The celebrations of the American first centennial, exactly 100 years before Operation Entebbe, were marred by the news that the battalion of George Armstrong Custer was annihilated to a man by native Americans. This, even though Custer - a synonym for a rash, aggressive commander who leads his men into a deadly trap - knew how to look at the world through the eyes of his enemies and understood why they were warring against him. "If I were an Indian," he wrote, "I often think I would greatly prefer to cast my lot among those of my people adhered to the free open plains rather than submit to the confined limits of a reservation."
Ehud Barak is at least one half Custer in his ability to understand the ways of his rival and adopt his point of view in order to analyze his actions. Operating undercover or charging straight in, in the Iranian context, the job is much more complicated than putting on makeup and a costume in order to carry out an assassination in Beirut. Only one who is ready to take up the challenge and put himself in the place of a Palestinian and an Iranian (an Egyptian and a Syrian, which was not done in 1973), will be able to cope with them and perhaps even compromise with them.
As such, Barak should not be condemned for his statement during an interview with Charlie Rose that he would "apparently" seek nuclear weapons were he an Iranian. Apparently, not only as a member of the extremist Muslim regime, but also under the monarchist-nationalist Shah, who also dreamed of going nuclear as a way of becoming a respected regional power that was at least as powerful as its neighbors.
Of course Barak said what he said not because he swore to tell the truth, even if it was not all the truth. He was trying to convince his audience that Iran's quest for nuclear capability is not a passing whim, but a fundamental policy that needs uprooting by external intervention. For this purpose, armed with the ridiculous preamble of "there are those who claim," he sacrificed yet another thin sliver of the shaky cover of ambiguity which surrounds Israel's alleged nuclear program.
During the past years Barak invested a great deal of effort, at every opportunity, to rally support for his aggressive approach to the Iranian question. More officers than ever before, removed from the limited group of those privy to the secrets, were invited to discussions he headed, in the hope that he would rally a majority among the generals in his favor. This even though someone like him, who held all the key posts in the military and in politics, knows that the view of the General Staff is expressed by the chief of staff. Barak, whom the prime minister admires for his intelligence, may be proof of the saying "how was this wisdom useful in his decision?" His actions had the opposite result from what he and Netanyahu wanted. Had he kept quiet he would have advanced the cause he wanted to promote much more.
Late last week Barak met in Halifax, Canada, with his American counterpart, Leon Panetta. This was their fourth meeting - two in Washington and one in Tel Aviv - during the past four and a half months since Panetta took over at the Pentagon. On the agenda of the security seminar at Halifax was for Barak to speak on Saturday. It was not a life-and-death issue, but in their well-known hypocrisy, the religious parties in the Likud government do not consider this sufficient cause to express lack of confidence in Netanyahu; unlike the case when the first government of Yitzhak Rabin was brought down when the F-15s were received.
Panetta expressed, following the meetings with Barak, strong reservations against an Israeli operation in Iran. The Obama administration is not trying to take advantage of any opportunities available for an attack - on the contrary, it is seeking reasons to avoid it. The reasons are many and well known, and topping them now is the deteriorating economic situation in the U.S. and the world. The bottom line shows that the U.S. is pulling away from Israel, that Washington is making a greater effort to deter Tel Aviv than Tehran. If this is what a wise man causes, Israel needs leaders who are a little less intelligent.
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