Think Now Before It's Too Late

For five years, Giora Eiland was the most important person on the command bridge of the Israeli ship of state. Both as head of the Israel Defense Forces' Operations Directorate and as head of the National Security Council, Eiland deal with the most important strategic issues that Israel faces. He worked in concert with the country's leaders, doing the groundwork for them and observing them at close range when they made the most significant decisions of the past decade. For this reason, the harsh conclusions he has come to regarding the behavior of Israel's political-military leadership are worrisome.

Eiland makes note of a fascinating fact: that every prime minister in the past generation who initiated a foreign policy move was swept into a process with unexpected results. Menachem Begin never imagined that he would cede all of Sinai and "establish" the Palestinian homeland; Yitzhak Rabin never imagined that he would effectively create a "Yasser Arafat state"; and Ehud Barak never imagined that he would agree to give back 95 percent of the West Bank, as well as the Temple Mount.

According to the outgoing national security advisor, Ariel Sharon, similarly, did not presume that the limited unilateral measure that he initiated would turn into a comprehensive unilateral one. The unilateralist strategy was never accepted by Sharon, Eiland argues. Had Sharon remained prime minister, he would not be proceeding toward a convergence plan a la Ehud Olmert. Even in his final days as prime minister, Sharon viewed a withdrawal to the 1967 borders as a disaster.

In Eiland's view, therefore, the pattern that is emerging is fascinating: One after another, Israeli prime ministers release the genie from the bottle in the belief that they can tame it, but quickly discover that it is the genie that is taming them. What was thought to be reversible turns out to be irreversible. What was planned as a limited operation becomes comprehensive. The moment the ship leaves the harbor without a compass, without a clear destination and without a proper map of the ocean, the strong currents in the international realm exercise their own will upon it. They mock each Israeli leader in his turn, and sweep his ship into remote and hazardous quarters.

Eiland has an explanation for the repetition of this pattern of foreign policy failure: It is because Israel has no organized strategic management method. There's no system, he says. There is no critical examination of fundamental assumptions. There is no systematic definition of goals and targets. There is too much reliance on intuition. There is a strong tendency toward improvisation and instant solutions. There is no attempt at beginning-to-end planning. The opposite is true: There is great pressure to reach the finish line quickly without wasting precious time on forethought.

And the result? A questionable decision-making process with regard to the definition of the disengagement. A complete lack of decision-making with regard to the declarations on the convergence. A serious foreign policy failure vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear program. The Hamas election surprise and a refusal to confront its significance. A country that is run like a shtetl, not a state. A country where every medium-sized company is managed more responsibly than the state itself.

The conclusion is clear: The basic law of the Israeli-Palestinian jungle is that an Israeli withdrawal does not diminish the conflict, but instead exacerbates it. Since any Israeli withdrawal is interpreted by the Palestinians as surrender, it increases their appetite to obtain additional surrenders. The result is not stability, but violence, which under the conditions of the end of the occupation, is liable to become extreme.

Eiland is not the first to voice criticism along these lines. He was preceded by Ephraim Levy. He was preceded by Uzi Dayan. They were preceded by most of the important people who preceded them on the command bridge of the Israeli ship of state. But these are not normal times. The decisions that Israel must make in the course of the next year are not ordinary. They are fateful decisions, unlike any that Israel has taken since the decision concerning the Dimona nuclear facility half a century ago. Therefore, this time the harsh comments of the outgoing head of the NSC must not be ignored. His remarks must be taken seriously. They deserve public debate. They must be examined and they must lead to a plan of action.

Ehud Olmert and his chief of staff Yoram Turbowicz have permitted a very important public servant to resign. That's their right. But the parting words of this principled public servant must not be ignored. Eiland leaves behind him a challenge to the ruling ideological paradigm. He leaves behind him a series of warnings about the future. But above all, Eiland has commanded us to think. For their sake and for all of our sake, Olmert and Turbowicz must take on that command. The command to think now, to think before it is too late.