Ehud Barak Hamas Israel Israeli occupation Middle East peace process Palestinians

What would you do if you were Israel’s Defense Minister?

There has been no shortage of commentary about the prospects –or lack therof–for successful negotiations after Annapolis. I have yet to read much that is not predictable. But Yediot Aharonot’s military correspondent, Alex Fishman, wrote an original piece today about the concrete challenges facing Israel’s security establishment. It is, of course, politically incorrect in some circles to worry about Israel’s security or its need to protect its citizens, or to consider the realities on the ground that Israeli military and intelligence professionals must cope with. The anti-Israelists can’t allow themselves to be bothered with insignificant matters like protecting mothers and babies from being blown up in supermarkets in Netanya or Afula. But everyone else who wants to end the conflict needs to be concerned.

In order for Olmert, Abbas and Rice to make diplomatic progress, Ehud Barak, Israel’s Defense Minister, will have to figure out how to unravel the Gordian knot that Fishman describes.

Here are excerpts in translation from today’s article, courtesy of Israel News Today, a daily service that is, alas, not available online. Read it, then start praying (or whatever it is you do when you yearn deeply for something):

by Alex Fishman

The declaration at Annapolis on beginning to work for a permanent status arrangement—with target dates, puts the Israeli security establishment in a nearly intolerable situation. A situation in which it has to maneuver between momentum in the peace process, which means taking measured military steps, and a serious security crisis, including expecting a series of terror attacks and attempts to sabotage the peace process…

…We’ve already been to this movie, in the years 1995-1996. Then too, Israel was meant to start talks with the Palestinian Authority on a permanent status arrangement. But then Hamas carried out a series of particularly serious terror attacks, which prevented the talks from starting, which also toppled the Israeli government and also caused all the agreements signed up to then with the PA to collapse.

When the wave of terror attacks began, the prime minister at the time, Yitzhak Rabin, coined the slogan: we will battle terror as if there are no talks and we will hold talks as if there is no war. It didn’t work. The security establishment could not take the tension between the peace process momentum and terror. The PA was unable, and perhaps didn’t want, to control the terror. Israel wavered in its response so as not to weaken the PA and terror won.

This lesson greatly worries the security establishment as 2008 approaches, since Hamas and Iran will make every effort to sabotage the talks. It is believed that in Gaza, Hamas will try not to break all the rules so as not to provoke the IDF into going inside despite everything. But in the West Bank, Hamas has been waking up militarily for a few months: there are new cells, new groupings. They have no ideological or pragmatic inhibition about committing mass terror attack murders in Israel. As they see it, the West Bank is under occupation and the war continues. Perhaps, the security establishment assesses, there will not be street riots of the kind that there were at the beginning of the Intifada, since the public in the West Bank is clear-eyed and weary.

But terror and attempts to undermine the PA and Israeli willpower—this there will be aplenty. In light of all the expected threats, the security establishment is supposed to walk delicately so that the PA will not collapse…

…To help build the Palestinian power base, the Americans plan to establish a steering committee headed by Tony Blair, General Dayton and a political envoy of President Bush, to supervise the establishment of the security, governmental and economic institutions of the PA and to monitor the implementation of the first stage of the road map. The stage that includes PA action against terror. The Americans will have to invest a great deal of money and time until they are able to see a loyal and effective military force.

The security establishment believes that intensive work will be necessary, of at least one to two years to breathe life into this vegetable and bring it to a situation in which it can handle opposition on the ground. Any attempt to speed up the process and to give the PA security responsibility too early, say high-ranking security sources, will bring to the West Bank what we have in Gaza: the build-up of a Hamas military force and high trajectory fire from the West Bank at Israel.

Either way, whether the Annapolis process succeeds in getting underway or not, we are facing a difficult security year in the territories.

11 thoughts on “What would you do if you were Israel’s Defense Minister?

  1. Excellent question. What would any of us do if we were Israel’s Defense Minister, especially one who understood the vital necessity of a two-state solution and an end to the occupation? Beats me. I would be interested to hear an answer from Philip Weiss or the people who comment on his blog…

  2. Iwould insist that the political echelon engage with Hamas to help prevent the rockets from being fired from the West Bank. They have made it clear that they are interested in talking.about a long term ceasefire.

  3. Teddy,

    I just read the comments on MondoWeiss’s blog, in response to a post in which he attacked Dan. They are truly scary, some of these people. It would be interesting to ask them but I’m sure some of them would suggest the Defense Minister chase the Jews back to Russia.

    Here is one reaponse from “Cal” to the idea that the pro-Israel left, like APN, should be actively engaged in battling AIPAC (when it needs battling):

    “The more I think about the premise that jews must be the ones to back the zionist cult off their madness, the less I think that will work.

    “The goal for America is not to replace the hard line jews political activies even with Israeli doves. The goal is to rid ourselves of all interference by foreign loyalty groups and have an “objective” US foreign policy that is good for this country and impartial to the world at large.

