This posting has 5 items, all in remarkable agreement about the power of the attacks on Netanyahu:
1) Haaretz, Has Israel’s leadership come down with mad-Jew disease?;
2) JPost Not Debating Diskin;
3) NY Times Israeli Discord on Iran;
4) Tikun Olam Ex-leaders speak truth;
5) Middle East Online Netanyahu facing unprecedented challenge;
Has Israel’s leadership come down with mad-Jew disease?
Why waste money on hasbara when our own experts tell the world that Israeli leaders are warmongering rejectionists?
By Chemi Shalev, Haaretz
This is what’s been going down in the last few days alone:
1. The Prime Minister says that sanctions against Iran aren’t working and the Defense Minister claims that Iran is irrational and then the Prime Minister stipulates that the Iranians want to make a bomb and then the IDF Chief of Staff flatly contradicts them and says that Iran is rational, sanctions are working and the Iranians won’t really make a bomb after all. And the Prime Minister and the Defense Minister go on saying what they were saying before, as if nothing’s happened.
2. The next day, a former chief of the Shin Bet, who spent his life in what Israeli leftists like to call “the apparatus of darkness,” opens his mouth for the first time since retirement and sounds like a turbo-charged Peter Beinart: the Israeli leadership suffers from a messiah complex, they are morally unfit to govern, they can’t wage war and they sure as hell don’t want to make peace.
3. Less than 48 hours later, an up and rising Likud minister and a fabled former head of the Mossad nearly come to blows in front of hundreds of people in New York. The Mossadnik calls the minister a liar and compares a proposed Knesset law to Nazi legislation, while the minister accuses the man who until recently was hailed as a cross between Indiana Jones, George Smiley and Bar Kochba as “harming the state security,” a crime punishable by law. “How did he ever get such a high position?” asks the minister of the man who was an IDF general before serving for eight years as head of the Mossad, where he was widely considered to be one of the best ever.
Even for cynical Israelis who think they’ve seen it all, this is crazy talk. Even for people who like to boast of the rough and tumble atmosphere of political discourse in Israel, this is way over the top. Even for those who are devout see-no-evil, hear-no-evil, speak-no-evil Israel-lovers on most days of the year, there are enough grounds now to suspect that something is rotten, or at least seriously unhinged, in the State of Israel.
Look at it from the point of view of hasbara, just as an example: Israel spends tons of millions of dollars setting up government ministries and NGOs, conducting in depth polls and focus groups, enlisting Jewish organizations worldwide and employing the best public relations that money can buy, while Diaspora Jews spend sleepless nights agonizing over yesterday’s editorial in the Duluth Daily that could be construed as implying that the Palestinians may also have a point and then get up in the middle of the night to write a letter to their Congressman complaining of delegitimization.
And what do the three outgoing heads of the revered security services, hitherto the most widely-respected experts on these matters in the international arena, have to say about all this? That Israel is being run by a couple of morally-lapsed loony-tune leaders who hear voices in their heads while laughing themselves silly mouthing the words “two-state solution” and who pore over the maps of bombing runs over Iran while quoting General “Buck” Turgidson from Dr. Strangelove to each other: “I’m not saying we wouldn’t get our hair mussed. But I do say no more than ten to twenty million killed, tops. Uh, depending on the breaks.”
And many Israelis immediately undergo a miraculous metamorphosis: On one side of the political map are those who previously regarded officers and officials like Meir Dagan, Yuval Diskin and former IDF chief Gabi Ashkenazi as cold-blooded suppressors of the Palestinians and immoral representatives of the military-settler complex – who suddenly discover that they were peace-loving, war-resisting, truth-telling freedom fighters all along. And on the other side are those who used to collect Independence Day posters of Dagan, Diskin, Ashkenazi and others of their ilk and dream of their heroes with knives in their mouths and dead terrorists in their hands and who had no doubt that these super-patriots could run the country better than any politician, if only we could do away with irksome democracy-shemocracy. Suddenly they realize that these bogus lionhearts were closet lefties with political ambitions who were just waiting for the right moment to stick a knife in the nation’s back.
