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.
Well, This week Goldberg got his answer from the Knesset: no, you are not exaggerating. AsRoi MaorandYossi Gurvitswrite, the decision to form a special committee which will look into the activities of human rights organizations is one big step away from the limited democracy Israel used to be. Where does it all lead? I honestly don’t know.
But I wanted to discuss something else. Reading his post, what struck me most was the way Goldberg analyzed the causes for the current political trends in Israel:
I will admit here that my assumption has usually been that Israelis, when they finally realize the choice before them (many have already, of course, but many more haven’t, it seems), will choose democracy, and somehow extract themselves from the management of the lives of West Bank Palestinians. But I’ve had a couple of conversations this week with people, in Jerusalem and out of Jerusalem, that suggest to me that democracy is something less than a religious value for wide swaths of Israeli Jewish society. I’m speaking here of four groups, each ascendant to varying degrees: The haredim, the ultra-Orthodox Jews, whose community continues to grow at a rapid clip; the working-class religious Sephardim — Jews from Arab countries, mainly — whose interests are represented in the Knesset by the obscurantist rabbis of the Shas Party; the settler movement, which still seems to get whatever it needs in order to grow; and the million or so recent immigrants from Russia, who support, in distressing numbers, the Putin-like Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s foreign minister and leader of the “Israel is Our Home” party.
This is a return to the old “good Israel” vs. “Bad Israel” theory. According to this idea, there are the peace-loving, democratic and liberal Israeli Jews, who represent the “real” values on which the country was born, and there are the “bad”, Sephardic Jews, Ultra-orthodox and Russian immigrants, who are to blame for all the current hiccups what was a model democracy until not that long ago. Goldberg is actually angry with them for taking away “his” Israel. I think he represents many in saying that
the Israel that I see today is not the Israel I was introduced to more than twenty years ago. The rise to power of the four groups I mentioned above has changed, in some very serious ways (which I will write about later) the nature and character of the Jewish state.
Let’s not deal with what some see as latent racism in these assumptions (I don’t think this is the case with Goldberg), and talk politics instead. First, Shas, is actually weaker than at any point since the mid nineties. The party is going through an internal crisis (some say it will split once its spiritual leader, Ovadia Yosef, passes away). The other Orthodox party, United Torah Judaism, has five seats – roughly the same number it always had. As for Avigdor Lieberman, the conventional wisdom is that only 60-something percent of his votes were from Russian immigrants and the rest came from ordinary middle class Jews. Pollsters claim that those middle class voters are the reason for Lieberman’s rise in the last elections (and probably, in the next ones).
We are left with Goldberg’s favorite target, the settlers. Contrary to the common belief, the settlers are also weaker than ever: the National Religious Party, which used to represent their interests, split into two, and the only real hard-core, rightwing party (The National Unity) has only four Knesset seats and was left out of the government by Netanyahu.
So, If the settlers and the orthodox might be so weak– or at least, not stronger than ever – how come we end up with the most racist, rightwing Knesset in the country’s history?
The answer is as simple as it is unpleasant: it’s Israel’s “good guys” that turned bad – and maybe they weren’t that good in the first place. The Israeli middle class, the good ole’ boys, are the ones supporting the racist bills in the Knesset and the anti-democratic initiatives. In other words, we always had Rabbis like Shmuel Eliyahu and members of Knesset like Kahane’s student Michael Ben-Ari. The difference is that now, we have Kadima and Likud backing them.
Just like the settlements couldn’t have been built without the active support and participation of the Israeli center-left (including Labor party, which started the whole thing back in the 70′s), the current torrent of racist bills couldn’t have come without the help of Kadima, Labor and Likud members. And with all the ridiculous, xenophobic and undemocratic ideas they came up with, their public can’t get enough. When it comes to questions of human rights and democracy, there is no coalition and opposition in the Knesset: Almost everyone is on the same side.
Israel has always been a place that favored Jews over non-Jews. It was always a country that confiscated and colonized Arab land, on both sides of the 67′ borders. In the past, it was easier to avoid those issues, but today, faced with a choice between democracy and the “Jewishness” of the state, it’s clear what almost all Israelis – and not just the Russians and the Hassidic – prefer.
By now, any reasonable person can understand that the “good guys” won’t save the day. It’s more likely that they will vote again for Lieberman or Kadima – two parties that actually get along quite well ( some Kadima Knesset Members even joined the coalition on the shameful vote this week). Dennis Ross and others can spend another decade in efforts to create the political environment that would allow the peace camp in Israel to take the lead again – without real outside pressure, it simply won’t happen. With the exception of Rabin’s government, this country was led by conservative politicians, all of them but one from the Likud,since 1986. And people still don’t get it: Israel wasn’t hijacked by the right. It was there all along.
Caroline Glick’s “Latma” site will receive special honor from the museum on its yearly board of governors meeting next week
The Diaspora Museum in Tel Aviv is about to honor the people behind the rightwing satire and media site Latma for the “we con the world” video they produced in the aftermath of the IDF raid on the Gaza-bound flotilla. The evening will be hosted by the celebrated Liberal writer and TV pundit, Yaron London.