    “As Charles Keating says, the vast majority of Americans have no country or citizenship except America. We are the ones who must lead this effort. The Israeli doves can help in a limited way but they still speak with divided interest. Only the American street can put enough pressure on politically to change this situation.”

    Interesting that he keeps calling the peace groups “Israeli doves,” as if he can’t fit it into his narrow head that these are American Jews. And his only answer is “the American street,” which calls to mind the Stormfront skinheads. Yeesh!

  4. 1. The maze of settlement blocs is not securable.

    2. The Arab world has offered to accept Israel.

    Why is there delay?

  5. Richard,

    Here are two of the answers:

    1. Israel has a dysfunctional political system that has constrained PMs from confronting the settlers and risking the collapse of coalition governments. A final status accord that is backed by the Arab states and the Palestinian Authority and the international community might give Olmert or the next PM the political leeway to deal with the settlements and the YESHA council, but it may well be that the accord has to be reached first.

    2. Palestinians have an even more dysfunctional political system right now, which means they have a dysfunctional security apparatus. Even many dovish Israelis don’t favor just handing the territories over until those women and babies in Netanya and Afula are protected. That is the challenge Fishman is referring to.

  6. There is a path, even a unilateral one, which is to gradually remove settlements and outposts that do not fit into either defense of Israeli territory (Netanya and Afula) or of the settlements.

    In particular, the settlements on the Jordan are deep within prospective Palestinian territory and bear NO basis for defense.

    The consequences of doing nothing are that prospects degrade. There is no stable outcome, no retaining status quo. The situation for Israel only gets worse by inaction.

    The commitment to the maze, that could not possibly be completed (thankfully), is analagous to commitment to a business that is failing, throwing good money after bad.

    The anguish of committing inevitable criminality is deep. (A bankrupt company that continues, willingly continues to steal from its competitors. The leaders of the company KNOW that that is what it is doing. And the creditors know that that is what is happening.)

    Better that it be abandoned quickly, for one’s own health.

    There always was and is the practical alternative of committing to return to both accepted and defensible borders.

    The lives lost in wars, are also lives lost.

  7. Dan,
    An excellent choice to post Fishman’s analysis up. One point that he only touches on but that really deserves a deeper look is the incentive Iran has to disrupt any peace process. This is a major difference now from the mid-90s and it needs to be addressed.

    The peace process as it stands now, and especially the Arab states’ participation in it, is deeply tied to Arab fear of Iran and their willingness to work with the US and even with Israel (albeit clandestinely) to counter the Iranian threat. That is a very fragile leg of the peace process table.

    Now Hamas and Islamic Jihad have a major and powerful state backing them, despite the fact that, common perceptions notwithstanding, they are not natural allies of Iran. But a peace process that moves forward strengthens the Mideast opposition to Iran.

    Why do I emphasize this point? Because it is one way I might answer what the Defense Minister should do, or at least pursue. I believe that a deal with Syria can be obtained with much greater ease than one can with the Palestinians. This would weaken Iran’s immediate influence in the region. Again, contrary to popular perception, Iran is not a country that cannot be dealt with diplomatically. Indeed, Israel managed to work outside of the public eye with the Khomeini and Khameini regimes for years until recently.

    A deal with Syria combined with engagement with Iran would benefit Israel greatly (not to mention open up the only possible route out of Iraq for the US). And it would further isolate Hamas and Islamic Jihad, a process already well underway in the Palestinian Territories according the the recent polls. Consider the following results from a poll conducted earlier this month:
    • 45.4% of respondents considered Salam Fayyad’s government the legitimate Palestinian government; 19.3% considered Ismael Haniyeh’s government the legitimate one.
    • Regardless of legitimacy or illegitimacy, 51.7% supported the general policy of the government of Salam Fayyad.
    • Regardless of legitimacy or illegitimacy, 22.6% supported the general policy of the dissolved government of Ismael Haniyeh.
    • 81.3% of respondents said that they will participate in the coming legislative elections. From among those who said they will participate, 50% said that they will give their votes to Fateh’s candidates; 14.6% said they will give their votes to Hamas’ candidates.

    And there’s more like that. It seems to me that there is a distinct opportunity here. Pursue a deal with Syria, engage Iran and move the peace process with Abbas forward. Hamas’ popular support will wither even further as the Palestinians are making it clear that the coup of June has seriously undermined Hamas’ populist base. That strikes me as an opportunity for real progress.

    Somehow, though, it looks like Ehud Barak neither sees this opportunity nor is interested in looking past his immediate political ambitions to find one.

  8. Mitchell,

    Interesting idea. And nice try. But Barak already tried to take the Syria track first, when he was first elected PM. It infuriated Arafat and the Palestinians, who felt it was an act of treachery and bad faith. Not sure the same thing would happen now, but surely Barak remembers what happened the last time he tried it. Anyway, he’s not the PM and there is no way Olmert would let him take credit for any major diplomatic achievement. Another example of the “dysfunctional” political system Dan mentions,,,

  9. I think being liberal or peace-seeking, by definition, requires abandoning the bargaining-chip logic of taking control over or literally abducting land or people, so as to have something to bargain with.

