In the spring of 1996, not long before Benjamin Netanyahu sent prime minister Shimon Peres back to the opposition, the head of Military Intelligence dropped an assessment bomb that shook the very foundations of the political corridors. At a well-attended press conference, he said he had information indicating that an increased Iranian effort to hit Israeli targets by means of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah. He added that "their assumption is that a change of regime in Israel will lead to damage to the peace process."
On the right, and rightly, an outcry arose against the officer. What is the average citizen supposed to understand from the words of the national assessor, if not that a vote for Netanyahu and the Likud is a vote for the ayatollahs? The issue itself, a strategic matter of the first order, was swallowed up in the political-media uproar.
Nine years have elapsed, governments have changed and the peace process gave way to the intifada, the separation fence and unilateral disengagement. Palestinian Authority chairman Yasser Arafat went and PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas has come and the Iranian threat has only increased; according to the remarks of U.S. Ambassador Dan Kurtzer to the Foreign Ministry trainees, which were swallowed up in the obsessive concern about the Jewish settlements in the West Bank, Iran is considered by the most powerful country in the world to be a real strategic danger.
What reason can there be - apart from fear of the politicians - for the fact that the current head of Military Intelligence is not sharing with the public information to the effect that the unilateral disengagement plan is being credited by the Arab world in general, and in the territories in particular, to the resistance organizations, and that the rise in the popularity of the Hamas is being greeted by outpourings of joy?
Military people, no matter how senior they may be, have no mandate to express themselves on issues that touch upon Israeli politics. However, it is the obligation of the heads of the defense establishment to speak out - and if necessarily, loudly - about important political developments among our neighbors. They must say that Iran is taking an interest in the race between the Fatah and the Hamas in the elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council this coming July. It is their job to report that the combination of the crisis in Fatah, the continuation of the diplomatic stagnation and the worsening of the humanitarian situation is threatening the hegemony of the Oslo-Geneva group.
Military personnel are not allowed to express in public their views on the route of the intrusive fence and on the procrastination in the removal of the roadblocks and the closures in the West Bank. However, it would not be terrible if the chief of staff were to say a word about the palpable danger in the deposing of Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) and with him - the two-state solution. This would be less grave than public criticism of those in government for not having prolonged his tenure.
Somebody up there, in the new building in the Kirya in Tel Aviv, should have explained that the Palestinian street is becoming convinced that Arafat was the excuse, not the reason, for the freezing of the peace process and the thawing of the construction in the Jewish settlements in the territories.
When everyone is talking about how the chief of staff has been sent home because of his reservations about the disengagement plan, it is no wonder that no military source is about to risk saying anything that is liable to be interpreted as criticism of the head of the disengagement government. Let someone else deal with the question of whose hands the decision to establish a new city between Ma'aleh Adumim and Jerusalem is playing into, construction that will complete the suffocation that the fence is inflicting on the Arabs of East Jerusalem. By the time there is a commission of inquiry into the fall of the Palestinian Authority and an investigation of the events of the third intifada - the generals will already be directors general or activists in peace organizations.
When the security muses are silent and the architects of Oslo are stammering, it remains only to pray for the welfare of the new prophet of peace, U.S. President George W. Bush. It is lucky that someone at the Foreign Ministry thought that leaking the transcript of the meeting between Kurtzer and the trainees would annoy the supporters of the disengagement in the Likud faction. Instead, the leak has made headlines of the closure order that the administration has issued for the E-1 program and has extracted a clarification that Bush's letter of April 2004 is not a building permit.
Incidentally, the head of Military Intelligence who in April 1996 said that Iran is waiting for Netanyahu was Moshe Ya'alon, who is now the lame duck chief of staff.
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