But most Israelis, and most Diaspora Jews – those who haven’t been turning their eyes away – are probably looking on this sudden-onset collective dementia with complete bewilderment and growing concern. After all, if half of what the generals are saying about the politicians is true, it’s terrible. If half of what the politicians are hurling back at the generals is valid, it’s horrendous. Someone should explain what bug has entered our system that can turn all of these good people who have truly devoted their lives to the country’s well being – on both sides of the divide – into such stark, rabid rivals. And someone should put a stop to this maniacal melee before it turns into a tragedy of our own device.
If they weren’t otherwise engaged with their own meshugas, the Arabs at this point would be bringing out the salads and the lamb and the baklava and organizing a khafla – a Middle Eastern feast – to celebrate their good fortune and to give thanks to Allah who has made the Jews majnun (loco). In Tehran, no doubt, the ayatollahs are hi-fiving each other, feasting on rice and kebob and shouting “Tabrik migoyam,” which means mazal tov in Farsi.
Follow me on Twitter @ChemiShalev
By JPost editorial
Diskin’s criticism, essentially a reiteration of a line taken by Dagan after he stepped down, has shaken up the political establishment. In recent days, former Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) director Yuval Diskin has been remarkably and aggressively outspoken. Comparing them to the biblical prophet Zachariah, he declared Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak to be guided by “messianic” impulses. He said the two were lying about the projected effectiveness of an Israeli strike on Iran, arguing instead that such an attack would only speed up Iran’s push for nuclear weapons. Noting “I know what’s going on in this field up close,” Diskin accused the present government of being insincere when claiming to be interested in reaching a peace deal with the Palestinians.
Controversy continued on Sunday at The Jerusalem Post Conference in New York City when former Mossad chief Meir Dagan sparred with Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan over Diskin’s comments.
Understandably, Diskin’s criticism – essentially a reiteration of a line taken publicly by Dagan after he stepped down as head of the Mossad last summer – has shaken up the political establishment.
Two seasoned military commanders and counterterrorism experts with impeccable credentials, privy to Israel’s most guarded secrets, have taken upon themselves to fight the predominant narrative put forward by the government vis-à-vis Iran and the Palestinians.
Both Dagan and Diskin, like any other serious leader interested in having an impact, are political animals. They understand the impact of their words. But it would be disingenuous to blame these two of acting solely in the name of narrow interests considering that during the long years in which they held their respective official positions, Diskin and Dagan remained out of the limelight and devoted themselves exclusively to defending their country.
With their long years of service behind them, the two apparently feel morally impelled to speak out against what they perceive to be existential dangers.
Unfortunately, instead of addressing the substance of Diskin’s and Dagan’s legitimate criticisms, the prime minister and the defense minister have attempted to rebuff them with personal jabs. Diskin is said to be motivated by bitterness for being passed over for the position he wanted, the head of the Mossad. Diskin and Dagan have been attacked by sources close to the prime minister for behaving “irresponsibly.”
BUT PERHAPS the most distasteful and undemocratic response to Diskin’s and Dagan’s outspokenness has been a legislative initiative that, if passed, would severely restrict the open debate and criticism that characterizes Israeli political discourse.
Dubbed the “Dagan Law,” the legislative initiative would prevent former security officials from making public comments on matters related to their field of expertise without authorization from the Defense Ministry. First drafted last year, the bill has garnered new interest in the aftermath of Diskin’s comments. MKs such as Miri Regev (Kadima), who drafted the original bill, and Danny Danon (Likud), among others, are pushing to get the Dagan Law passed. They claim to be out to defend Israel from the potential danger caused by irresponsible comments made by the likes of Dagan and Diskin.
But in actuality, stifling the free exchange of ideas and criticism among those most qualified to express these ideas and criticism is the real danger to Israel’s security.
After all, it was precisely the lack of independent thinking in the military establishment that created a collective misconception and led to Israel’s unpreparedness for the Yom Kippur War. Indeed, what makes robustly democratic, open societies so much stronger than their autocratic counterparts is their ability to exercise self-criticism, learn from mistakes and choose leaders in light of conclusions reached through open debate. If Dagan and Diskin, based on their deep familiarity with our military capabilities and high-level decision-making process, believe that it would be unwise for Israel to single-handedly attack Iran or that not enough is being done to advance peace with the Palestinians, not only should they have the right to say so; they have a moral obligation.
