By Mick Krever, CNN
It may not be Yair Lapid’s job, but he certainly has a lot to say about foreign policy.
“If you want to negotiate you better have a big stick in your hand – or in this case a big Tomahawk,” he told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour of negotiations with Syria on Tuesday. “It’s the Middle East; you have to have sticks with the carrots.”
Lapid, a former journalist and TV presenter, threw a wrench into Israeli politics when his upstart moderate party, Yesh Atid, took second place in the last election.
He is clearly a man with ambitions. He was widely rumored to have wanted the post of foreign minister; he was given finance. Most observers assume he covets the prime minister’s office.
So it’s no surprise that he has plenty to say about some of the top international issues on Israel’s agenda: Syria and Iran.
His views come down to this: Words are great, but we care about deeds.
“Unless there is a credible threat, all the negotiations [on Syria] are just empty words,” he said. “This is not over. It won’t be over until all weapons of mass destruction will be out of Syria. Then we will know this whole move has succeeded.”
Lapid repeated a point many have made about sticking to U.S. President Barack Obama’s “red line” on chemical weapons: That not only Syria, but also Iran has to be shown that the world “will not be silent when regimes and dictatorships are gathering weapons of mass destruction.”
Rhetoric out of Iran has been surprisingly pleasant of late; the new president and foreign minister have taken their message of outreach to twitter, even wishing Jews a happy new year.
“Of course I rather have people tweeting me happy Rosh Hashanah or happy New Year instead of tweeting that they are, I don’t know, holocaust deniers as it was before,” Lapid told Amanpour. “I don’t want to be sour about everything, but is this the real thing?”
Once again, he said, words are great, but it comes down to actions.
“When the reactor in Qom will be closed, when they will stop enriching uranium, when they take off the enriched uranium they already have,” he said, “then we can discuss the fact whether we can all hold hands and sing hallelujah together.”
“I’m happy to listen to any new music coming from Iran,” Lapid said, “but this has to be backed by – not only by words but also by deeds.”
Of face-to-face negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians – orchestrated by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and thus far very secretive – Lapid put his faith in “low expectations.”
“The best things are happening when we have low expectations,” he said. “The fact that everybody is going around and telling each other, this is not going to work, this is not going to happen, is actually a good thing.”
With such strong views on foreign policy, of course, it’s easy to forget that Lapid’s day-to-day job is stewardship of Israel’s economy.
The issue of the day in Israel is who will lead the Central Bank; Lapid and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have failed to appoint a permanent leader since the last governor stepped down in June.
“This is a fine example to the fact that comedies are just tragedies in fast-forward,” Lapid said. “We have managed to choose two candidates who turn out to be the wrong candidates and they decided to withdraw, and now it’s going to take a few days or weeks more.”
So who, Amanpour asked, will be put forward to lead the bank?
“This has become the holy grail of all economic reporters in Israel,” Lapid toyed. “It was a nice try.”
Lapid was, however, more open to answer a question that he himself, during his career as a TV personality, was famous for asking.
“What symbolizes Israel for you today?”
“I’m going to choose the corniest answer that everybody gave me, which is my children. … Whenever I look at them, I see the reason why is it that I’m doing what I’m doing,” he told Amanpour. “Everyone’s a bit cynic when he’s in the media. I’m not anymore.”