The Israel Defense Forces chief of staff was the one who ruined the party this week. As Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak were rushing to declare that Israel will probably have no choice but to destroy Syria's chemical weapons stores, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz moved to cool them down.
Speaking to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Tuesday, Gantz made it clear that attacking chemical weapons convoys in Syria would likely spark a regional war, so it would be better to act with caution and restraint before deciding to send the IDF into Syrian territory.
Gantz's remarks reflect the anomaly in how the Netanyahu government sets national defense policy: The politicians are the ones eager to do battle, while senior army officers try to calm things down. When there's a need to make a decision on security matters, it turns out that Netanyahu and Barak both view their surroundings primarily through a gun sight.
The first solution they suggest to solve any problem is the use of military force, even when a sober analysis of the situation would make it clear that sending in the troops wouldn't solve the problem, and might even exacerbate it. That's how they acted when a Turkish-sponsored flotilla tried to break the blockade of Gaza; that's how they analyze Israel's relationship with Hamas in Gaza (here Barak actually preceded Netanyahu, by leading Operation Cast Lead under the Olmert government ); and that's how they look at Syria today.
The problem is that they also view the issue of Iran's nuclear program solely through a gun sight. The two are convinced that the only way to stop Iran from going nuclear is by attacking its nuclear facilities. Senior defense officials, especially those who have retired and made their views public, have apparently not succeeded in convincing Netanyahu and Barak that an Israeli attack on Iran would be a catastrophe. Former Mossad chiefs Meir Dagan and Ephraim Halevy and former Shin Bet security service chief Yuval Diskin have all objected publicly to an attack on Iran, while senior officials still serving in the defense establishment are whispering the same objections in internal discussions.
Netanyahu and Barak are convinced that an Israeli attack on Iran will not only solve the problem of an Iranian nuclear bomb, but also prove to the world that Israel's military might gives it the ability to solve all its problems by force. Their worldview apparently doesn't recognize the limits of force.
The problems that stem from this worldview are aggravated by the fact that there doesn't seem to be any orderly process for making national security decisions. If a decision is ever made on attacking Iran, it will be the province of only two people. Only after Netanyahu and Barak have agreed on their own position will they bring their decision to the cabinet for approval. And if so, it's clear they will then have a majority for any proposal they submit to the ministers.
Meanwhile, even though the Iranian issue has been on the national agenda for quite a while, none of the other ministers are involved in the policy-setting process, nor are they particularly well-versed in the data, facts and military plans. This is frightening and dangerous. But that's the way it is when the duo that determines Israeli policy sees the world through a gun sight.
Moreover, what better way to distract the public from the country's real problems than to keep up a steady drumbeat of intimidation and threats about the coming war? Who cares about drafting yeshiva students, new taxes, or settlements when we could be covered by a Syrian chemical cloud any minute now?
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