If critics of Dagan and Diskin think the two have given away national secrets, then they should call for them to be tried for espionage in accordance with the law. And if they think Dagan’s and Diskin’s analyses are wrong, then they should explain why. But the attempt to use legislation to silence men with many merits and priceless experience is unfair, undemocratic and dangerous.
By Jodi Rudoren, NY Times
JERUSALEM — The recently retired chief of Israel’s internal security agency accused the government of “misleading the public” about the likely effectiveness of an aerial strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, ratcheting up the criticism of Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak from the country’s security establishment.
Yuval Diskin, who retired last year as the director of Shin Bet, the Israeli equivalent of the F.B.I., said at a public forum on Friday night that he had “no faith” in the ability of the current leadership to handle the Iranian nuclear threat.
“I don’t believe in a leadership that makes decisions based on messianic feelings,” he told a gathering in Kfar Saba, a central Israeli city of 80,000. “I have observed them from up close,” he added, broadening his critique to include the handling of the Palestinian conflict as well. “I fear very much that these are not the people I’d want at the wheel.”
Analysts here say there has long been a rift between the elected leaders and the defense and intelligence professionals over the urgency of the Iran threat, the efficacy of an independent Israeli strike and its likely repercussions. But while the substance of Mr. Diskin’s case echoed that made in recent months by Meir Dagan, the former chief of the Mossad spy agency, the tone was far more blunt, biting and personal.
Coming on the heels of interviews in which the current head of the Israeli Defense Force, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, appeared to put some distance between himself and his superiors about the effectiveness of sanctions and the rationality of the Iranian government, Mr. Diskin’s remarks triggered a response equally harsh and personal from Mr. Netanyahu’s allies. The swift response appeared to be a sign that the growing volume of an internal debate that has been simmering for months was causing concern.
Officials from the minister of transportation to the one in charge of sports — though, notably, not key members of the security cabinet — decried Mr. Diskin’s comments and questioned his motives, with some saying he was upset not to have been tapped to replace Mr. Dagan at Mossad.
“The brusque and reckless statements made by Diskin attest mainly to the man himself,” said Shalom Simhon, minister of industry, labor and trade.
“His attack on the prime minister is liable to damage the State of Israel among people wishing it ill in the international arena,” added Limor Livnat, minister of culture and sports.
The timing of the critiques of the policy on Iran was largely coincidental: Mr. Gantz spoke during the chief of staff’s traditional Independence Day round of interviews, and Mr. Diskin, having promised to stay silent for a year after his retirement, spoke as the anniversary approached.
But they came as diplomatic and economic pressures on Iran are intensifying, and some analysts said they could feed into increasing doubts among the Israeli public about the advisability of an independent strike on Iran.
Shlomo Avineri, a political scientist at Hebrew University and former director general of the Foreign Ministry, said, “This is bringing the latent disagreement, which has been there for months, into the open, and it gives steam to the public debate.”
“This all fits into the fact that there is now a serious diplomatic effort to stop the Iranians, and obviously things are moving,” he said. “Four or five months ago, an Israeli leadership could say, look, nobody’s doing anything. You can’t say that anymore.”
At the same time, there is a growing sense that Israeli elections will be called this fall rather than next year. And while Mr. Netanyahu’s popularity remains all but impenetrable, coalition politics means a robust campaign filled with charged language nonetheless.
Meir Javedanfar, an Iranian-Israeli who runs the blog Middle East Analyst, said criticism of Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Barak’s approach was growing because they were “ignoring or downplaying” their own achievements in terms of winning support from the Obama administration and the international community, and instead “obsessing with the military option.”
“Netanyahu and Barak are becoming more isolated,” Mr. Javedanfar wrote in an e-mail interview. “The avalanche of public criticism of their Iran narrative is getting bigger and gathering more momentum.”
