Israeli new site Ynet is reporting that IDF spokesperson Avi Bnayahu was selected as the Israeli PR and Spokespersons Association’s Man of the Year 2011.
The comic relief is the part explaining the selection:
“Bnayahu is known as a man who values and fights for his views and his credibility in the media, and relentlessly aiming to search and expose the truth,” said Silvia Bet-Halachmi, chairman of the PR and Spokespersons association.
I leave it to the readers to reflect on the meaning of this reward. It’s enough to say that Bnayahu was (partly) responsible for the arrest of 60 journalists during last year’s flottila incident. The IDF then searched the reporters, confiscated all their media, refused to release it in its entirely but rather edited and used parts of the material in the army’s propaganda campaign and for the Chief of Staff’s local political needs. In a way, I guess this kind of behavior is the wet dream of every PR man, so the PR Association might have a point.
Or as one of my friends wrote on his Facebook wall, “IDF Spokesperson is PR Man of the Year every year, since 1948.”
Mossad head dismisses thoughts of a military strike on Tehran’s nuclear facility as “the most stupid idea I ever heard” and even Defense Minister Barak sounds less confrontational than ever
Last summer, American journalist Jeffrey Goldberg published a cover piece in the Atlantic which claimed that Israel all but made up its mind to attack the Iranian nuclear facilities if Tehran would not bring its nuclear program to an end. Goldberg also hinted that since such an attack is almost inevitable, it might be better if the US initiates it, due to its superior air power:
…What is more likely, then, is that one day next spring, the Israeli national-security adviser, Uzi Arad, and the Israeli defense minister, Ehud Barak, will simultaneously telephone their counterparts at the White House and the Pentagon, to inform them that their prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has just ordered roughly one hundred F-15Es, F-16Is, F-16Cs, and other aircraft of the Israeli air force to fly east toward Iran
I have interviewed roughly 40 current and past Israeli decision makers about a military strike, as well as many American and Arab officials. In most of these interviews, I have asked a simple question: what is the percentage chance that Israel will attack the Iranian nuclear program in the near future? Not everyone would answer this question, but a consensus emerged that there is a better than 50 percent chance that Israel will launch a strike by next July.
At the time, I had the feeling that Goldberg’s article reflected only one position in the Israeli political and military establishment. I got the sense that Goldberg, for his own reasons, chose to ignore a substantial camp of “Iran skeptics,” and I even wrote so.
In the last few months, several senior Israeli officials made their opposition to such an attack public. Most notable of them were the former Chief of Staff, Gabi Ashkenazi, and the departing chief of Mossad, Meir Dagan, which held unofficial conversations with proxies and journalists on these issues.
Some people might think that the public comments against an IDF strike are actually an indication that the plan is very much alive, and maybe even being discussed right now. According to this reasoning, Dagan’s and Barak’s statements are either part of a deception plan, or a last attempt to influence the debate regarding the attack.
While we can’t rule out these options, I believe that these statements reflect an actual decline in the support for a military move against Iran among Israeli decision makers. The success of the Stuxnet virus attack and the public rift between the Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the Supreme Leader Khamenei, which could have effects on Iran’s foreign policy, make the risks involved in the attack not worth taking. Furthermore, the failure of Barak and Netanyahu to appoint a chief of staff that would support the strike on Iran makes it harder for them to form a consensus in the Israeli leadership in favor of the attack. As if to prove this point, two other former heads of Mossad backed Meir Dagan for expressing his opinion publicly.
With such heavy weight against an attack on Iran, Benjamin Netanyahu, who was always a very passive and careful politician—he is the only Israeli PM since 92′ who didn’t initiate or get involved in a major military operation—is not very likely to send the Air Force to an operation that might end in terrible failure.
UPDATE: Intelligence correspondent Ronen Bergman wrote in Yedioth that Dagan said pretty much the same things in a press conference a few months ago, but then the censorship didn’t allow the papers to publish his comments regarding Iran. This time, the former head of the Mossad talked in a large enough forum to get his message out.
