Israel's Defense Minister Doesn't Understand the Real Threat

To actually take the long road that will guarantee Israel’s strength and future, Israel must honor John Kerry and respect his peace plan.

Ari Shavit
Ari Shavit
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Ari Shavit
Ari Shavit

I have sympathy for Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon. Bogie is an intelligent, principled man, and there are few of this kind at the top of Israeli politics. He was a devoted kibbutznik, an outstanding officer and an excellent IDF chief of staff. He forecast the second Intifada before it happened, prepared for it and made the decisive contribution towards ending it. Both as a general and as chief of staff he developed innovations in military thinking, and acted in a fashion very different from his strict image.

Defense Minister Ya’alon is a thorough person, systematic and profound; one who knows how to get down into the details in a way that is rare around here. But last week he told Shimon Shiffer of Yedioth Ahronoth rash and irresponsible things that should never have been said.

The problem is not only that a senior Israeli minister said about the American secretary of state what Moshe Ya’alon said about John Kerry. The problem is that the defense minister’s statements reveal that he has not understood the nature of the main threat facing the State of Israel today.

But first the good news: The key force that threatened the State of Israel since its establishment has ceased to function - at least for a while - as an active agent. Modern Arab nationalism is what attempted to destroy Israel in 1948, what threatened Israel in 1956 and 1967; and what attacked Israel in 1973. Modern Arab nationalism armed and organized itself, and created a constant threat to the borders of the Jewish state. But today, modern Arab nationalism is disintegrating. Most nations of the Arab peoples are not capable of functioning as real states. Most of the Arab armies have become only a shadow of themselves. There is no longer a Syrian army that can flood the Golan Heights and there is no Iraqi army that can cross the Jordan River, while the Egyptian army is a friendly army buried up to its neck in the internal matters of its own country.

The Arab military threat to Israel has not disappeared, but it has entered a decade of suspension. When the defense minister looks out of the windows of his office at the Middle East, he can tell himself that in the military dimension, our situation has never been so good.

But here is the bad news. In these years when the threat of Arab nations is suspended, Israel faces two threats head-on: The nuclear threat and the sub-national threat. Curbing Iran (violently) may very well cause an inferno of one type, and (perilous) surrender may well spark a series of fires of another type. At the same time Hezbollah in Lebanon, Al-Qaida n Syria, Hamas in Gaza and the global jihad groups are likely to challenge Israel in difficult, asymmetrical conflicts. Technological superiority grants Israel military might that can stand up to these dangers. But Israel can only use its technological military strength if the country is seen to be justifiably defending itself in a moral fashion.

Therefore the main threat today to Israel’s security is actually the third threat, the rear echelon and hidden one. The threat which the thin ice of legitimacy on which we are treading will crack under our feet. The danger that our advanced aircraft cannot take off from their protected bases because the world will not allow them to do so. The fear that stems from the fact that in the diplomatic dimension, our situation has never been so fragile.

So this is why the main strategic challenge that the present defense minister is meant to deal with is different from all the previous ones. This time the problem is not the strength of the Arabs but the loss of the West. This time the problem is that while our position in the region is good, our position in the world is bad. We can manage with the neighbors, but if we lose our last allies, we have lost. The Jordan Valley is important - but the State Department is more important. Security arrangements are necessary - but the White House is critical. To actually take the long road that will guarantee Israel’s strength and future, the government of Israel must honor John Kerry and respect John Kerry’s peace initiative - and must say yes to it.

Moshe Ya'alon speaking at INSS, January 28, 2014.Credit: Moti Milrod

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