Many years ago, the incumbent chief of staff spoke at a prestigious club that used to host a prominent government figure every Friday. Mostly, reporters were also invited, and if there were no scoops to be had, at least they got a nice free lunch. I was present at that luncheon, and the CoS spoke such a lot of nonsense that I wrote a critical piece about his speech. Astonishingly, the military censor blue-penciled the whole article. The editor of Haaretz at that time, Gershom Schocken, taken aback at the deletion of an article about a public speech, called the censor, who came up with reasoning that sounded like a joke: The writer depicted the CoS as a fool, and that harmed security. Stunned by this reply, Schocken decided to go ahead and publish the piece, and the next day the paper received a substantial fine.
What has reminded me of this now? Well, Moshe "Bogey" Ya'alon, the deputy prime minister and minister of strategic affairs, and a former CoS himself, has threatened, plain and simple, to attack Iran. "There is no doubt that the technological resources that Israel has developed in recent years have improved the range and capabilities of aerial refueling," he stated in a speech at the Fisher Brothers Institute for Air and Space Strategic Studies in Herzliya. "From my point of view, all that remains is the best possible form of defense. And our capabilities are applicable in distant wars in such places as Iran."
It is hard to believe that a man who served as head of Military Intelligence and ended up as CoS (although he did chatter himself into career suicide by saying that the grass around the IDF HQ is full of snakes ) would speak as if he were a lecturer at the university of Timbuktu. Is it conceivable that a deputy premier and a member of the seven-minister inner cabinet, a man who single-handedly can not only damage Israel's cherished ambiguity policy but also cause the country to come under the inspection of the International Atomic Energy Agency, should let his tongue run free like this?
Moshe Vered, a former Defense Ministry official, has written a research paper, published by Bar-Ilan University's Begin-Sadat Center, in which he posits that if we were to attack Iran, it would not take it lying down but would respond with all the weaponry at its disposal. Perhaps. But when Ya'alon declares that Israel is warming up its engines, he reminds me of Eli Wallach's immortal line in "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly": "When you have to shoot, shoot, don't talk."
With this kind of threat, we fit well into this part of the world, where everyone threatens everyone else. It's a pity that we've sunk this low. David Ben-Gurion never threatened. The chattering proves that this government is disorderly. It is inconceivable that every minister can threaten to attack Iran or build Jewish housing in East Jerusalem. If we face a strategic threat, Ya'alon himself embodies it with his big mouth. Defense Minister Ehud Barak was right when he told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that Israel was facing erosion in its international standing, but he nevertheless did not think there was a concrete threat to its position of nuclear ambiguity, despite the tension with the American government.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week made it clear that Israel did not intend to attack its neighbors. But it's a pity that Bibi doesn't rebuke his deputy. As the old saw goes, seven wise men won't be able to extricate a stone that an idiot has dropped into a well. Nowadays, when the head of Military Intelligence's research division, Brig.-Gen Yossi Baidatz, says that Hezbollah has received accurate rockets with half-ton warheads from Syria and Iran, it is clearly advisable to speak less and act to calm the neighborhood down.
The proximity talks are still looking like a bizarre move. They are like a wedding canopy which both the bride and the groom are reluctant to step under. What did the sides speak and agree about in the protracted talks they have had - to start indirect talks now? To start everything from scratch again? After all, the problems are well known, all the transcripts are filed away on the shelves. President Obama's determined stance is also well known, and if he doesn't apply pressure now, it'll come after the mid-term elections at the end of the year. Whether the president takes a body blow in the House of Representatives or wins a victory, he will focus on a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a strategic move toward neutralizing the Axis of Evil, something that is also in our interest. Netanyahu's cabinet is the biggest ever, and he enjoys optimal conditions for moving toward a solution: both a big government and a solid parliamentary majority with Kadima, which would support a solution. And there is a U.S. government that is committed to Israel's security.
As prime minister, Bibi has ideal conditions - the best there have ever been, including public opinion - to set Israel's permanent borders, as well as the support of most of the public for forcible action against the extremist settlers who would lift the banner of rebellion. The law of the secular government is the law, says the Talmud, and it supersedes any religious objections. Listen to what the majority of the nation wants, and not the declarations of the former dairy farmer from Kibbutz Grofit, Lt. Gen. (Res. ) Ya'alon.
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