Some initial thoughts regarding Judge Richard Goldstone’s op-ed, in which he retracted some of the allegations against Israel made in his report
Israel wouldn't have investigated all those killings of civilians if it had not been for Goldstone (photo: United Nations Information Service - Geneva)
A strange combination of thrill and anger seems to be the immediate response to Judge Goldstone’s surprising op-ed on the Washington post today. Goldstone wrote that while Israel was investigating the allegations of crimes perpetrated during the 2008 Gaza invasion, Hamas had failed to do so; he expressed disappointment in the UN’s Human Rights Council and its treatment of Israel, and demanded condemnation of the Fogel family murder. The key sentence in the article was this:
While the investigations published by the Israeli military and recognized in the U.N. committee’s report have established the validity of some incidents that we investigated in cases involving individual soldiers, they also indicate that civilians were not intentionally targeted as a matter of policy.
“It is somewhat difficult to retract a blood libel,” wrote Jeffrey Goldberg in response. Comments on Israeli news sites were even harsher, promising never to “forgive or forget” Goldstone’s crime. “The traitor got tired of being a pariah,” wrote one of my Facebook friends on his wall – and this was a mild comment, compared to others I saw and heard. Since the popular way to discredit anyone criticizing Israeli policy over the past two year was to link them to Goldstone, the government’s PR people jumped on the opportunity to take punches at progressive voices (check, for example, Noah Pollak’s Twitter feed – he is clearly having the day of his life). Prime Minister Netanyahu, a PR expert himself, gave a national speech, in which he demanded that the UN throw the Goldstone report “into history’s garbage can” (what a great opportunity to make the public forget the latest travel scandal). In a sense, this op-ed and the responses it received made me appreciate Judge Goldstone more. He probably knew that everyone would hate him for it – those who adopted the report and are clearly embarrassed, and those who rejected it and now received their validation. Now he really is alone. What is also clear is that many people missed Goldstone’s point: if Israel had provided his committee with the information it requested, the report would have been different. The fact that Goldstone is ready to retract some of the allegations could serve as an indication that he would have taken evidence coming from Israel seriously, if it had been presented to him at the time of the investigation (Israel refused to have anything to do with the investigation). In that sense, Jeffrey Goldberg is right: you can’t go back in time – Israel’s decision not to investigate its army’s behavior during the attack on Gaza turned out to be a strategic mistake. Another point that needs to be made is that Israel wouldn’t have investigated all those killings of civilians if it had not been for Goldstone. Even now, the army is doing everything it can to prevent prosecution of some of its officers and soldiers. Only international pressure forced the IDF to being searching for those soldiers who shot innocent civilians – some of them carrying white flags – or looted Palestinian homes. And that’s another thing people are missing now: nobody is denying that such crimes occurred. And there are additional incidents – like the execution of defenseless policemen by an Israeli gunship on the first day of the war – which Israel views as “legal” and other (myself included) see as a war crime, planned at the highest levels. On the other hand, and at the risk of making many friends angry at me, I would also say that Goldstone should not have spoken of a “policy” of targeting civilians only because he saw numerous cases in which civilians were killed. These are not accusations to be made or take lightly. Saying now that “civilians were not intentionally targeted as a matter of policy” is a big deal – and the explanation given in the Washington Post op-ed to this sentence is hardly satisfying. ————— Since I mentioned the Goldstone report on this blog more than once, and also contributed a chapter to the book on report (which discusses the way the report was received in Israel – and I stand behind every word I wrote there), I would like to add something personal regarding the way I feel today. Many people claimed that “the IDF couldn’t have done the things Goldstone said it did.” Most of them never even read the report, but that’s beside the point. But I felt, and I still do, that targeting civilians could have been an Israeli policy. That’s why I supported an external investigation of Operation Cast Lead. That’s why I still want a public report on the military operation that would include Israeli evidence. The reason I think the IDF could, in certain cases, target civilians (just like any army would, at times), is that I saw it with my own eyes when I served as an infantry officer in South Lebanon. I described this incident in detail here. More than anything I read in Haaretz, my own experiences as a soldier and an officer led me to reflect on the crimes of Israel’s 44 year-old occupation of the West Bank. I have seen beating of civilians, settlers’ violence and mistreatment of Palestinians with my own eyes (I am happy to report I haven’t been part of killing – but that’s pure luck, I guess). Some of those things I continue to see in the occupied territories these days, only now I don’t go there in uniform. Right after the Goldstone op-ed was posted on the Washington post’s site, +972 Magazine received a tweet calling us to “retract” on charges of Israeli war crimes. To that I answer: the entire occupation is a crime. The blockade on Gaza is a crime. The settlements are a crime. The killing of civilians is a crime – even if it wasn’t part of a policy, it was part of the occupation. And I don’t need Judge Goldstone to tell me that.
