...That is why I have stopped short of telling people whom they should vote for or against. Every person should make his or her decision privately. Too bad these respected officers diminished their ranks through political manipulation. Important as those ranks are, it is more important that they stay away from politics.
16 March '15..
Some of my former colleagues -- former major generals and veterans of the intelligence community -- have recently launched a campaign against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. I am still baffled by their move, because they keep attacking him from the right (one of their common refrains is "why wasn't Hamas destroyed in Gaza?") even though they seek to bolster the Left. For all their right-wing rhetoric, though, they haven't called on voters to support Habayit Hayehudi and Yisrael Beytenu.
I believe I am duty-bound to answer their questions because I served as Netanyahu's national security adviser for more than two years. Of course, he called the shots, but I believe I helped shape his decisions. Sometimes my views were rejected, but I was always given an opportunity to explain their merit.
I will first tackle the Gilad Schalit prisoner swap. The details of the case go beyond specific policy decisions, because the deal revolved around moral issues that related to our social fabric. There was immense pressure from within Israeli society, which proved critical. Those who have criticized this move did not voice a categorical dissent at the time. If they truly believed it was the wrong thing to do, why didn't do the bare minimum to help the people who wanted to torpedo the deal? And also, why did some of them praise it? Such conduct shows hypocrisy on their part.
Now I will answer the questions surrounding Hamas. They keep asking, "How could Israel turn a blind eye as Hamas dug its tunnels? Why wasn't the organization dealt a crushing blow?" The advice I dispensed at the time centered on the premise that Israel would be ill-served by initiating hostilities unless there was an obvious pretext. Although I usually used this argument when there was concern over Hamas' rocket capabilities, its rationale applied just as well when it came to the tunnels. Unfortunately, under the current circumstances, Israel cannot afford to take such preemptive action without first obtaining clear-cut legitimacy, because of the large number of Palestinian fatalities it would involve. In fact, even Israeli public opinion may be hostile to such a move, considering that it may result in dozens of Israeli soldiers getting killed. Only irresponsible leaders would risk forfeiting Israel's legitimacy -- the same legitimacy that allows Israel to use force when it is most needed -- just for the sake of launching such a premeditated campaign. Such a decision would show a lack of understanding when it comes to the proper use of force and the timing of such action.
Destroying Hamas provides for great incendiary rhetoric, but such slogans should be not be uttered by levelheaded individuals because they lack real substance. It is just very strange to hear such language from people who supported the Oslo Accords and the Gaza pullout in 2005. Was it not the Right that warned against those two moves? Was it not those very officials who dismissed those warnings by touting their military decorations and experience? Such conduct shows a loose grasp on reality and intellectual dishonesty.
As for the Golan Heights, Hezbollah's weapon buildup and the terrorist attacks in Jerusalem -- the questions on these issues do not deserve an answer. The prime minister should not be blamed for the geopolitical upheaval in the Middle East. We should all be thankful for his wise decision to keep Israel out of this terrible mess. He is not responsible for Syria President Bashar Assad's growing dependence on Hezbollah, to the point that Syria is willing to work overtime for the organization. The prime minister cannot prevent random attacks by lone-wolf terrorists. The attacks on him on these issues are just another way of maligning him. Would any of those critics endorse a pre-emptive strike -- right now -- against Hezbollah? Would they support imposing a curfew on the Arabs in Jerusalem in a way that would prevent their free movement in the capital?
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As for Iran, I would like to quote a publication that is anything but pro-Netanyahu: The Economist. "He kept Iran’s nuclear program at the forefront of world attention," the magazine wrote on Saturday. This encapsulates the entire Netanyahu narrative: had he not conducted himself is such a vocal and "annoying" matter, no one would have taken on this matter with such urgency. When it turned out that the U.S. is about to sign a very bad deal -- contrary to what the anti-Netanyahu critics had predicted --- Israel was left with three choices: to accept the American dictate with resignation and hold backroom talks to see what Israel would get for its silence; to lie low and then, when time comes, use our own capabilities against Iran; or, as Netanyahu did, to speak out forcefully against the deal. He figured it would be better to go out against U.S. President Barack Obama now and lay the groundwork for Israeli action, despite the damage this may incur on Israel's relations with the U.S. This, in turn, would help prevent a bad deal. You can say a lot of things about Netanyahu, but you cannot say his actions were irrational or less worthy than what others have proposed. I am sure his detractors on this matter would have been more understanding had they been better informed.
Finally, the Palestinians: This is a complex issue, and it involves emotions and interests on both sides. On this issue, ideology and gut feeling sometimes carry as much weight as common sense. Is only Israel to blame for the failed peace talks? Were the Palestinians willing to accept the peace offers presented by former prime ministers Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak? Is there any chance that they will accept the minimum demands set by Netanyahu's challengers? I assume some of the critics know the answer to these questions is no, no and no. But they couldn't care less because all they wanted to do was embarrass Netanyahu.
One of the critics claimed the Israel Defense Forces would be able to defend any border that emerged from the negotiations. This statement holds no water because sometimes you cannot fight terrorism at the border (in case you forgot: Israel had to reconquer Judea and Samaria in 2002 to stop the wave of terrorists attacks). It is very sad to see such professionally misguided comments be used for the sake of political mudslinging.
I would like to end with a personal statement. I believe former high-ranking military officials inflict substantial damage by engaging in such political action. That is why I refused to join an organization of right-wing veterans that would "defend the prime minister." It is bad for the IDF, because it creates partisan rancor among the service members. It is bad for Israeli politics, because people might think major generals are more qualified than ordinary citizens when it comes to political matters. It is also bad for the high-ranking military officials. They have entered the political fray but expect people to treat them as apolitical spectators.
That is why I have stopped short of telling people whom they should vote for or against. Every person should make his or her decision privately. Too bad these respected officers diminished their ranks through political manipulation. Important as those ranks are, it is more important that they stay away from politics.