A Necessary Rebel

Peretz intends to change not only tactics; the strategy is also unacceptable to him.

Just let him not suddenly start "understanding security." Let him keep turning over every stone and looking with wonder at what he finds underneath. Let him not be insulted by officers who wink behind his back or even make the sign of horns with their fingers behind the head. Because this is the only way Amir Peretz will be able to break the thick layer of ice that has long covered what should be a bonfire of original thought.

The first signs are positive. According to Amos Harel in an article in Haaretz (May 11), Peretz is to reexamine the closure of the border with Egypt and the wisdom in continued artillery responses to Qassam attacks; more Palestinians will be able to work in Israel; he does not rule out transferring money to the Palestinian Authority even if by indirect means. He might even give the order to arrest settlers suspected of harming Palestinian children in the southern Hebron Hills. Peretz, in short, intends to change not only tactics; the strategy is also unacceptable to him.

Hats may be taken off to him for a moment. This is the same Peretz who before the elections believed the Hamas government could be made to fall, that indirect negotiations could be carried out with Abu Mazen, causing great suffering to a population that would pay the price for this strategy. And then, all of a sudden, revealing a sharp learning curve, Peretz first of all notices the cataract that has covered the clear vision of the Israel Defense Forces. He also seems to remember lessons learned elsewhere, like Lebanon, when chiefs of staff, and not politicians, set policy. He may also have heard about generals, and even majors, who created facts on the ground during the years of the intifada. And he, the eternal rebel, the product of "civilian life," is not prepared to let go of that title.

The hope that the well-arranged IDF chest of drawers, which contains a "file" for every scenario and a "response" to every event, will at least be aired out if not sanitized, expresses an aspiration toward a revolution in understanding, a hope for a situation in which the scenario is planned instead of fallen into or responded to. Thus, for example, authorization to bring in Palestinian laborers might be the turning point not only in terms of their economic situation but also in obstructing further attacks. True, in the past terror organizations utilized this as a means to bring in terrorists, but even closing the gates did not thwart the attacks.

A similar matter are the economic sanctions against the Palestinian Authority. According to a hastily worked-out equation, severe sanctions would generate a civil uprising against the government. However it is Israel that is now responding to international pressure, since it fears that European countries, Russia and international organizations will take away the initiative and will decide for it when and how much to give the Palestinians. The "Hamas file," it turns out, is not working as expected.

Israel will soon face another particularly significant issue: that of Lebanon and Syria, including the Shaba Farms. In the Israeli consciousness the Shaba Farms has the standing of an essential military outpost for securing the north. However, just as Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon created a new reality there, and in relations between Lebanon and Syria, withdrawal from Shaba might weaken the standing of Hezbollah and perhaps even remove the excuse it has to continue bearing arms. Thus, the Lebanese army will be able to deploy along the border. However the word "withdrawal" does not exist in the IDF lexicon. There it is "disengagement," "convergence" or "redeployment." Peretz may find himself once again facing one of the stuck drawers in the chest.

The question may also be asked, with all due respect to the United States of course, what about Syria? Must Assad's statements always be responded to instead of adopting a policy of willingness to conduct negotiations?

For all these reasons, that mysterious attribute called "statesmanship" is needed. Peretz is a good candidate to adopt it, on condition that he does not decide that he should be, first and foremost, an intern chief of staff.