The Israeli government insists that it tries to contain the situation in Gaza, and to prevent unnecessary escalation that would cost more lives on both sides. However, Alex Fishman, the military correspondent for Yedioth Ahronoth (Israel’s leading daily paper) is not convinced, to say the least [Hebrew Link from 7th eye site]:
“The Chief-of-Staff, Benny Gantz, declared yesterday that Israel was not interested in an escalation in the Gaza Strip, but Southern Command’s activity sends the exact opposite message,” wrote Alex Fishman this morning in Yediot Acharonot. “[...] The more our side does not want an escalation, the more the border region gets heated up and by now we’ve had a week of it. Last night towns and villages were on alert for rockets and mortars. So whom to believe, the statements or the actions on the ground? [...] Last night the IDF carried out targeted killings. A targeted killing is not just another step in an uncontrolled deteriorating spiral. It is a clear evidence of a planned escalation.”
[h/t and translation - Sol Salbe of the Middle East News Service].
On Haaretz, Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff think that both Israel and Hamas “apparently have difficulty stopping (the escalation). ” Needless to say, even if Netanyahu did try to calm things down, recent events serve him well, both at home and with the international community. One might say the same thing for certain elements of Hamas.
Major General Benny Gantz spoke frequently on Iran, but his position regarding the military option remains unclear
After an unprecedented series of events, consisting of a public dispute between the Defense Minister and the departing Chief of Staff and two canceled appointments to replace the latter, it seems that the IDF finally has its new commander: Major General Benny Gantz.
Gantz was the head of the Northern Command, the military attaché in Washington and in his last role, Deputy Chief of Staff. Last summer, after Defense Minister Ehud Barak decided not to appoint him as the new IDF commander, Gantz left the army.
As Deputy Chief of Staff, Gantz was in charge of the work relating to the Iranian nuclear threat. In interviews and public appearances he referred to Iran as a danger not only to Israel but to the entire international community.
Here is a video of Gantz speaking on Iran at the previous Herzliya conference:
UPDATE: Haaretz’s Amir Oren also estimate that Benni Gantz opposes a military strike on Iran. “Gantz is part of the level-headed camp, led by Gabi Ashkenazi,” writes Oren [link in Hebrew]. Oren names other senior IDF generals that hold the same views, and concludes that the “pro-active” coalition on Iran, led by Netanyahu and Barak, is disintegrating.
Both Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak are said to be among those favoring a military confrontation with Iran, if all other efforts to stop the nuclear program fails. Departing Chief of Staff Ashkenazi as well as Ministers Avigdor Lieberman and Moshe Yaalon are considered among those opposing an attack on Iran.
Israeli Chiefs of Staff are appointed for three years, though it is not uncommon for the term to be extended to four years. That means Gantz would leave office between 2014 and 2015.
According to reports in the Israeli media, a major reason for the bad blood between Defense Minister Ehud Barak and departing Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi was their differences of the issue of Iran, and especially what Barak saw as an attempt by Ashkenazi to bypass him
Did the possibility of an Israeli strike on Iran play a major role in leading to the current IDF generals’ wars? Yedioth Ahronoth’s veteran diplomatic pundit Shimon Shifer claims that one of the reasons for the all-too-public rift between Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak and the IDF’s departing Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi was a move by Ashkenazi that was interpreted by Barak as an attempt to undermine the military option:
Discussing the bad blood between Barak and Ashkenazi, Shifer writes (my translation):
Barak claims that Ashkenazi did not respect his authority in many cases. The most serious charge is that Ashkenazi told the U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral [Michael] Mullen, that talks by [Prime Minister] Netanyahu and Barak regarding an Israeli military option against Iran are empty words. Israel has no military option.
The unrest in the army’s leadership has reached new heights last week, when Barak and Netanyahu were forced to cancel the nomination of Major General Yoav Galant as the incoming Chief of Staff, after it was established that Galant didn’t tell the truth in documents involving the acquisition of agricultural lands and the construction of his home.
Reports in the Israeli media linked some of the recent events in the IDF leadership and the political system to the possibility of a strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities. Barak and Netanyahu are said to be favoring such an attack; Ashkenazi, as well as government ministers Avigdor Lieberman and Moshe “Bugi” Yaalon (a retired chief of staff himself) and possibly President Shimon Peres are said to be on the skeptics’ side. Speculations were that Major General Galant was more comfortable than Ashkenazi with the idea of a military strike. With him out of the picture (at least for the time being), Barak will have to look for a new candidate that would not undermine his authority on the issue of Iran.