Though the Iranian government insists that its nuclear intentions are for civilian purposes, Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Barak have made it clear for months that they believe urgent action is needed to stop it from building a nuclear bomb. The two men are widely considered to be the key, if not lone, decision makers on the issue, but on Saturday, even as Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom expressed “faith in Barak and Netanyahu that they are handling the matter in an appropriate manner,” he made sure to reassure the public that “decisions are made by a broader forum.”
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, a crucial member of Mr. Netanhyahu’s coalition, joined the chorus of criticism of Mr. Diskin, saying that if he did not trust the leadership, he should have quit, and that on the matter of Iran, “all the chattering needs to stop.” But Mr. Lieberman also told Channel Two that his Yisrael Beiteinu party’s “commitment to the coalition” is over, and that a decision about elections should be made within weeks.
Nahum Barnea, a columnist for the leading Israeli daily Yediot Aharanot, said he did not believe that the attacks would do significant damage to Mr. Netanyahu politically, “but he sweats.”
“I don’t underestimate the importance of it,” Mr. Barnea said. “It is exported right away to every prime minister in the world. The Iranians read it. The Americans read it.”
Many here saw Mr. Diskin’s comments on the government’s dealings with the Palestinians, which was in his direct purview, as even more significant than those on Iran. While Mr. Netanyahu has insisted that the peace process is stalled because he does not have a willing partner, Mr. Diskin declared: “This government has no interest in talking with the Palestinians, period. It certainly has no interest in resolving anything with the Palestinians, period.”
Ronen Bergman, the Israeli author of the 2008 book “The Secret War With Iran,” said that Mr. Diskin’s words carried weight because he left the government in good standing with Mr. Netanyahu — unlike Mr. Dagan, who was forced out — and because he was widely respected “for being professional and honest and completely disconnected from politics.”
Yossi Shain, a political scientist at Tel Aviv University, said he had “no doubt it erodes Netanyahu and Barak’s standing,” but noted that “it’s always a question of alternatives” and that “the center is too fragmented at this stage” to pose any real threat.
Jonathan Rosen contributed reporting.
Richard Silverstein, Tikun Olam
I’ve noticed a rather remarkable phenomenon among Israeli intelligence chiefs and prime ministers. While in office they speak loads of rubbish. But once they leave, a cloud lifts and their minds clear and they become lucid, incisive, even brilliant. But of course, the problem is that they could’ve only benefited the nation from those brilliant insights they discovered after leaving office, while they were in office. It does themselves or Israel little good, for example, for Ehud Olmert to discover all the errors Israel made in not resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict after he left office.
What is it about Israeli leaders that causes them to be idiots while in office but savants after? Part of the issue is political: no Israeli leader can speak truthfully about national security issues unless they wish to destroy their political careers. Once they step down though, they have the luxury of hindsight and can speak candidly about everything they could and should’ve done while in power.
When I hear the compelling statements by Yuval Diskin (Hebrew and Jodi Rudoren’s NY Times coverage) in these videos (watch all of them if possible and you know Hebrew: here) of a talk he gave in Kfar Saba this week, I want to grab him by the lapels and say: “why didn’t you do or say any of these things when you had a chance to make a difference?” Of course, this is putting it wrong, because any political player who would say these things would not remain so for long.
Israel’s national security policy is made in a very small circle and hews to a very limited set of ideas. That is why Israel faces such a disastrous set of policy options in so many areas. If policymakers could entertain a wider set of political ideas the country would be far better off.
For example, in one of the videos Diskin notes the extraordinary decline in relations between Israeli Jews and the Palestinian minority. He deplores the benign neglect to which almost all Israeli prime ministers have subjected the Palestinian Israelis (with the exception of Yitzhak Rabin) since the creation of the State. He almost sounds like a flaming liberal.
Until you remember that this is the same Yuval Diskin who, in 2007, warned the very same Israeli Palestinians that if they lobbied for any major change in the Israeli state they would be viewed as enemies of the State and prosecuted as such. He even made clear that such punishment would be meted out to those Palestinian leaders and NGOs even if they violated no laws in advocating for their political ideas.
