Uzi Dayan has a good story, one he swears is true: The telephone rings in an Israeli household. "This is Daniela from Mifal Hapayis national lottery," the caller says. The excited homeowner tell his wife to turn down the TV. "So, Erella, how much have we won?"
"This isn't Erella, it's Daniela," the caller clarifies, "and I'm not calling because you won. I'm calling to remind you that your subscription has expired, and you need to pay if you want to renew it."
That's roughly how the failed negotiations went between Ehud Barak, Benjamin Netanyahu, and Dayan - about Dayan's possible appointment to the post of home front defense minister. Dayan was willing to deal with home front matters, but did not want a ministerial portfolio. Barak and Netanyahu were seeking a minister; the home front can take care of itself. They thought they were talking with Erella. Dayan informed them that he was Daniela.
In the end Netanyahu and Barak recruited Avi Dichter. But the entire episode characterizes the management style of the Netanyahu-Barak government. The episode begins with Matan Vilnai's decision to quit the Home Front Defense Ministry, on the eve of what could be the ultimate test of Israel's home front. Netanyahu and Barak knew by February that Vilnai was leaving in August. Still, they hadn't managed to replace him. One might have thought that out of 7 million Israelis - including a few hundred veterans of the Sayeret Matkal elite force (Barak and Netanyahu's favorite manpower reservoir ) and 40 ministers and deputies - a volunteer might have easily been found.
Granted, the job has its risks, but it isn't exactly a suicide mission. Yet the search led nowhere. Home front defense is a ministerial level office, but the key prefix here is "mini." The ministry has fewer than 100 workers and it's authority is limited. Under such frustrating circumstances, even politicians' desire to gain entry into cabinet meetings wasn't enough to persuade them to take on the home front ministry. Furthermore, the post will probably put the minister on the fast track to a starring role in the next State Comptroller's report. All-in-all, not an appealing portfolio.
When Netanyahu's plan to appoint Tzachi Hanegbi as home front defense minister was foiled (because Likud politicians feared a comeback by a potential rival ), he and Barak hatched the scheme to recruit Dayan, based on the naive assumption that Dayan would never refuse. They wanted Dayan for his position on Iran. They assumed he would support a strike.
But that's not necessarily true. Dayan admitted he's not sure how he would vote. He wants to prepare militarily in order to send out signals that Israel is willing to attack, which could act as a deterrence so that Israel won't have to attack.
Regardless, Dayan has a pretty good job at the lottery and didn't want to leave. At least not to become home front defense minister. He offered to enlist in the IDF reserves and serve in a military position on behalf of the home front, if he could keep his day job.
No, thank you, the pair replied disgustedly, we need you as minister, and we need your vote. Dayan offered to persuade Vilnai to remain or recruit someone else. Heaven forbid, exclaimed Netanyahu and Barak, that would be leaked to the public. Yesterday, the three agreed to classify this whole sequence as a misunderstanding, and leave it at that.
So Netanyahu and Barak got out their rolodex, and came up with Dichter, who in 2005 announced that within ten years he intended to become prime minister. During the three years left before he reaches this goal, it is noble of him to spend his time worrying about the defense of civilians, those who apparently will become his loyal subjects in 2015.
In historical terms, this all constitutes a big miss. Once upon a time, before the Six-Day War, Menachem Begin and Moshe Dayan joined a national emergency government. Today, a similar sort of unity government could have been formed, and the Iranians would have known how to read the signals. That might have provided the deterrence that was impaired when Vilnai quit his post. After all, the Iranians know that if a war was really on the horizon, he would never have left.
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