Defence minister calls Lieberman ‘unbearable’

Norbert Darabos has refused to apologise after attacking Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

The Austrian Social Democratic (SPÖ) defence minister told Die Presse on Sunday that Lieberman was an “unbearable” member of the Israeli government to him. Darabos criticised the nationalist politician for refusing to rule out an Israeli attack against Iran due to the country’s controversial nuclear programme. Darabos said: “I don’t defend Iran but upping the diplomatic and economic pressure should be the chief priority.”

The defence minister warned that a military conflict between the two countries could cause an “incontrollable mass blaze in the Middle East”. He also claimed that Israel was trying to redirect the focus from interior problems by sending warning signals to its “foreign enemies” Iran and Palestine.

Darabos – who is, according to Austrian surveys, one of the least popular ministers of the current government coalition between SPÖ and People’s Party (ÖVP) – also deplored the lack of strength of left-wing forces in Israeli politics.

Darabos announced yesterday (Mon) he would not back down from criticising Lieberman the way he did it at the weekend – despite widespread concerns that the issue could worsen the relationship of SPÖ and ÖVP.

The parties have been engaged in bitter verbal disputes over the past months, especially regarding social subjects and the question how their own reputation among voters could be improved. Meanwhile, the right-wing Freedom Party (FPÖ) gathers pace. The faction of Heinz-Christian Strache might win next year’s national election, according to public onion analysts.

Darabos argued that he was also in charge of international security concerns. “I can fully confirm my previous statements,” he said when being asked whether he wanted to make corrections to the things in the Die Presse interview.

It is not the first time that Darabos caused a heated public debate and a deterioration of the climate in the coalition. The defence and sport minister announced in October 2010 the Austrian army could be restructured into a fully professional organisation which can do without recruits.

His suggestion came shortly after Michael Häupl, the Viennese SPÖ mayor, called for an open debate about the issue. Häupl underlined that he backed a reform of the current conscription system. The immensely influential SPÖ official underlined his preference for a reform by claiming that young men’s time was often wasted during their six months of mandatory military service.

Darabos emphasised over the years that the conscription system was “set in stone” before he focused on reforming it by carrying out several pilot projects aimed at checking a smaller, fully-professional troop’s efficiency.