The Problem with Barak

Posted: November 2nd, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: The Left | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Colonel Yaakov Vilian had one of the most sensitive jobs in the Israeli administration: until a year ago, he was the intelligence officer of the Prime Minister’s office. Every day he had to prepare a resume of the most important information gathered by the IDF and the other security services, including the Mossad and the Shabak, report it to the PM, and be prepared to answer any question. To Ariel Sharon he even read the daily briefing out loud sometimes.

Vilian was considered a very professional and non-partisan officer. That’s why he was able to serve under four different PMs, from the right and the left alike. This weekend he gave Ben Caspit from Maariv his first interview ever, in which he revealed some very interesting inside information on Ehud Barak’s negotiations with the Palestinians and the Syrians during his short term in office (the second Intifada started after the failure of the Camp David talks between Barak and Arafat on the summer of 2000; the negotiations with Syria collapsed several months earlier). Here are some experts from this interview:

Q: Didn’t the Intelligence warn PM Ehud Barak from another round of violence in case the Camp David negotiations fail?

A: “They did. And there were memos written, but the head of state can decide do what he wants. That’s why he’s there. He has the right to ignore the intelligence. Maybe he thinks the intelligence units are unaware of all factors, that he can still make it. In his view, [going to] Camp David was a daring move, a leap forward, and one couldn’t tell which way it would turn. So he was warned that if he fails it will end in a clash, but in his mind he didn’t give up anything there, not an inch of land. By the way, it wasn’t only the intelligence that warned him. [Then ministers] Shimon Peres warned him, Haim Ramon warned him. Everyone did.”

Q: Did Yasser Arafat initiate the Intifada, or was he dragged into it?

A: “when the violence started, Barak sent me a note asking me just that. I wrote him my opinion… it could well have been that Arafat had lost control over the events. It could have been that even if he would have ordered to stop the violence, his people wouldn’t understand how to interpret this, if it’s for real or not. The Intifada fed itself. It moved on i’s own.”

Q: The Question is whether Arafat wanted it or not.

A: “I can’t say if Arafat planned for it to go on for years. He might have wanted something much shorter, but it got out of hand. I don’t know of any meeting between Arafat and his people in which he ordered them to start the Intifada. But I don’t know of any opposite order as well.”

In his famous 2002 interview to Bennie Morris in the “New York Review of Books”, Barak (who already left his office) rejected the notion that the Palestinians were dragged to Camp David, and that the talks were bound to failure. He also claimed that the level of violence on the Palestinian side was under Arafat’s complete control at all times. But as we learn now, Barak was warned that he is pushing the Palestinians into a corner, and that the outcome might be catastrophic.

In the months and years to follow Camp David, Barak continued insisting it was a bald move that “exposed Arafat’s true face.” He continue to claim so even now. I think Camp David also exposed some things about Ehud Barak, his style of decision making and his political philosophy.

On two matters it seems that Barak did do the right thing, at least in Colonel Vilian’s opinion:

The first is that contrary to what some of Barak advisors had said in the past, Vilian believes that there was no real opportunity to reach a peace agreement with Hafiz al-Assad when Israel and Syria met in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, on January 2000.

Assad the father was in no condition for a move like that at the time,” says Vilian. “He was shifting between Alzheimer and Parkinson, and suffered from dementia attacks, and Barak knew it. I wrote him a memo on the matter. Physically, Assad couldn’t have gone for such a move.”

Vilian also gives Barak credit for a correct reading of the situation on the matter of the withdrawal from South Lebanon:

He [Barak] was warned [by the intelligence] from something that eventually didn’t happen. He was told that if we were to leave Lebanon, the North of Israel will immediately turn into a war zone. He was warned that it will be a catastrophe. It didn’t happen. You got to give him credit for that.”

What’s the final score for Barak? It has been, and will be for some time, the big debate in the left wing in Israel. I think Barak has a tendency towards dangerous arrogance, that leads him believe strongly in unilateral acts (even when they are disguised as a bilateral process, like in Camp David). But some people, like Meretz’s Zehava Gal-On, think he is the only leader willing and able to take the bald steps necessary to move forward the peace train. This has yet to be proven.