It was also speculated that the one of the main reasons for Netanyahu’s successful attempt to split Labor a few weeks ago was his desire to have Barak, a decorated officer and a former Chief of Staff, at his side when he decides to push forward with the military option.
With each passing day, the publication of the Goldstone Report seems like a key event in shaping the political and diplomatic trends that currently dominate the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A new book – to which I contributed an article dealing with the Israeli reaction to the report – takes a fresh look at the findings and the political significance of the UNHRC fact-finding mission to Gaza
Justice Richard Goldstone's report ended up serving as the major evidance in the persecution of Israeli human rights organizations (photo: United Nations Information Service - Geneva)
Furthermore, the executive summary and the conclusion chapter, which were available in six languages (Chinese and Russian among them), were not translated to Hebrew. There was a media summary and a press release in Hebrew on the site, but I couldn’t get the documents opened. If the UN Human Rights Council wanted to communicate a message to the Israeli public, it failed on its very first step. As a result, while most people have a definite view on the report, very few have actually read it. It’s a shame, because the Goldstone Report not only makes for a fascinating reading, but is also one of the most important documents to be published on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in recent years.
The Goldstone report was the first evidence in what has since become a pattern – the failure of the Israeli leadership to register diplomatic achievements following the use of military power. Israel had no troubles achieving its victory in Gaza. One could argue – as many Israelis do – that operation Cast Lead helped deter the Hamas from launching more missiles on Israeli towns. Yet it also made Israel more isolated than ever in the world. The military operation boosted the BDS movement, mobilized public opinion in support of the Palestinians, and led to the Gaza-bound flotilla last spring, which resulted in a partial lifting of the blockade on the Strip.
The Goldstone report played a key role in these developments. Even though the report was rejected by Israel, the United States and for a brief moment, even by the Palestinian Authority (under Israeli-American pressure), it proved powerful enough to change regional politics. Some people claimed that operation Cast Lead cured the IDF from the effect of the unsuccessful confrontation with the Hezbollah in 2006, but Goldstone also caused Israel a diplomatic trauma. Now, when Israeli leaders consider sending their troops to another military operation against the Palestinians or in Lebanon, it’s Goldstone that they have in mind. The report served as an important lesson for the Palestinians as well: it proved that they can apply considerable pressure on Israel by bypassing Washington and taking their case to the international community and to international organizations. That strategy is echoed in president Abbas’ recent unilateral effort to gain international recognition of an independent Palestinian state in the 1967 borders.
The publication of the report also turned out to be a key moment for Israel’s limited democracy (I use the term “limited democracy” because of the absence of full political rights to Palestinians under Israeli control). The report itself was widely rejected in Israel, even as more and more events cited in it led to criminal investigations and in some cases, to prosecution of soldiers and officers. If anything, Goldstone made Israelis more hostile and suspicious of the international community.
Even more important was the use of the report in the persecution of human rights organizations and activists. A few months after it was made public, rightwing movement Im Tirzu spread the (false) claim that 92 percent of the evidence in the Goldstone report came from Israeli human rights organizations. Im Tirzu demanded to put legal limits on the activities of these organizations, and in some cases, even ban them completely. Lately, the Knesset has decided to answer this call by forming a special investigative committee that will look into the actions of leftwing NGOs. This might turn into a major showdown in Israeli politics, as all opposition parties decided not to cooperate with the Knesset’s probe.
In both cases, the Palestinian and the Israeli, we have yet to fully grasp the lasting political effect of the Goldstone Report.
I covered some of the initial reaction in Israel to the report in an article for the recently published “The Goldstone Report: The Legacy of the Landmark Investigation” (Nation Books). The book, edited by Adam Horowitz, Lizzy Ratner and Philp Weiss, features articles by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Naomi Klein, Moshe Halbertal, Laila El-Haddad and others. Most importantly, it holds the report itself. As I said, even if you have already made up your mind to reject Goldstone’s finding, it’s a document worth reading.
Rabbis signing the public letter are state employees; so far, not one of them was prosecuted or fired
The Israeli media is reporting this morning that some 50 rabbis have signed a declaration calling for Jews not to let Arabs hire apartments in their communities. The Rabbis expressed support for Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu of Safed, who was the first to issue such ruling.
