It is becoming increasingly evident that unless there is a dramatic about-face in Iran's policy, in a year Israel will no longer be the only country in the Middle East that, at least according to foreign media reports, has nuclear weapons. And if there are no dramatic developments in the coalition negotiations, Lt. Gen. (res.) Moshe Ya'alon will be the next defense minister, among the key figures who will have to make tough decisions on how to deal with one of the most sensitive issues, in terms of both security and international relations, that any Israeli government has ever faced.
It is therefore strange that the political establishment and the media, which have exhaustively discussed the identity of the next justice minister, have given Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu carte blanche over Ya'alon's appointment to this senior post.
Is it really desirable for Lt. Gen. (res.) Ya'alon to be the responsible adult at the prime minister's side during such a critical period? Is he the person who will contribute the sound judgment and broad outlook needed to counter the designated foreign minister, who once threatened to bomb the Aswan Dam and not too long ago told the Egyptian president to go to hell?
If we are to judge by Ya'alon's recent statements on Iran, Avigdor Lieberman may turn out to be the cabinet's moderate wing. At a recent meeting with reporters, Ya'alon explained what he meant when he said that to counter Iran, "Israel needs to consider all the options." According to foreign press reports, the former chief of staff proposed that the government "consider assassinating the president of Iran." And apropos Iran: Right before the 1996 election, when Netanyahu ran against Shimon Peres, Ya'alon - then director of Military Intelligence - declared that Iran was hoping for a Netanyahu victory.
The dominant opinion in the international community is that the formation of a pragmatic Arab-Islamic coalition that intensifies Iran's isolation is (still) a more practical and less dangerous strategy than any of the military options. The contribution Israel must make to this effort is regional peace along the lines of the Arab peace initiative and calm in the territories.
But in his book (in Hebrew) "The Long Short Way," Ya'alon declared it "entirely obvious that there is no chance of reaching a genuine resolution of the conflict in this decade or the coming ones." Instead, he proposed "proving to the Palestinians that violence does not pay." Thus the person designated for the post of defense minister is sticking to what he has advocated ever since he was deputy chief of staff - "the strategic necessity of searing the Palestinians' consciousness with the understanding that violence does not pay."
Judging by the election results, Ya'alon and his friends, including Shaul Mofaz and Amos Gilad, have mainly managed to sear the consciousness of Israelis. Their campaign to destroy the Palestinian Authority led to Hamas' electoral victory and the fall of the Gaza Strip to Hamas. Nonetheless, Ya'alon continues to believe that it is possible to "beat" the Palestinians and even "vanquish them." He reiterates that had he been in command of the Israel Defense Forces during the Second Lebanon War in the summer of 2006, he would have defeated Hezbollah and seared Hassan Nasrallah's consciousness so that he would not mess with us anymore.
Even though Ya'alon took off his uniform only a year before that war, he does not accept responsibility for any of its failures, either at the front or in the rear. Those responsible for most of the trouble, and especially for the "defeatist attitude," are, in his opinion, the headline-seeking politicians, their allies in the media and above all, the Supreme Court justices, headed by Aharon Barak, who "cast a shadow over the decision makers, more than once caused real damage to the country and undermined its ability to defend itself properly."
With Ya'alon in the government, who needs outgoing Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann? All the checkpoints can come back, all petitions to the Supreme Court can be shelved, and all that will be left to do is sear Barack Obama's consciousness.
Netanyahu promised to form the best possible cabinet, and his party has at least two candidates for defense minister whose horizons are much broader than those of Ya'alon. The prime minister-designate knows that MK Dan Meridor is the best person for the job. The man who has served as justice minister, finance minister, minister in charge of the intelligence community, cabinet secretary and chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee comes armed with a balanced worldvi ew and formidable knowledge.
But even Silvan Shalom, who served as deputy defense minister, finance minister and foreign minister, has learned a thing or two about the limits of power, and would thus enable us to sleep a little better at night.
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