This is indeed what happened to Azmi Bishara and Ameer Makhoul, one of whom was hounded into exile and the other railroaded into prison for nine years for no other crime than advocating that Israel be a state for all its citizens. The outrageous prosecutions of these uppity Palestinian leaders happened on Diskin’s watch, and this can’t be whisked away.
Nonetheless, Jewish law says that one who repents sincerely from his sin must be respected as a true penitent. Therefore, I value Diskin’s “conversion” even if it came too late to impact the policy debate for good.
Much is made here by certain right-wing commenters of the supposedly equal sins of Israeli leftists and rightists. The claim is that we leftists pretend that we’re as pure as driven snow, while in truth we are just as violent and seditious as anyone on the right. I’ve always thought this was a particularly delusional and self-serving view and Diskin confirms my impression by noting there is no proportionality between the extreme left and right. The latter, he makes clear, is prepared to engage in far more violence than the left. What’s more, he warns that the rightist violence that brought about Rabin’s 1995 murder is not a thing of the past. It very much can happen again.
He also warns against complacency in believing that the only dangerous Jewish terrorists are in the settlements. He tells us that there are many just as dangerous within the Green Line. This is meant to shatter the equanimity of those Israelis who’d prefer to isolate the problem to settlers or settlements. The problem is, he warns, right here and within us. He also says that in the past 10-15 years Israeli society has become increasingly racist not just against Palestinians, but against foreigners and foreign workers. There is also an increasing tendency to use brute force in resolving conflicts not just related to the Occupation, but even in domestic situations having nothing to do with that.
Diskin also shatters the Likudist line that Israel is interested and ready for peace but there’s “no partner” on the Palestinian side. The former intelligence chief says that, in fact, it is the Netanyahu government that doesn’t want peace and that if the Palestinians came forward with a serious offer Israel would fly away as fast as its feet could carry it.
In another video segment from this speech, Diskin speaks candidly about the support network for Jewish terror. Among those who aid and abet it are the rabbinical leaders in the settlements and within the Green Line, who publicly defend or justify acts of hatred, while privately decrying and even denouncing them. In other words, Diskin is saying that the very leaders of the Israeli ultranationalist right who could rein in the violent rhetoric refuse to do so in any way that would make a difference (not so different, in fact, from Diskin refusing to speak truth to power while he was in office).
Yesterday, I reported that Diskin lambasted Netanyahu and Barak in this speech. And the counter-attack has begun, with Israel’s Bobsey Twin co-leaders calling the former Shin Bet chief disloyal and irresponsible (among the milder comments). But senior members of the security cabinet have also ralied to Diskin’s side and said that while they wouldn’t have expressed themselves as strongly, they too believe that Bibi and Barak are deceiving the Israeli people about the fallout that would come after an Israeli attack. If we compare this to an American cabinet, can you imagine a secretary conceding even anonymously that Leon Panetta and Barack Obama were lying to the American people about any matter related to national security? Though Israeli cabinets tend to be a lot more fractious than U.S. ones, this is still pretty eye-opening stuff.
In this Haaretz column (Hebrew), Amos Harel returns to the momentous 2010 cabinet meeting at which the military and intelligence chiefs presented a united front against a Bibi-Barak initiative to mount an attack on Iran. From this meeting, at which Meir Dagan, Diskin and Gabi Ashkenazi all spoke strongly against such an assault (and carried the day), flowed many of the critical developments of the two years following. The prime minister’s refusal to extend Dagan’s term, the former’s refusal to name Diskin to replace Dagan in the Mossad post, Bibi’s refusal to name Yitzhak Ilan as Diskin’s chosen successor at the Shin Bet as had been expected, and the subsequent crusade which Diskin and Dagan launched on regarding Iran, all derived from the 2010 showdown.