The rabbis’ declaration states that anyone renting his apartment to an Arab is doing harm – both in the eyes of god and for his fellow men. The Rabbis state that it is not allowed to have Arabs hire apartments in Jewish communities outside Israel as well. The Letter urges Jews to boycott anyone renting apartments to Arabs.
The rabbis’ letter, which was first published months ago and reprinted in October, urges Jewish owners of apartments to reconsider renting their properties to Arabs since it would deflate the value of their homes as well as those in the neighborhood.
“Their way of life is different than that of Jews,” the letter stated. “Among [the gentiles] are those who are bitter and hateful toward us and who meddle into our lives to the point where they are a danger.”
The rabbis also urge neighbors of anyone renting or selling property to Arabs to caution that person.After delivering the warning, the neighbor is then encouraged to issue notices to the general public and inform the community.
“The neighbors and acquaintances [of a Jew who sells or rents to an Arab] must distance themselves from the Jew, refrain from doing business with him, deny him the right to read from the Torah, and similarly [ostracize] him until he goes back on this harmful deed,” the letter reads.
Like Rabbi Eliyahu of Safed, the Rabbis signing the letter are serving as “local rabbis” (rabbis in charge of the religious services provided by their municipality), meaning they are state employees that receive their salary from taxpayer money. Among the signers of the letter were rabbis from Rishon Letzion, Ramat Hasharon, Hertzlia Kfar Sava and Hulon (all of them suburbs of Tel Aviv), Jerusalem, and other towns and settlements.
This is more than a racist statement. This is a racist policy, carried out by members of the municipal bureaucracy in Israel. It’s being done in public, and so far – with not one of these rabbis having to pay a price for their actions. Dealing with this issue becomes a test for Israeli society and for the Israeli government.
UPDATES: MK Ilan Gilon (Meretz) and MK Ahmed Tibi (Ra’am-Ta’al) calling to fire, prosecute racist Rabbis. But who will be the first coalition member to speak?
UPDATE II: The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) issued this statement following the Rabbis’ rulling:
“Rabbis who are civil servants have an obligation to the entire public, including Israel’s Arab citizens. It is unthinkable that they would use their public status to promote racism and incitement. Human rights day will be marked around the world this Friday and it should serve as a reminder to all our leaders of their responsibility to the citizens of the State and their obligation to take action against racism and similar worrying trends”.
In November, ACRI intervened before Justice Minister Yaakov Ne’eman, urging him to remove Zafed Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu from his public post, following his racist remarks against Arabs and his support of a campaign calling on Zafed residents not to rent out apartments to Arab students.
The organization is preparing a similar intervention against the above case.
UPDATE III: PM Netanyahu also condemned the Rabbis’ ruling, saying it was racist and offending. Yet one could expect of the head of the executive authority to do something – not just speak.
A critical review of the protocols of the Turkel Committee, assigned to investigate the raid on the Mavi Marmara which left 9 dead, reveals a deep pro-IDF and government bias by committee members
One of the great favors the Obama administration did Benjamin Netanyahu last year (another one for which it received very little credit) was its support for an Israeli-led inquiry on the flotilla incident.
The Turkel committee – led by a former Israeli Supreme Court justice Jacob Turkel and joined by two international observers – was meant to prevent another Goldstone-style report. When the committee was formed, American and Israeli officials assured the world that “Israeli democracy is well capable of investigating itself,” and therefore, no international inquiry is necessary.
Perhaps it’s time to revisit these statements.
A critical review of the Turkel Committee protocols by the Israeli blogger Tom reveals some disturbing elements in the Committee’s work, and especially its treatment of the different witnesses who appeared before it.
The Turkel Committee heard only two of more than 600 passengers on board the Mavi Marmara. Both of them weren’t involved in the actual battle. At the same time, the committee heard at least ten senior Israel officials, including PM Benjamin Netanyahu, defense minister Ehud Barak, chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi (twice) and several other senior generals (the committee is not allowed access to soldiers and officers who took part in the raid, so it had to settle for the official IDF report).
Apparently, there were striking differences in the ways the Turkel committee treated Israeli officials and generals, passengers, and Israeli human rights activists. The latter were not involved in the raid itself, and were only called to provide background on the situation in Gaza, yet it seems that for some committee members, they represented the real enemy. A Mavi Marmara passenger and Israeli activists who testified before the committee were subjected to hostile interrogations; Army Generals and senior officials, on the other hand, were met with praises and flattery by committee members.
