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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

MacKay meets with top Israeli officials

TEL AVIV – Minister of National Defence Peter MacKay is travelling the Middle East this week to meet with key Israeli, West Bank and Jordanian leaders, as well as members of the Canadian Armed Forces deployed in the region. In Israel, he met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defence Minister Ehud Barak and Opposition leader Tzipi Livni.
Although it was the first time to Israel as defence minister, MacKay visited Israel in 2007 in an official capacity as foreign affairs minister.

MacKay raised his concern with Israeli officials regarding Iran’s nuclear ambitions. He said that the Arab nations are “very much concerned about Iran’s nuclear proliferation.”
Nevertheless, MacKay reiterated that Canada has placed economic sanctions on Iran in an effort to curb its nuclear program.

“We even went beyond the UN, in terms of sanctions,” he said.

MacKay feels that the best way of stopping Iran’s plans is “through the demonstration of international resolve.” However, he said that the Canadian government remains skeptical whether economic sanctions are effective.

“Beyond the nuclear threat, Iranian actions in the form of a proxy relationship with Syria and Hamas is just as much a concern for us [as Israel], given our involvement in Afghanistan,” MacKay said.

When asked what Canada will do if economic sanctions prove ineffective, the minister replied, “That’s very difficult to answer.” He said that he has the “same concerns about the consequences, ripple-effects and lots of speculation.”

MacKay discussed with Israeli officials the stalled peace talks.

“Canada is a strong supporter of negotiations for a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine, with mutually assured borders,” he told the Jewish Tribune. “Peace is best pursued if negotiations continue.”

On Monday, MacKay signed a memorandum of understanding with his Israeli counterpart, Defence Minister Ehud Barak. The memorandum formalized an agreement between the two nations in which they agreed to share intelligence resources, particularly scientific and technological equipment.

MacKay told the Jewish Tribune that he and Barak view the memorandum “as a foundation of other opportunities” in counterterrorism and joint military training.

MacKay said that counterterrorism is a very high priority for Canada – despite the fact that few terrorist acts have occurred on Canadian soil. MacKay clarified that counterterrorism is an important issue for Canadian soldiers stationed in Afghanistan and the large number of Canadian expatriates living in Lebanon.

“Tragically, Israel has a lot of experience with terrorism,” MacKay said.

The two defence ministers also discussed the issue of casualty rehabilitation, the treatment and rehabilitation of soldiers.

“We take the issue very seriously,” MacKay added, apparently due to Canada’s deployment in Afghanistan.

MacKay announced that Canada is prepared to share its experience in fighting fires. He mentioned his government’s cooperation with Israel when Canada sent 30 tons of flame-retardant material to Israel to combat the forest fire in the Carmel a month ago.

Last Friday, Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke with Prime Minister Stephen Harper regarding possible bilateral arrangements to purchase Canadian Bombardier firefighting planes.