For those of you keeping score at home of who’s up and who’s down in the internal Israeli cabinet sweepstakes, Harel claims that the military-intelligence anti-war triad was intended to buttress an effort by Bogie Yaalon to oppose the government’s march to war. Given Yaalon’s profoundly rightist hawkish bias on all matters related to Israel’s Arab enemies, I found it surprising Yaalon would oppose such an attack. But my Israeli friends remind me that Barak and Yaalon, both former IDF chiefs of staff, detest each other. So for Yaalon, stymieing his nemesis in the latter’s march to war would be sweet revenge. In how many countries can you say that momentous affairs of state are driven and decided by such petty interpersonal conflicts?
Finally, there’s something quite amazing and typically Israeli about the backdrop for Diskin’s talk in these videos. He seems to be outdoors in the middle of Kfar Saba with scores of passersby looking on inquisitively at the event being filmed. It’s so informal, so democratic in a way for the nation’s leaders to be meeting with citizens in such a frank and open manner. Until of course you realize that Diskin would never have held such a meeting while in office. Only relatively powerless former officeholders take their cause to the people in such a fashion.
I can remember when I was a graduate student at the Hebrew University in 1979-80 and teaching myself to read Hebrew by reading every daily issue of Haaretz. In those days the paper was the loyal opposition to the Begin government and it lambasted him every chance it got. I was then perhaps more naive than now, and every article I read convinced me of the righteousness of Haaretz’s cause; and made me believe that the fall of the Likud could only be a matter of time.
But I learned then that no amount of powerful journalism or whistleblowing can bring down an Israeli government unless a series of other sometimes very extraneous factors also aligned favorably. Which means that in any other country the domestic and international intelligence directors uniting to attack the government might very well topple it. But in Israel, it’s unlikely to have a decisive impact on the stability of the government or even on the prospect of an attack on Iran. But Dagan and Diskin’s joint attacks will chip away at Bibi’s Teflon-Don reputation.
Thanks to Zohar Eitan, who first brought the video series to my attention and helped fill out some of the crucial content I omitted the first time I published this post.
Such recent statements by Israel’s former and current security chiefs show how seriously Netanyahu’s views are being challenged and how impatient many Israelis are for change.
By Patrick Seale, Middle East Online, Agence Global
Israel’s hard-line Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu is facing an unprecedented challenge. In office for more than three years, he had come to seem immovable. But leading figures of Israel’s security establishment, as well as prominent American Jews, have started openly to contest two of his most fundamental policies: his portrayal of Iran’s nuclear programme as an ‘existential’ danger to Israel, raising the spectre of an imminent Holocaust; and his steady expansion of Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian territory, with a view, as many suspect, of creating a ‘Greater Israel’.
The challenge to Netanyahu could have far-reaching consequences. For one thing, it appears to have removed any likelihood of an early Israeli attack on Iran, such as Netanyahu has threatened and trumpeted for a year and more; for another, it has revived the possibility of a two-state solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a solution many had thought moribund, if not actually dead.
Netanyahu’s most virulent critics happen to be some of Israel’s most decorated army and intelligence chiefs. For example, Yuval Diskin, recently retired as the head of Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service, told a meeting in late April that he had “no confidence in the current leadership of the State of Israel, which could lead Israel into a war with Iran or a regional war.” He accused Netanyahu and Defence Minister Ehud Barak of taking decisions “based on messianic sentiments. …I saw them up close, they are not Messiahs…These are not people whose hands I would like to have on the steering- wheel.” Far from ending Iran’s nuclear programme, Diskin predicted that an Israeli attack on Iran could result in “a dramatic acceleration of Iran’s nuclear programme.”
Israel’s current Chief of Staff, Lt Gen Benny Gantz, is another senior officer who has openly contested Netanyahu’s apocalyptic rhetoric. “I think the Iranian leadership is composed of very rational people,” he told the Haaretz newspaper in April, adding that he did not believe Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei would “want to go the extra mile” to acquire nuclear weapons. Mossad’s current chief, Tamir Pardo, has also contradicted Netanyahu by stating that Iran did not pose an existential threat to the Jewish state.
For his part, Meir Dagan, a celebrated former Mossad chief, has ridiculed Netanyahu’s war-mongering by saying that the idea of attacking Iran was ‘the stupidest thing I have ever heard,’ and that a pre-emptive Israeli strike would be ‘reckless and irresponsible.’ In an interview with Ben Caspit of Ma’ariv on 27 April, he also inveighed against the small parties in Natanyahu’s coalition which, with their own narrow agendas, rob the Prime Minister of any real freedom of action because, to keep his coalition alive, he must bow to their wishes.
