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Netanyahu Expected To Request Larger U.S. Defense Package


Our next guest knew Yitzhak Rabin very well. Ambassador Dennis Ross of the United States served three presidents from both parties and is now at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Welcome back to the program, ambassador.

DENNIS ROSS: Nice to be with you, thank you.

INSKEEP: Has Israel moved forward since Rabin's death?

ROSS: Well, certainly not in terms of trying to sort out how they're going to deal with the question of the Palestinians, at least in one respect. Your report just describes the divide. There is one way it has moved forward, and that is when Rabin was laying out this approach, when Rabin was basically telling me he was going to do a partition with the Palestinians either through negotiations or through separation so that Israel could retain its Jewish democratic character, one thing that has changed is that there is at least an increasing consensus among many within Likud that you will accept a two-state outcome. The prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, in his U.N. speech this year talked about two states for two peoples. Now that's not where Likud was when Rabin was the prime minister.

INSKEEP: Now and so, Likud, of course, that's Netanyahu party, a more conservative party in Israel compared to others. You mention Netanyahu. They are so different in tone, or they seem so different in tone, Rabin back then and Netanyahu now. Are they really that different in substance what they want?

ROSS: Well, I think that they do tend to approach things differently in one important respect. Rabin was someone who saw threats but also saw opportunities. Prime Minister Netanyahu tends to focus more on the threats and how you deal with those threats, and Rabin was someone who was constantly trying to shape the strategic landscape by also trying to deal with some of those opportunities. Prime Minister Netanyahu looks at the region that has been completely transformed, looks at what's around him, and is much more focused on the risk than he is on the possible openings.

INSKEEP: I've heard him described as risk averse. It sounds like you agree with that.

ROSS: Well, I think he is risk averse when it comes to the issue of how you pursue peace, and he's much less likely to see whether they are partners. Having said that, I do think he is more open today to looking to what may be Arab partners in the region. And the question is, how do you take advantage of those possible strategic convergences and yet still deal with the Palestinians in a way that allows you to move towards a different outcome.

INSKEEP: Now let's add another complexity because, of course, Netanyahu is visiting the United States next week. This is the first visit for Netanyahu since the U.S. made a nuclear agreement with Iran that Israel and Netanyahu, in particular, strongly oppose. Israel has been wanting. The U.S. has been saying it will give extra security assistance to reassure Israel. What can the United States do for Israel that would make a difference?

ROSS: Well, I think one thing that they can focus on is how do you take advantage of this deal. The deal, no matter how you slice it, if it isn't forced - and if it isn't forced is the key here - buys you 15 years. Now the question is, what can you do to change the landscape in those 15 years on the one hand, and from an Israeli standpoint, when you're facing 100,000 Hezbollah rockets, what can you do to do more to increase the missile defense that Israel is going to have and have it be completely layered. We've heard about Iron Dome. We have also helped the Israelis as they develop David's Sling and also the era missile. The era missile goes back to the George H. W. Bush administration.

INSKEEP: Got to stop you there, Ambassador Ross. Thanks very much.

ROSS: My pleasure.

INSKEEP: Dennis Ross's latest book is called, "Doomed To Succeed." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.