The Poodle and the Chicken

If Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz is worthy of the title "poodle," then the chief of staff, Moshe Ya'alon, deserves the moniker "chicken."

Shaul Mofaz deserved the shouts of "poodle" he encountered at the settlements in the Gaza Strip. He is entitled to this epithet, and not necessarily for blindly supporting the evacuation, highly overdue, of a region that doesn't belong to us.

The defense minister is not the only politician suppressing his own view, in the face of a unilateralist and aggressive prime minister, when it comes to giving up territory to escape a peace process; the occasional Likudnik deserves to be compared to a lapdog, because of his irresponsible silence about the day after the disengagement.

When Mofaz read Ariel Sharon's declarations in the holiday newspapers - that no final status negotiations are on the horizon - he ought to have known that such statements were a sure recipe for disaster.

When Mofaz hears on the radio that the prime minister is promising that "all settlement blocs" and the "security zones" will remain in Israel's hands and "will be territorially contiguous" with the Green Line, the defense minister must surely know there is no Palestinian partner for that idea. The most junior officer in the research branch of Military Intelligence can tell the big boss that Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) won't help promote a formula of which Yasser Arafat wouldn't hear. The experts repeatedly warn him that perpetuating the impasse in the peace process and the humanitarian crisis in the territories strengthens Hamas and threatens to turn the conflict from a national dispute into a religious one.

If Mofaz is worthy of the title "poodle," then the chief of staff, Moshe Ya'alon, deserves the moniker "chicken." Ya'alon last week accused the Israeli press of "manipulation" (spin), and mentioned in that regard the reports about a meeting that he held 18 months ago with a group of commentators. The war hero opted at that time to hide behind the vague formulation, "the IDF senior command believes ..." Even now the chief of staff is hiding his opinion of the government's policy from the general public. Only a select few are privy to his warnings about the escalations expected the day after the disengagement ("messianism," as he put it).

Off the record, Ya'alon complains that Sharon treats Chairman Abu Mazen like he treated prime minister Abu Mazen. Now, as in October 2003, Ya'alon believes "Israel erred in its treatment of Abu Mazen and contributed to his government's collapse by being stingy with the gestures it extended to him."

Uzi Benziman, one of the commentators who took part in the important meeting with Ya'alon, reported that "senior military sources, who reflect the dominant mode of thought in the General Staff, said that Israel should have treated Abu Mazen differently - giving him control of every Palestinian city he requested."

Now, as then, behind the safe refuge of anonymous IDF sources, the chief of staff believes that avoiding a similar failure requires easing mobility in the territories. Now, as well, in "closed meetings," Ya'alon talks about disappointment within the IDF that the government is not accepting its recommendations, and prefers the Shin Bet's recommendations to maintain pressure on the Palestinian population.

The anxiety about the possibility of "this pressure exacerbating the humanitarian crisis and increasing hatred toward Israel," which Ya'alon spoke about after Abu Mazen's resignation in the fall of 2003, is valid in the spring of 2005. The chief of staff's observation that this approach is tantamount to "sacrificing the strategic interest out of tactical considerations" also remains in force.

After dictating the chicken preface, "according to the IDF's premise," Ya'alon warned at the time that the government's policy hurts Palestinians like Abu Mazen and Abu Ala (Ahmed Qureia), who leave a chance for a two-state agreement, and "plays into the hands of its opponents - Yasser Arafat, Hamas and Islamic Jihad." Who better than he knows that the only alteration that should be made in the last sentence is the erasure of Arafat. How sad that Israel's war heroes lose courage and cooperate, by commission and omission, with a policy that perpetuates the bloodshed.