“I want to praise (the army) for the (investigative) work it did,” one committee member told IDF chief of staff Ashkenazy during his testimony. “The efforts you took (in presenting the committee with a full picture on the situation in Gaza) were inhuman,” said a committee member to another general. “The work you did deserves much appreciation,” a committee member told the Foreign Office’s director general. An official statement by the committee spokesperson refers to another general’s testimony as “impressive” and “thorough.”
At the same time, NGO representatives were met with anger and hostility by committee members. “You are bothering us by coming here,” says committee member General (ret.) Amos Horev to Jessica Montel of B’Tselem, “stick (in your testimony) to humanitarian issues.”
Tom counted the words on the Turkel protocols, and then compared the proportional space given to the testimonies of IDF and government officials to that allowed to representatives of human rights organizations. The results are striking: the generals were allowed to speak with little or no interruptions, while the human rights representatives were stopped and questioned frequently.
human rights representatives
B’Tselem 57 43
Physicians for Human Rights 64.4 35.6
Gisha (free passage to Gaza) 53.8 46.2
Tom notes (my translation):
The amazing thing here is the remarkable consistency of the figures. Heaps of texts (the protocol of the testimony of IDF Prosecutor Avichai Mandelblit, for example, has more than 30,000 words), different witnesses with different positions, no less than seven committee members (…) that may raise questions, and still, a clear pattern regarding the treatment of witnesses emerges: at the top are the senior politicians, who get to speak virtually nonstop; in fact it’s not a testimony but more like a speech (…) slightly below them are senior military personnel – they also get to speak almost without interruption, with each receiving more than 83 percent of the total testimony time (…). Senior bureaucrats, especially the foreign ministry director general, are interrupted more often, but they also don’t have too much to complain about. And who got the harshest treatment? Representatives of human rights organizations – B’Tselem, Physicians for Human Rights, Gisha. B’Tselem and Gisha representatives got (to speak during) just a little over half the time of their testimony (…).
This is worth some more pondering. After all, it is the political and the military leadership that should be the center of the committee’s work. It’s their decisions which are studied. Human rights organizations were invited to the committee to give general background on the humanitarian situation in Gaza. They were not under investigation there (…). The actual state of affairs should have been exactly the opposite: Turkel Committee representatives were to intervene much more during the testimonies of the generals and politicians: to ask them to clarify, explain and elaborate. The testimonies of representatives of human rights organizations were to be used only for general background, not as a basis for cross-examination.
So, what do you think the Turkel report will look like?
Goldberg mentions just few of the names of the people he has been talking to, but one can gather that most of them come from the Israeli defense establishment, and some from the government. Goldberg has spoken to Labor hawks such as Ephraim Sneh and Ehud Barak, he has met with PM Benjamin Netanyahu, and with several high ranking generals whose names he doesn’t disclose. From these conversations he concludes that the common belief in Israel is that Iran is a new Nazi Germany, and therefore must be attacked, whatever the price is and as slim as the chances of successfully delaying the nuclear program may be.
The views of Israeli generals and senior officials in the Defense Department on Iran are of great interest, but they should be put in the right context. There are many in Israel who don’t see Iran as an existential threat, or, more precisely, they don’t see it as a different threat than those Israel faced in the past. There are even more who think that the risk in attacking Iran is far greater then the possible benefits.
Israeli Generals have a tendency for creating mass hysteria. Defense Minister Dayan thought in 1973 that the end of Israel has come, and Israel armed its nuclear warheads. Army officials declared in 1991 that Israel should send its air force in respond to the Iraqi missiles fired on Israeli cities. They were wrong. Luckily, the army doesn’t always get what it wants, even in Israel.
President Shimon Peres, the only official not related to the Israeli military complex that was interviewed and quoted by Goldberg, seems very critical of the idea of an Israeli attack on the Iranian nuclear facilities, and even rejects the attempts to cause the US to attack Iran. But Peres is the exception in Goldberg’s piece, and his words are brought at the end, once the case was established.
In my view, Goldberg might have rushed to adopt some of Netanyahu’s rhetoric, and especially the references to the Holocaust – and then wrongly presented it as the sole view in Israel.
