Former IDF Top Brass Urge Netanyahu to Drop Congress Speech

Commanders for Israel's Security, a group of representatives from all defense agencies, say destroying relations with U.S. is the real strategic threat.

Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen
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Representatives of Commanders for Israel's Security at a news conference, at Beit Sokolov in Tel Aviv, March 1, 2015.
Representatives of Commanders for Israel's Security at a news conference, at Beit Sokolov in Tel Aviv, March 1, 2015.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen

As Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu flew to Washington to address Congress, a group representing senior Israel Defense Forces officers called on him to cancel the planned speech, saying it would severely damage relations with the U.S.

The group, Commanders for Israel’s Security, was founded last October. It includes 180 commanders and senior officials from all the defense agencies, holding the rank of brigadier general and higher.

The movement’s head, Maj. Gen. (res.) Amnon Reshef, said on Sunday at a Tel Aviv news conference that the speech to Congress, set for Tuesday, will bring Iran closer to achieving military-grade nuclear power.

Netanyahu has said the speech is designed to reiterate his warning to the world of the dangers of the agreement taking shape on Iran’s nuclear program. And on Sunday, the premier’s Likud Party vehemently rejected the group’s call.

`Clear and present danger’ to security

Commanders for Israel’s Security says the prime minister’s “present policy constitutes a destruction of the alliance with the U.S.,” Reshef said.

“The way to prevent a nuclear Iran is by strengthening the alliance between the countries, between the U.S. and Israel, and between Israel and the international community. It’s already impossible to conceal the rift with the Americans, and it’s impossible to accept such a rift. We believe that this constitutes a clear and present danger to Israel’s security.”

A former director-general of the Defense Ministry, Maj. Gen. (res.) Amos Yaron, said the relationship between Israel and the U.S. can’t be divided between Republicans and Democrats.

“Anyone who pokes two fingers in the eye of the president of the United States will find it hard to reach understandings with him,” Yaron said.

“The prime minister, unfortunately, brought politics into the issue, and he will fail in any move with the Americans at present,” he said. “It may be that the correct conclusion for Israel’s citizens is to replace the prime minister.”

Maj. Gen. (res.). Amiram Levin, former head of Israel’s Northern Command, said opposing Netanyahu is difficult since the prime minister was his subordinate in the military.

“I taught Bibi how to navigate and to reach the target, and this time I’m sorry to say: `Bibi, you’re making a navigation error; the target is in Tehran, not in Washington,’” Levin said.

“[Instead] of working hand in hand with the president ... you go there and poke a finger in his eyes.

“When it comes to sensitive security issues, a public-relations campaign instead of leadership and quiet activity with the decision-makers is anarchy, and we can’t accept anarchy on security issues.”

In a statement, Levin added that “Iran wants Netanyahu’s speech because it understands that it will weaken Israel’s bipartisan bond with the U.S. For Iran, a strategically weak Israel is an asset which will help Iran’s efforts to obtain nuclear weapons. Iran knows that it will prevent a viable military option against it.”

A dangerous process

Brig. Gen. (res.) Ran Pecker added that the process under way “is dangerous. ...

“The Israel Air Force, which is our long-term flexible strategic arm, depends on ties with the U.S. We don’t have the privilege of quarreling with the president.”

Another member of the group, Maj. Gen. (res.) Avi Mizrahi, who has served as head of Central Command, said Netanyahu’s effort “is not good and will lead to a serious deterioration, which already exists in any case, in relations with the U.S.

“[After] the speech and the applause and the return to Israel to the turmoil of the election,” Iran, “which is now sitting on the sidelines, [will be] applauding and observing the wedge between us and the Americans.

“It is Iran that will come out ahead and make progress, whether covertly or overtly, toward its goal.”

Maj. Gen. (res.) Giora Romm added that “there must be more suitable ways to handle the Iranian issue ... than the speech in Congress.”

Likud fired back, saying in a statement that “this is a recycled version of the same generals - leftists who promised peace in Oslo, supported the disengagement [from Gaza], supported the Arab Peace Initiative based on dividing Jerusalem, and promoted withdrawal from Judea and Samaria and the Golan Heights. ...”

Many of these reserve generals, Likud said, “are signatories to a new proposal whose entire essence is concessions, withdrawal and submission. This is an irresponsible proposal” that if implemented by a left-wing government would seriously damage Israeli security.

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