Netanyahu, Listen to the General

Nitzan Alon, the Israeli general responsible for the West Bank, is warning about a possible third intifada.

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The warning by Central Command chief Nitzan Alon that a wave of violence awaits if U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry fails to jump-start the peace process is of course a purely professional assessment, not a political position as the right quickly claimed. More than anything, it's a wake-up call to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

In December 1987 and September 2000, Israel's decision-makers were surprised by the outbreak of the intifadas. In both cases they simply ignored the ramifications of their policies in the territories. This time, the head of Central Command is calling Netanyahu’s attention to the link between the diplomatic stalemate and a possible third intifada. This time, the prime minister won’t be able to say he didn’t know and was surprised by the violence, because in addition to Alon, leaders of the Shin Bet security service are signaling that the “field” is on the verge of exploding.

Indeed, beneath the sparkling surface of massive construction and wild Ramallah nightlife, the field is heating up. Only a spark will set off a conflagration. And if Netanyahu prefers to ignore Alon's warnings, his advisers are surely translating for him the remarks by Palestinian leaders, including the moderates who prefer quiet but are warning about violence they won’t be able to control.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas says he doesn’t plan to lead his people into a violent confrontation with Israel, but he has hinted that if the process remains frozen and despair worsens, he might lose control over the masses. Meanwhile, former Palestinian Labor Minister Hasan Khatib told Agence France-Presse that violence could erupt without a guiding hand from above.

“It develops gradually,” Khatib said. “I think that this is a result of a dangerous combination of a lack of a diplomatic horizon and a serious economic crisis that is increasing unemployment and poverty.”

Netanyahu ought to have praised Alon, invited him to his office and listened to why the general sees a link between Kerry’s talks and calm in the territories. But Netanyahu knows that Alon is like a red flag to the settlers and their emissaries in the Knesset, so why start up with them and defend a senior officer who's honest and doing his job faithfully?

When Alon was appointed Central Command chief, the settlements declared it “crazy" and a "declaration of war.” When he commanded the Judea and Samaria Division, settlers demonstrated in front of his house, shouting “Eichmann was also just a small cog in the system," noting how both alon and Eich mean oak. "All he did was hebraicize his name,” they shouted. I don’t remember any ministers or MKs expressing shock at this.

Alon’s predecessors as Central Command chief and other senior officers also felt the strong arm of the settlers when these officers didn’t toe the line and expressed opinions that didn’t suit the settlers. Amram Mitzna and Yair Naveh come to mind. Even Chief of Staff Benny Gantz hasn’t escaped their ire. When he commanded troops in the West Bank at the start of the second intifada, he was slandered by settlers who thought he hadn’t shown enough initiative in rescuing a tour group that was attacked on Mount Ebal.

Alon showed courage when he warned the politicians. It would be an unforgivable mistake if they ignored what he said just because the right has marked Alon a leftist.

Brig. Gen. Nitzan Alon insists he is unfazed by the attacks.Credit: Tal Cohen