It is this line of thinking, which suggests that rational deterrence theory, or the threat of mutual assured destruction, might not apply in the case of Iran, that has the Israeli government on a knife’s edge. And this is not a worry that is confined to Israel’s right. Even the left-wing Meretz Party, which is harsh in its condemnation of Netanyahu’s policies toward the Palestinians, considers Iran’s nuclear program to be an existential threat.
Reading this, one can conclude that Meretz share Natanyahu’s views on Iran, and even his ideas regarding how Israel should deal with it. Yet Meretz officials have rarely mention Iran, and the party’s platformclearly states that Israel should support negotiations between the international community and Iran, and only if those fail, resort to “methods which will be determined by the Security Council”. I don’t remember any Meretz official expressing any sort of support in an attack on Iran, Israeli or American (If I had to guess, I would say that Goldberg attributed Yossi Beilin’s view on Iran to Meretz, but Beilin was never really a part of Meretz, and he in no way represents the party today. But this is only a hunch).
I’m pretty sure that there are also people in Labor and Kadima, and even in the Likud and the Orthodox parties, who oppose an attack on Iran. I wonder with how many of them Goldberg met.
As for the Israeli public, the little polling that was done on this issue had mixed results at best. Many people quote the poll which had 25 to 30 percent of the Israelis declaring that they would consider leaving the state if Iran gained a nuclear bomb as a proof to the public’s anxiety, but there are different numbers as well. For example, a poll conducted by the Institute for National Security Studies had 80 percent of Israelis declaring the Iranian bomb wouldn’t change their life. This is form Reuters report on the INSS poll, (my Italic):
“The Israeli leadership may be more informed,” INSS research director Yehuda Ben Meir told Reuters, explaining that the discrepancy between public and government views about Iran.
But he added: “I think the Israeli public does not see this as an existential threat, and here there may be an exaggeration by some members of the leadership.
“Most Israelis appear willing to place their bet on Israel’s deterrent capability and, I would add, on Iran’s rational behavior.”
I must say that I also don’t feel a great anxiety in the Israeli public regarding Iran, or at least not what you would expect if Israelis really believed that they are facing a second Holocaust. People don’t discuss this issue so much, and when they do, you don’t get this sense of mass hysteria I got from Goldberg’s article. In fact, the article had me worried: I’m sure Goldberg did a fine job in presenting the views of the Israeli military leadership, and now I feel an Israeli or American attack on Iran might be more probable than I imagined.
There is another issue in the article which bothered me. It seems that Goldberg also adopted Netnayahu’s views regarding the connection, or the lack of one, between the peace process and Iran. According to the Israeli PM, the two issues are not related, and if they are, it’s Iran that is preventing a meaningful dialogue between Israel and the Palestinians from taking place. This is why the Palestinians are hardly mentioned in Goldberg’s piece; as if one can talk about the geo-political game and leave them out (or Syria, for that matter).
But there are those, even in Israel, who view things differently. Many pundits, diplomats and even retired generals, have been arguing for sometime now that a real effort on the Palestinian front will make it much easier for Israel to deal with Iran. It will enable the creation of a coalition that would block Iran’s influence, and help moderate regimes fight the Iranian influence. In the past, top IDF generals made a similar case for peace with Syria, arguing that it would disconnect Iran from one of its major allies and make dealing with Hezbollah much easier.
Israel could have pursued these options. There is a moderate and relatively stable Palestinian leadership in the West Bank. Syria has made several attempts to resume negotiations. The Arab peace initiative is on the table for more then 8 years. Yet Israel made no attempt to create new alliances and reduce tension in ways that could help her face the challenge from Iran.
The question of Iran goes way beyond the chances of sending a few squads on a bombing mission. But even though Jeffrey Goldberg acknowledges that the importance on an Iranian nuclear bomb will be in its effect on the geo-political relations in this region, he doesn’t draw any conclusions regarding Israel’s foreign policy.
If I had spent this much time with PM Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, I would have liked to know the answers to the following question: if Iran is the biggest threat the Jewish people faced since Nazi Germany, why not compromise on other issues – important as those might be – and maybe help reduce this threat, isolate it, or just deal with it on more favorable terms? Why not try getting Syria out of the game, possibly also Lebanon as a result? Why not strike a deal with Abu-Mazen and help legitimize Israel in the Arab world?
For me, the fact that Netanyahu is ready to confront an American president – and with it, the entire international community – so he can build a few more housing units near Nablus or Hebron, shows that deep inside, even he might not be thinking that Israel is facing a new Hitler. If this was the case, everything else had to become unimportant.