I must admit that when I saw this item for the first time on Richard Silverstine’s Tikkun Olam blog, I found it hard to believe. What does “Beit Hatfutsot” (the Hebrew name on the Diaspora Museum), a respectable establishment that sits at the heart of Tel Aviv University, has to do with a vulgar and extreme satire group like Latma?
As it turned, the honoring is being made by the Nadav fund, established by Israeli-Russian oligarch Leonid Nevzlin. A few years ago, the Diaspora Museum ran into financial difficulties, and Nevzlin had promised to donate to the museum, through the Nadav fund, a sum of 6 million dollars. Could it be that in return, the museum adopted a right-wing political line to better suit Nevzlin, who now sits at the head of its International Board of Governors? How else can we explain the museum’s decision to honor Latma during the annual Board of Governors’ meeting?
Latma’s favorite targets are left wing NGOs and Palestinian politician, who are often treated in the site’s satirical video’s in a way that borders racism. But more than anything, Latma loves to portray the US president as an anti-Israeli, anti-Semite Muslim. Take a look at this satirical video, in which Obama “admits” to hating Jews, and explains how he plans to join Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinajad in his quest to destroy Israel:
In another video a fake Obama in a black-face makeup sings lines like “dirty Jews won’t be missed by me.” and “I hate them, it so excites me” (h/t Richard Silverstein).
The editor in Chief of Latma is the Jerusalem Post’s Caroline Glick, known for her radical right-wing views. Here is what Glick wrote about the Israeli Left and Haaretz newspaper when the Kamm-Blau affair was made public (and this is just one example out of many):
By collaborating with Kamm first by publishing her stolen documents and hiring her as a reporter, and finally by covering up her crimes while suborning Blau’s perjury, Haaretz has demonstrated that leftist traitors have a powerful sponsor capable of exacting painful revenge on the State of Israel for daring to prosecute them.
In facilitating and supporting treason, Haaretz itself can depend on a massive network of supporters in Israel and internationally. Reporters, self-proclaimed human rights groups, and the leftist blogosphere in Israel and throughout the world as well as foreign governments happily swallow whole Haaretz’s manufactured stories about Israel’s purported venality.
This lefty blogger would like to know what do the members of the International Board of Governors of Beit Hatfutsot – among them former head of Tel Aviv university Prof. Itamar Rabinovich, notable businessman Dov Lautman and also the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg – think of the museum’s decision to honor Glick and Latma. What message will this event send to the Jewish community, who for most part is supportive of President Obama, and certainly opposes to portraying him as a Jew-hater?
It should be made clear that I believe Latma is a perfectly legitimate site and their internet TV show is and should be well within the limits of the political discourse in Israel. But I certainly don’t think that Latma’s xenophobic, vulgar and extreme face is the one an institution like the Diaspora Museum – which is all about the connection between Israel and the Jewish communities around the world – would like to show. Or is it?
You can write Beit Hatfutson regarding their plan honor “Latma” on this link.
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.
A couple of months ago I discussed here the debate between Peter Beinart and Jeffrey Goldberg regarding Bibi and Oslo. As some readers might remember, Goldberg accused Beinart of fabricating facts in claiming that Netanyahu rejected the peace agreement.
Last Friday, channel 10 broadcast a homemade video of a visit by Netanyahu to a settler family in 2001, two years after his defeat to Ehud Barak. Netanyahu is seen answering the family’s questions, referring to the Clinton administration as “extremely pro-Palestinian” and boosting how he managed to stop the Oslo agreement – while publicly endorsing it – well before the second intifada broke.
Netanyahu: Yes. You know that and I knew that…The people [nation] has to know…
What were the Oslo Accords? The Oslo Accords, which the Knesset signed, I was asked, before the elections: “Will you act according to them?” and I answered: “yes, subject to mutuality and limiting the retreats.” “But how do you intend to limit the retreats?” “I’ll give such interpretation to the Accords that will make it possible for me to stop this galloping to the ’67 [armistice] lines. How did we do it?
Narrator: The Oslo Accords stated at the time that Israel would gradually hand over territories to the Palestinians in three different pulses, unless the territories in question had settlements or military sites. This is where Netanyahu found a loophole.
Netanyahu: No one said what defined military sites. Defined military sites, I said, were security zones. As far as I’m concerned, the Jordan Valley is a defined military site.
Woman: Right [laughs]…The Beit She’an Valley.
Netanyahu: How can you tell. How can you tell? But then the question came up of just who would define what Defined Military Sites were. I received a letter – to my and to Arafat, at the same time – which said that Israel, and only Israel, would be the one to define what those are, the location of those military sites and their size. Now, they did not want to give me that letter, so I did not give the Hebron Agreement. I stopped the government meeting, I said: “I’m not signing.” Only when the letter came, in the course of the meeting, to my and to Arafat, only then did I sign the Hebron Agreement. Or rather, ratify it, it had already been signed. Why does this matter? Because at that moment I actually stopped the Oslo Accord.
I agree with Gidon Levy: this item should have gotten much more attention. One could only imagine how history could have looked if Netanyahu carried out Israel’s part in the peace agreement.
