A generation of security chiefs, veterans of Israel’s aerospace industry and comrades from the Irgun attended a 90th birthday celebration last night for former defence and foreign minister – and Haaretz’s oldest columnist – Moshe Arens at the Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem.
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Among the wellwishers was Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who Arens appointed to the post of deputy chief of mission in Washington in 1982, when Arens was ambassador to the United States. According to Netanyahu, Arens said he was appointing him because “it’s likely that a war will break out on the Lebanese border, terror is increasing. We won’t have a choice and when that happens we will need all the forces in the U.S. to work first of foremostly on public opinion.” Netanyahu also mentioned Arens’ writing since leaving political life and said, “I read your columns in Haaretz. It’s one of the few times I agree with what is written in that paper. But each time Misha writes, I read.”
Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon recalled a meeting he had with then-defence minster Arens, when Yaalon was division commander in the West Bank. Arens arrived after the murder of an Israeli driver in Jenin and, according to Yaalon, told army commanders: “I heard on the radio a lot of commentators and criticism saying that all the army needs to beat terror is to get the order from the politicians. So I’m telling you ‘beat the terror.’” And he smiled cynically.
Yaalon said that he uses that anecdote to explain to senior officers the nature of the relationship between the political and military branches and how it’s impossible to achieve complex tasks in one go.
In his speech, Arens spoke of how the founder of the Revisionist movement, Zeev Jabotinsky, who he met as a young man in the U.S, had influenced him more than anyone else. He reminisced of how, as one as the founders of Israel’s aerospace industry, he fought for the development of Israel’s indigenous fighter-jet, the Lavi, which was cancelled in 1987.
The decision was backed by a majority of the coalition’s ministers. “Israel could be in a different place today,” he said, if the Lavi had gone into production. He spoke with pride as well of his book “Flags over the Ghetto,” the story of the Revisionist fighters in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, whose story been recognized thanks to Arens’ research.