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the question, you know, it's the biggest issue. i think at least in my understanding, the problem that the real dispute, it's not between us and the palestinians. but between us and the arab world. the arab world has three different dimensions. it's our relations with the arab states. it's our relations with the palestinians. and now relations with israeli arabs. it's crucial to resolve in the same time, simultaneously, our our problems with arab world,
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not with the palestinians. palestinians alone, they're not able to sign the final status agreement. they are not heavyweight. they don't have capacity. to speak frankly, palestinian authority doesn't exist. the fact that you have two different entities, you have the two. the election to the palestinian authority were supposed to be held in january 2010. i'm not sure that, according to their constitution, has legitimate right to sign any agreement on behalf of palestinian people. even with all this problems, i
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remember what they offered. again, i was shocked when i saw. it was most generous offer only possible from israeli side. despite this offer he said no. he refused to sign final status agreement. it's another illustration that in this boy lilateral framework it's impossible to achieve real solution with the palestinians. it should be part of the regional comprehensive solution. we should sign with arab league, with palestinians and to find the solution for the israeli arabs.
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biggest part of them identifies themselves as palestinians. i think it's also very, very crucial. it's biggest issue to continue the same things and to hope that the result will be different result, i think it's naive approach as albert einstein explain in the past. it's politically correct to say. >> your opening remark though, when you stood at this podium was, real peace is an illusion. >> i think, as i said, it's solution. it's not peace. peace you need real two democratic societies. you need strong middle class. relatively, it's quiet because economic situation much better than in gaza strip.
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in a sense, only to our efforts, because they visited washington ten times for than others. no interest to establish strong economy. doesn't worry about prosperity. he only speaks in revolution, in slogans. independent state. you need capacity, you need jobs, you need education. it's not enough as declaration. independence costs a lot of money. i think is they should invest their efforts to create a really strong economy. >> i have to ask you this question. it is very common.
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one has heard it for years from various political leaders here and in israel and elsewhere that the current situation is, quote, unsustainable. is it, in fact, very sustainable? >> not, you know, in the middle east is middle east, everything include our neighbor and our problems. it's very shaky, unsustainable and unpredictable. it's maybe more right vision. everything unpredictable. we don't know what will be with gaza. we don't know what the future of palestinians in jordan, what happ happens with arab league. the problems that everything in the middle east, it's not -- it's like connected lessons.
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you see what happens with the leaders of the arab world. with saudi arabia and yemen, with emirates. the sinai, egypt, all problems of islamic state. it's possible only in this small part of the middle east, israel and palestinians to achieve real stable peace like france and germany, france and italy or switzerland and italy. also, it's real naive approach. we need to achieve this strategic breakthrough with arab world, strong leadership. when visit first time jerusalem, from both sides, very strong, very charismatic leaders, with
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huge support within society. 112 members voted and supported this agreement between israel and egypt. i don't remember any other vote with so huge majority. support from all people of israel. >> do you think that the new leadership in saudi arabia is the 21st century sadat? >> i don't know. to speak frankly, we hope that it's moderate, modern leadership and they will lead real modernization and open approach to our problems also. but it's crucial for them also, not only for israel.
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i really believe in regional solution. it will change only the least, first of all the arab world. israel, it's start-up nation with strong economy, with science, with everything. the combination between us start-up nation and financial power together, combination of our moo you'utual efforts will middle east in both levels, economy and, of course, security. i think it's their interest like us. >> we're running out of time. i can't let you go without at least asking a couple of
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political questions. i hope you don't mind. do you think your coalition will stay the full term, or do you see early elections coming? >> i think it's maybe more stable coalition that they only remember. i don't see any interest among all parties for early elections. i don't see elections before next year. maybe it will be some months before. it's really very, very stable coalition. i don't see early elections. >> you have served, as i said earlier, you served in -- i'm not going to say every, but almost every senior position in an israeli government. except one. can we imagine you being a candidate for prime minister?
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>> i thought you ask if i want to be minister of cultural sport. no but i think that i really served our country in many, many positions and many capacities. so politicians, i try my best. but i'm not crazy in politics. i remember, there are people in politics that for them it's everything. there are people that for them it's only an option. for me, it's only an option. i really enjoy this job, this capacity. it's a huge responsibility. i feel really very, very good in this position. who knows what will be in the future? >> ladies and gentlemen, please join me in thanking minister of
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defense, victor lieberman. [ applause ]
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committee has released its 253-page report on russia influence in the 2016 election. it's heavily redacted and democrats have added their take on events as an addendum.
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the committee report finds no evidence of russian collusion with the trump campaign, but says both the trump and clinton campaigns had poor judgment? some instances. the committee report is separate from the special counsel investigation. you can find a link to it on our website at >> c-span 3 live coverage will continue this afternoon at noon eastern when new america hosts a discussion on a report ranking the world's major telecommunications and internet companies based on users' privacy. they will talk about which social media platforms are the best or the worst at disclosing privacy information. president trump and german chancellor angela merkel will be holding a joint necessary conference at the white house this afternoon. c-span 2 will have live coverage of that starting at 1:35 eastern. >> tomorrow president trump will go to michigan for a rally in mccomb county, the president is going there instead of speaking
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at the white house precedence dinner taking place here at washington, d.c. at about the same time. live coverage begins at 7:00 p.m. eastern on c-span. >> sunday morning on 1968 america in turmoil, we look at the media's role in shaping how americans experienced the events of 50 years ago. our guests marvin cowell former cbs and nbc journalist and founding director of harvard university's center on media, politics and public policy and david kennerly prize winning photographer who covered senator robert kennedy's presidential campaign, the vietnam war and the white house. watch 1968 america in turmoil live sunday at 8:30 a.m. eastern on c-span's washington journal and on american history tv on c-span 3. >> brian bbe


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