IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz is one observer keenly interested in when Israel’s next government will be formed. He’s wondering what the policy will be on issues that affect the Israel Defense Forces’ operations, what will happen to the military budget and who will be the next defense minister.
But the information he lacks is the date the government will be sworn in. Gantz, who has been invited to an event in New York this week, has still not confirmed he’s going because it could coincide with the day he has to sit in the Knesset’s guest area.
There are many unknowns in the government equation, but one issue has been clarified: Benjamin Netanyahu has not lost his enthusiasm for launching a military operation against Iran’s nuclear installations. Netanyahu, in an effort to say “Don’t say you weren’t warned,” hurries to enter discussions with other political leaders.
Netanyahu also understands, though doesn’t necessarily agree, that he who seeks war with Iran should be prepared for peace with the Palestinians. Of course, one many deliberate the meaning of the word “war.”
The previous head of Military Intelligence, Maj. Gen. (Res.) Amos Yadlin, said last week in Washington that any action against Iran would not be war but a one-night operation. It’s true that Yadlin flew to the Iraqi reactor one afternoon 32 years ago, and war didn’t break out between Iraq and Israel because Iraq was already embroiled in a war with Iran.
But Saddam Hussein waited almost a decade, ended the war with Ayatollah Khomeini, and threw Netanyahu’s first government into a panic over a possible chemical or biological attack. It then launched at Israel under the government of Yitzhak Shamir with deputy minister Netanyahu in a fashionable gas mask 40 unanswered missiles.
What looks to an Israeli like a night out with an Iranian woman “good morning and I won’t be seeing you again” could look to her like the beginning of a binding relationship that to her parents would justify murder to save the family’s honor. In Israel the operation that Yadlin was referring to would end with a dawn press conference with Netanyahu in a military-like jacket, Gantz, the defense minister and the air force commander. In Iran it would only begin for weeks, months and years.
It would also have an anti-American sting that could characterize Barack Obama’s second and last term. Obama’s hope of leaving his mark as a distinguished president would sink into chaos. People would remember that in the first one-sixth of the 21st century there were two presidents: George W. Bush of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and Obama of the Iran war.
In an era of sweeping cuts to the government, especially to the Pentagon, Obama must take into account his military’s stance, which salutes the elected civilian authority but by law must voice its professional opinion to the executive and no less Congress. There are public repercussions, especially at a time of war or amid the need to prevent war.
In addition to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the stance of the head of U.S. Central Command whose jurisdiction covers Iran, Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and many other countries is vital. To him, the IDF is a comrade in arms, but the Israeli government that shirks from an arrangement with the Palestinians is a problem.
This month the appointment of a new head of U.S. Central Command, Gen. Lloyd Austin, was confirmed. Austin inherits from Gen. James Mattis the traditional stance of Central Command chiefs, most of them friends of Israel. Which Israel? One that’s moderate, willing to compromise and understands that it has to help, not just be helped.
Last week, in Mattis’ last testimony on the situation in the region, he again called for renewed efforts for peace in the Middle East and regional security so as to avoid helping “violent extremists.” It’s essential, Mattis said, to maintain the Palestinian Authority’s ability to remain a vital partner in peace and security, and to preserve the two-state solution.
With or without a war with Iran, this is what the Pentagon says to Obama and what Obama will tell Netanyahu and the Israeli people.