Trendy - and a good actor to boot
Ehud Barak's surprise appearance on the popular Israeli satiric TV show, "A Wonderful Country," was rather amusing.
Who are we to argue with Labor Chairman and Defense Minister Ehud Barak's public relations advisers, who have come out with the slogan for his election campaign: "He's not a back-slapper, he's not trendy and he's not a nice guy"?
This week, you could add to these epithets, "He's also not much of an actor." His surprise appearance on the popular Israeli satiric TV show, "A Wonderful Country," was rather amusing. Really an Academy Award-winning performance! I could never imagine Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz or Likud Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu appearing on that show; they are too arrogant to laugh at themselves. Mofaz and Netanyahu have other ways of making their audience laugh.
Take, for instance, when Netanyahu declares that he will topple the Hamas regime in Gaza, or when Mofaz plays the role of the offended party over the fact that he is not being put in charge of recapturing the Gaza Strip - notwithstanding the fact that, when he hung up his Chief of Staff uniform, he left behind him a thoroughly disorganized army that was totally unprepared for combat, as amply demonstrated in the Second Lebanon War.
In Beirut in February 1973, under the code-name "Operation Spring of Youth," Israeli commandos assassinated some of those responsible for the murder of 11 Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympic Games of 1972. In that operation, Barak dressed up as a woman. Ever since, he sometimes dons the very dress he wore in Beirut to Purim masquerade parties organized by the Israel Defense Forces' elite special operations and reconnaissance unit, Sayeret Matkal. During the May 1972 rescue operation to liberate the hijacked passengers of a Sabena airliner, Barak wore white overalls, disguising himself as an airport fuel attendant.
The reason I mention Barak's acting talents is to argue that he is particularly gifted in using sophisticated ruses to trick the enemy. Under a thick smokescreen of his own making, some surprising things take place. When he complained this week about all the useless chatter of cabinet ministers, he asked rhetorically, "Do you really think that the Entebbe raid or the 1967 Six-Day War could have taken place with this kind of useless chatter?" He was alluding to the possibility that a military operation along the lines of Operation Thunderbolt, the daring Israeli rescue operation carried out in Uganda in 1976, might actually be in the offing. However, he also made the following statement, which had a totally different message: "There is no certainty that, if two or three divisions were to operate in Gaza, we could thereby put an end to the missiles being fired at us ... Those who are demanding that we immediately launch an operation into Gaza are acting irresponsibly."
In light of such contradictory messages, what exactly does Barak think we should do? "Instead of writing about Gaza, you should be writing about Syria," advises one of his spokespeople. Under such circumstances, a cautious journalist must come to the conclusion that decoy action is being taken to prevent the journalist from speculating about military plans concerning Gaza.
Since its establishment in 1948, Israel has carried out three significant withdrawals. First, there was the evacuation of the Sinai Peninsula, following the Sinai Campaign of 1956, the territory which then-prime minister David Ben-Gurion wanted to include in the "Third Kingdom of Israel." Threatening severe measures, America and the Soviet Union ordered Israel to immediately surrender this newly occupied territory. Ben-Gurion swallowed the bitter pill of relinquishing his "Third Kingdom of Israel" dream; however, he carried out the withdrawal only after he obtained a settlement that granted Israel 10 years of tranquility. Then, in 1979, Israel withdrew from every square millimeter of Sinai in the context of a peace accord with Egypt, which has remained in force to this day.
The most disastrous of Israeli withdrawals took place in August 2005, when the 7,500 settlers of the Gush Katif region in the Gaza Strip were evacuated by then-prime minister Ariel Sharon, who was the only Israeli leader who could have engineered such an historic move. To defend his actions, which amounted to destroying what he himself had built, he argued that it was time "to awaken the nation to the fact that the dream of a Greater Israel is history." Sharon's strategic error lay in the fact that he evacuated the area without obtaining any treaty or any conditions from either the Palestinians or the Americans. To add insult to injury, the pull-out occurred after two years of Sderot and neighboring areas falling under attack by primitive versions of the Qassam rocket.
This unilateral withdrawal, which included the Philadelphi Route (the strip of land along the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt) delivered Gaza to Hamas on a silver platter as a base for terrorist operations against Israel. Hamas strategists were quick to pick up the lessons learned from the Second Lebanon War - namely, you do not need F-16 jet fighters to strike at the very heart of the Israeli homefront and, what is even more important, the legendary Israeli army does not consist of Supermen nor is there any certainty that its capabilities are as unlimited as they once were.
In response to the elimination of a band of terrorists that was about to carry out a terror attack in Israel, 70 missiles were fired at various parts of Israel's Western Negev over the past two days. This fact is proof that Hamas' leaders are not afraid that the IDF will dare to launch an operation that could cost Israel many casualties.
Under the cloak of the smokescreen that is concealing what is actually happening between the two parties, it is quite possible that negotiations are actually taking place between Israel and the Palestinians over the renewal of a form of tranquility that will reflect the parameters of a changed reality. Barak's position is that a military operation should be launched not simply because the other side is building up its strength, but rather to prevent the kind of "tranquility" that Israel has experienced over the past month. In wars between countries, there are clear-cut victories, as was the case in Israel's wars with Egypt and Jordan. A war with a terror organization can end with some sort of makeshift deal and with an agreement founded on a balance of terror.
All the rabble-rousers who are now demanding that Israel send its forces into Gaza will be the first ones to scream bloody murder with the cry, "Why on earth did Israel ever go into Gaza?" Both Mofaz and Foreign Minister and Kadima leader Tzipi Livni were active partners in all the plans that have been presented so far, and, in their opinion, the Hamas regime can be toppled without Israel having to recapture Gaza. Obviously, this is a pipe-dream. Much more thought must be expended before anyone on Israel's side pulls the trigger. No one knows better than Barak what the IDF's power really is, what the limitations on that power are, and how a balance of terror can be created without Israel causing the entire roof to crash down on its head.
We must wait until the smokescreen lifts. Then, we will find out whether Barak, who is not a back-slapper and is not trendy, is nonetheless, a master of ruses.