    I think it requires doing the right things that can be done without conditions, without exchange, then negotiating to get to the right thing, around the issues that are Gordian and require cooperation of two or more parties to create something that a single party could not unilaterally.

    That is what is being asked of the US (and of Europe and of Saudi Arabia, to assist in the untying).

    But, intentionally NOT untying what Israel can do without much risk, is more like blundering and plundering.

    “If I were the defense minister”, I would argue to identify what GOOD (not advantage) can be done unilaterally, and what GOOD (not advantage) can be done with groups of two parties, and to identify what GOOD can be done with multi-lateral associations.

    I don’t buy that negotiating with Syria is an either/or proposition (either negotiate with Syria or negotiate with Palestine). THAT the Arab League as a group asserted acceptance of the Saudi plan, puts them into a different kind of prospective momentum than the either/or dynamics, under a different set of conditions.

    In a way, the Iranians are doing Israel a service, in facilitating relationships with former enemies, even if it is a coalition relative to a different but common opponent.

  10. Is Israel a racist society?

    Certainly there are racist attitudes that many in the Israeli society has, some supported by personal experience, some only prejudice. (Prejudice influences how people interpret experiences).

    At the same time, Israel does have democratic institutions in design, and in practise. There is universal suffrage of citizens, freedom of the press, freedom of peaceful assembly, diverse academic forums (opportunities to learn and to convey).

    If the democratic institutions were blue, and the racism was dirt, is the most accurate characterization that Israel is blue, or that Israel is black.

    In Christian language, one key phrase is “we are all sinners”. Just by virtue of being an individual (original sin), we are not in harmony with the greater good. It takes some combination of surrender and effort to be, and to be moreso.

    My own view is that there are two valid reasons for some degree of separation, for a Jewish state, rather than a strictly civil state.

    1. For protection
    2. For implementation of mission or life-purpose

    Both are real in Israel and Jews’ long-term and current history.

    The big Gordian knot to be solved (moreso than the Palestinian/Israel political one), is whether the Jewish community needs physical separation or to what degree, to fulfill its life-purpose. (Assuming that the injunction “You are to be a nation of priests” – tikkun/catalysts – has any resonance. It does to me.)

    I regard civil democratic institutions as close to the the fulfillment of Torah in political expression, as is possible.

    But, civilism that dilutes the collective mission of the Jewish people (if there is one that is unique, whether by injunction or by adoption), kills the baby with the bathwater.

    It hands the world over to those that will use civil institutions to impose. Nazis were originally elected (but then burned the legislature literally and figuratively). Many oppressive communist regimes were originally elected. Hamas was elected governing majority of Palestine. Likud was elected governing majority of Israel. (Likud didn’t suspend democratic institutions so maybe they did change their stripes from formerly nationalist and terrorist roots.)

    From the press the last couple of days, it looks like the parties to Annapolis didn’t in fact accept Israel by their presence. Iran is yelling at Syria. Abbas is yelling at Israel declaring that Fatah does NOT accept that Israel is a Jewish state or even a state with permanent invitation to Jews, but is just a Jewish majority state currently) And, it looks like the Bush administration dropped the ball, in starting then abandoning a project that was risky for all parties and dependant on following through. (Hopefully that will change.)

    Fundamental divides.

    So, a good thorough inquiry into “is Zionism necessary” (for the 8000th time) would be a good topic of discussion.

    My weigh in:

    1. The choice to be a Jew (individual and as part of a community) is unequivocally valid and legitimate no matter what others think of Jewish culture and religion.

    2. The safety of Jewish community from threat, coercion, abuse is unequivocally valid and legitimate no matter what others think of Jewish community.

    3. The question of statehood is unanswered and unanswerable on a permanent basis, but is answerable in the affirmative if there is more than incidental persecution of the Jewish community presently or even prospectively.

    Historically, civil institutions have NOT sufficiently protected Jewish community, and therefore Jewish community has needed a more confident shell.

    Everyone intelligent that I know, notes that walls (protective shells) imprison at least to some extent, while their primary purpose is to protect.

    Most Americans, that have NEVER had significant contact with holocaust survivors or other victims of real persecution, imagine that the democratic civil institutions are sufficient to protect.

    That conclusion may or may not be true, but those that are assessing that are most often doing so from incomplete data. (An estimate from incomplete information may turn out to be true even though the data is incomplete, OR it may turn out to be utterly mistaken.)


    Labor to propose compensating some W. Bank settlers who leave voluntarily

    The Labor Party intends to present a bill that would compensate some West Bank settlers who leave their homes voluntarily, the party’s chairman, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, told the cabinet Sunday.

    Barak told the ministers that the bill would apply to settlers who currently reside on the eastern side of the West Bank separation fence.

    The bill was authored by MK Colette Avital and Minister Ami Ayalon of Labor, in cooperation with Meretz MK Avshalom Vilan. …

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.