Once he won he never (never: not once) rejected the Oslo process. He slowed it down, he added conditions, he did all sorts of things. But the leader of Likud was elected in 1996 on a platform that explicitly accepted the principle of partition.
14 years later – that’s all – a noticeable voice in American Jewry can glibly invent a story about Israel that contradicts the facts, and no-one calls him out on it because no-one knows any better, or if they do they join him in preferring to imagine a fantasy world rather than face reality.
But in an interview to Arye Golan in 2002, while serving as Foreign Minister under PM Ariel Sharon, Netanyahu firmly rejected Oslo:
Minister Netanayhu: “… the Oslo Accord is canceled. After all, what’s left…”
Q: “Your name is signed under the Hebron agreement.”
Netanyahu: “These agreements were in fact canceled by Arafat. We signed and I inherited the agreement, approved by the Knesset as part of the Oslo accord, and I’ve said on the campaign that I will fulfill my part while minimizing their damage but I will demand reciprocity and so I did.”
Q: “that means that the Hebron agreement is canceled as well as far as you are concerned.”
One might argue that Netanyahu viewed the agreement as canceled only at the time of the interview (and not in 1996, as Beinart implied). Still, I would expect Goldberg to mention the fact that as Foreign Minister Netanyahu publicly declared Oslo to be canceled (without going to everything he said against the agreement prior to 1996, as leader of the opposition).
I also think that while serving as Prime Minister Netanyahu did everything in his power to bury Oslo, but that’s a different story.
How could Israel keep millions of Palestinians without civil rights for more than 42 years? Yoel Marcus – a centrist veteran pundit for Haaretz, not some lefty anti-Semite – comes up with a provocative answer:
The leaders of pre-state Israel who were prepared in 1949 to give up large sections of the land in return for recognition from the Arabs took advantage of the Arab’s refusal to expand. It was the left’s leaders who started the settlements. A settlement policy was never on the right-wing Revisionists’ list of things to do. Slowly, war after war, and in the 60th year of its establishment, Israel remains the only country in the world without permanent borders.
The [Israeli] politicians have been lucky over the generations that the United States supports Israel. During one of my visits to South Africa, a tough Afrikaner said to me that if they had had 5 million Afrikaners in America, they would never have given up South Africa. Maybe this is so and maybe not. But there is no doubt that the American Jews’ strength has caused even those presidents who have not especially loved Jews to support Israel, or will win their support for Israel in the future.
The biggest news of the week were the IDF soldiers’ testimonies regarding intentional killing of civilians, destruction, abuse and luting of property during operation Cast Lead. The story got considerable attentionaround the world. Even Jeffrey Goldberg got worried. However, there are always those who will refuse to believe there is anything wrong with the actions of Israel, the IDF and the occupation in general.
This is why I do believe these testimonies:
1. First, although it’s true that Haaretz’s reporterthe reporters who broke the story hadn’t spoken directly to the soldiers, this doesn’t make the case any weaker. On the contrary: the testimonies were given during a graduates meeting at the Oranim College military preparatory program, where the soldiers weren’t asked to give them at all, and had started talking about what happened in Gaza at their own will. Danny Zamir, the head of the college, was shocked. He didn’t publish the evidences immediately, but contacted the army first, and gave them the opportunity to launch their own investigation on the matter. Naturally, nothing was done.
2. Haaretz published the story on its web site Wednesday evening, which probably means that other papers had the story as well, since newspapers in Israel prefer to keep the big stories for their printed editions. The fact that Maariv and Yedioth were able to follow the story so fast supports this theory. (see the update below)
3. All media organizations in Israel – and I say this based on first hand knowledge – had some sort of evidences of war crimes in Gaza, even during the operation itself. The problem was that the sources for these stories were Palestinians and human rights groups, and there was no confirmation from the Israeli side. Contrary to common believe, the media in Israel almost never publishes stories that come from the Palestinian side. As for stories from third parties, such as the UN and human rights groups - they are met with many doubts, and published under many reservations, if at all. The difference this time was that the story came from within the ranks of the IDF.
4. Getting stories from soldiers is becoming extremely difficult: the army wouldn’t let reporters into Gaza, and hadn’t used reservist units on the front line. This is important because while soldiers on mandatory service are not allowed to speak to the media – and reporters don’t have back channels to them as well – getting stories from reservists is easier (many reporters are reservists themselves). The army knows that, and prefers to keep the reservists far from the line of fire when possible (there are other reasons for this as well – a reservist’s death usually receives more media coverage, and the soldiers on mandatory service are considered better trained and better equipped).
5. From my experience as an infantry soldier – and later an officer – during army operations, a relatively small portion of what’s actually happening ever gets out. The media usually covers major and unusual events, or the ones it accidentally captures on camera. But most of the time there are no cameras around.
All this leads me to believe that the evidence from Gaza published this week are not only true, but that things might have been even worse. Much worse.
To get more sense of the IDF’s spirit these days, check out this story. and also this.
UPDATE: I was told that Maariv got the story together with Haaretz. The story appeared on both web sites together.