Ya'alon's Deep Bombing Runs

Moshe Ya'alon, outside of the army a nearly anonymous brigadier general, was one of the last officers Yitzhak Rabin managed to promote to major general and give an important posting - Military Intelligence.

Moshe Ya'alon, outside of the army a nearly anonymous brigadier general, was one of the last officers Yitzhak Rabin managed to promote to major general and give an important posting - Military Intelligence. Rabin might not have inquired too deeply about Ya'alon's political views; Rabin valued much more his intelligence officer's sharp articulations (which is why he didn't want Ilan Biran), and especially counted on the recommendation of his chief of staff, Amnon Lipkin-Shahak. Thus, Ya'alon was positioned on the launching pad from which, after two more postings as a general, he'd land in the chief of staff's office, and thus be the last of the Rabinists, protecting - or resurrecting - Rabin's political-military legacy.

The last two years of his life - and the circumstances of his death - identified Rabin with Oslo but he never was a "softie." In Yitzhak Shamir's government, Rabin was a politically moderate defense minister who supported "Baker's points," which eventually toppled the government, but he also tried to break the intifada, to jail and expel its local leaders, and to kill the PLO leader considered to be the overseas director, Abu Jihad, in an operation led by Ya'alon, who headed the elite commando unit Sayeret Matkal.

Fundamentally, the Rabin line was a combination of a moderate goal and readiness to use difficult means to achieve it; those who want a cease-fire will prepare for escalation. Before the Six-Day War, Rabin was the first chief of staff to approve a plan (written by then-colonel Avraham Tamir) to make do with the 1948 borders, but chief of staff Rabin, who didn't properly watch his mouth, made forceful remarks toward Syria and overused air force power. Thus, he also contributed to the deterioration that led to the May-June 1967 crisis and the occupation of Sinai, the Golan, the West Bank and Gaza, in direct contradiction of the plan he had approved. Instead of moderate prime minister and defense minister Levi Eshkol, a much more hawkish group formed, including Moshe Dayan as defense minister, the hawkish political factions of Rafi and Gahal in the government, and six months later, the hard-line prime minister, Golda Meir.

Ya'alon began the conflict with Ehud Barak as prime minister and defense minister, continued with Ariel Sharon and Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, and reached the cease-fire with Sharon and Shaul Mofaz as defense minister. As the chief of Central Command until the summer of 2000 and deputy chief of staff from that September, Ya'alon was the main intellectual engine behind Mofaz in the Palestinian arena. He was the one who called for creating a military and political wall against the terror caused by Yasser Arafat, to go back - without Arafat - to the track of compromise without hopes for improving positions with terror.

Barak, Ya'alon once claimed, went to Camp David "to expose the true face" of Yasser Arafat, but did not follow up once the true face was exposed, because he was dragged into an argument over the face of Palestine. The white books and blue books prepared to condemn Arafat were shelved, while the Barak government clutched at the last remains of hope to negotiate with someone still considered a partner.

Ya'alon believes that approach did not change in the following government either. To reach as broad a consensus as possible in the Knesset and public, Sharon kept the Labor Party in the government and gave Shimon Peres the Foreign Ministry. He thus did not undertake a determined campaign against Arafat and against the Hamas and Islamic Jihad centers in the West Bank; at the same time he did not present a political horizon, as an incentive for moderation for the day after Arafat.

Skipping over the election of George Bush (rather than Al Gore) to the U.S. presidency and over September 11, 2001 as two watershed dates, Ya'alon regards Operation Defensive Shield and the semi-definition of Arafat as a terrorist accomplice as the turning points. The Bush administration, he believes, needed those two events - the military operation and the political signal - to toughen its approach to Arafat, leading up to Bush's call, on June 24, for the Palestinians to replace him with a realistic and decent leadership. The actualization of that call in the form of the Abu Mazen government was timed with Bush's other major regional move, the war in Iraq.

As ambassador to Washington, Rabin recommended to the Meir-Dayan government that it bomb deep inside Egypt to escalate the War of Attrition along the Suez Canal in 1969, to undermine Nasser's position and force him to accept a cease-fire. Rabin's assessment was that the Nixon administration wanted that.

Chief of Staff Ya'alon pushed for bombing deep inside Gaza, against Hamas leaders, as a threat to their personal survival as well as the organization's. He reckoned the Bush administration wouldn't regret it. Rabin was right about his assessment but wrong about the outcome; the Soviets intervened in the war. Ya'alon was also right in his assessment but he has no guarantee of American support for a major IDF operation against the Hamas in Gaza, if Israel's deterrence fails and the terror attacks resume or Qassam rockets start flying again. Thus, like Rabin, Ya'alon knows that "the war over the home" is actually a campaign for the American president's home, the White House.