Dagan was particularly critical of the Haredim, members of the most conservative form of Orthodox Judaism, who do not serve in the army, pay less tax than other Israelis, and seek to promote sex segregation in Israel — and also in New York! Dagan believes that “the spirit of the law” demands “an equal distribution of the burden among all the citizens.” The Haredim, he declared, should be compelled to serve in the army, while the Arabs of Israel should also serve, if not in the army, then in the police, the fire brigade, or in Magen David Adom, the Israeli equivalent of the Red Cross or Red Crescent. Ephraim Halevy, another former Mossad chief, has also stated publicly that “ultra-orthodox radicalization poses a bigger threat than [Iranian President] Ahmadinehad.” He, too, has declared that Iran poses no existential danger to Israel.
Shaul Mofaz, a former chief of staff and defence minister and now the new head of Kadima, Israel’s centre party, said recently on television that an attack on Iran could be disastrous. Netanyahu, he argued scathingly, “wants to create an image that he is the protector of Israel.” He accused the prime minister of using Iran as a tool to divert attention from last September’s protests, when 450,000 Israelis poured into the streets of Tel Aviv to demand social justice.
Such recent statements by Israel’s former and current security chiefs show how seriously Netanyahu’s views are being challenged and how impatient many Israelis are for change.
On the Palestine question, two remarkable articles, published in the International Herald Tribune on April 25 (reproduced from the New York Times), also point to a wave of new thinking among prominent Jews. In one article, Ami Ayalon, a former commander of the Israeli Navy and a former head of Shin Bet, advocates a “radically new unilateral approach” to the Palestine problem, which would set “the conditions for a territorial compromise based on the principle of two states for two people, which is essential for Israel’s future as both a Jewish and a democratic state.”
To promote his ideas and rally supporters, Ayalon has created an organisation called Blue White Future. He argues that Israel does not need to wait for a final-status deal with the Palestinians. Instead, it should renounce all territorial claims east of the West Bank security barrier, end all settlement construction there, as well as in Arab East Jerusalem, and plan to re-locate to Israel 100,000 settlers who live beyond the barrier. Israel, he says, should “enact a voluntary compensation and absorption law for settlers east of the fence.” In the absence of an accord with the Palestinians, he believes Israel should begin to create a two-state reality on the ground.
On the same page of the International Herald Tribune, Stephen Robert, a prominent Jewish philanthropist and former investment banker, now chairman of the Source of Hope Foundation, calls for a “reset” in Jewish thinking. Israel, he argues, is no longer “a vulnerable little state.” It has become “the most powerful military force in the Middle East.” Its existence is threatened, however, by the fact that it “has occupied the territory of 4 million Palestinians for over 40 years. Virtually imprisoned the Palestinians lack freedom of movement and civil or political rights. They are subject to imprisonment without charges. They often lack water and jobs and are citizens of nowhere…”
In a passionate appeal, he added: “Israelis must understand that in liberating the Palestinians they will also liberate themselves… A state that persecutes, deprives and denies its neighbours in a manner so similar to what our tormentors did to us cannot be acceptable.”
Peter Beinart’s recent book, The Crisis of Zionism (Times Books 2012) provides yet another indication of the growing realisation among Jews that Israel has taken a wrong turn and must urgently change course. Beinart advocates boycotting products from Israel’s illegal settlements in the occupied territories — as a UK supermarket chain, the Co-Operative Group, the country’s fifth largest food retailer, has just done.
At a time when Israel is celebrating its 64th birthday, something like a wind of change is blowing through the minds of its most senior security officials and some of its most fervent overseas supporters. The Palestinians, and the Arab world as a whole, should hurry to respond positively to this most welcome development.
Patrick Seale is a leading British writer on the Middle East. His latest book is The Struggle for Arab Independence: Riad el-Solh and the Makers of the Modern Middle East (Cambridge University Press).