Sunday, March 17, 2013

Concerning Iran we will sleep at night

16 March '13..

[Dr. Aaron Lerner - IMRA: On numerous occasions, as PM Netanyahu toiled to form his coalition government, he indicated his frustration that while the key challenge on the agenda is Iran, others appeared driven by a variety of other concerns.

Were the others petty or suffering from misplaced priorities?

That would be the case if Lapid, Bennett, etc. had a significant difference of opinion on Iran.

But there's every indication that they are all on the same page as Netanyahu with regard to Iran.

The same goes for the Israeli street.

On second thought, the Israeli street has an even better reason not to spend much time on Iran: we have the maturity to recognize that in sharp contrast to other policy issues - including Palestinian-Israeli affairs - when it
comes to Iran we simple citizens don't have access to the kind of information needed to seriously participate in the policy debate.

And that's ok.

The people we recently elected to set and implement policy do have the information. By the same token, the people we recently elected who will sit in the Knesset oversight subcommittee also have the information.

We can sleep at night. Perhaps sometimes it is a blessing not being in the loop...]


(While disagreeing with some of Amir Rapaport's points, overall this is an excellent introduction for those unfamiliar with our new Minister of Defense, Moshe Ya'alon. And as Dr. Lerner mentioned above, I will be able to sleep better knowing that Ya'alon as well others will be giving their full attention to what will be required of them, G-d bless them all. Yosef)

The Ya’alon Plan: Israel's Man for Iran

Once the new Israeli government is sworn in, a new minister of defense will enter the ministry – Lt. Gen. (Res.) Moshe “Bogi” Ya’alon. What is on the agenda and how will Ya’alon fulfill his strategic perspective against the threats facing Israel?

Amir Rapaport 15/3/2013

“I don’t envy you,” said Moshe Ya’alon to the head of the IDF’s Directorate of Military Intelligence, Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi. This was several months ago, when Kochavi presented the Directorate’s 2013 assessment to the Israeli government. “When I headed the intelligence directorate, everything was easier. When I began my role, I received organized files about Hafez al-Assad, Yasser Arafat, Hassan Nasrallah, and other regional leaders. When I was done, I moved the files onwards. Now, everything is changing in the Middle East, at a dizzying rate, and no file is relevant. Briefs concerning new, unknown figures need to be prepared all the times, like the files about the leaders of the Syrian opposition."

Ya’alon said these words as a member of the political-security cabinet and as the Israeli minister for strategic affairs in the previous Netanyahu administration. Unless there are unreasonable developments, he will march this Monday on a red carpet towards the bureau of minister of defense. Ya’alon will become Kochavi’s boss, and on top of the Middle Eastern concerns, primarily Iran, he will also face the key social issue of solving the recruitment of Haredim into IDF service.

Will Ya’alon send the IDF to attack in Iran? Will he revolutionize the military? It is possible to assess his plans based on recent conversations that he held and his expressions as the minister of strategic affairs. This is not a challenging task, as Ya’alon is not a complicated character. His heart and mouth are usually the same - when he says something, he means it, even if the expressions sometimes involve some sort of complication (as IDF Chief of Staff in the past decade, his sayings got him into entanglements more than once).


Ya'alon won’t have that much to learn about the job from Ehud Barak, Israel's minister of defense for the past six years. The mutual appreciation between the two is not particularly high. Barak did not wait this week for the formal announcement by the new government in order to say farewell. The General Staff’s Planning Branch prepared presentations and tried to convince him until the very last moment so that he would influence Netanyahu not to dramatically cut the defense budget in the next government (a cut will happen in any case). However, Barak was concerned with IDF departure ceremonies and the ceremony held by the defense ministry on Wednesday. Barak packed his office belongings, and has prepared to march into the sunset with his wife for days of fun and business. He may yet return to the arena, when he feels like doing so, or when called to do so in the future.

Ya’alon doesn’t need to study much – he has been living the field of defense 24/7, and it is what secured him the topmost role in the third Netanyahu administration. Should there be a defensive complication, it will be on his head - no one will blame Netanyahu for a failed appointment.

The main characteristic of the period when Moshe Ya’alon is entering the role of minister of defense is the lack of regional stability - lack of stability in Egypt, Syria and even in Jordan, and with terrorism returning to the Judea and Samaria region. The borders have once again become frontier regions, with terror organizations such as Global Jihad located on the other side (only in Syria and Sinai so far). Strategic weaponry is still being accumulated in Israel’s surroundings, despite mysterious attacks in places like Sudan and Syria, attributed by global media to the IDF. These include inaccurate rockets with seven kilogram warheads, as well as missiles with warheads containing hundreds of kilograms of explosives, capable of hitting specific targets, even from a distance of 300 kilometers. Such missiles include the Yakhont shore-to-sea missile that Russia provided to Syria, which may have even been acquired by Hezbollah, for example.

The general public does not yet understand the full significance of this threat. In a paradoxical manner, the calmest border at this time is the one with Lebanon. Hezbollah has almost completely constrained its fire - in the past year, it renewed its activities somewhat, and even worked to provide hundreds of kilograms of explosives to terror cells in Israel. The ceasefire with Nasrallah does not necessarily a result of his fear of the IDF, as people in Israel tend to think since the Second Lebanon War in 2006. He is more afraid of losing his Iranian patrons, who built up his forces as a threat aimed at Israel for the event that Iran’s nuclear facilities are attacked. Tehran’s Revolutionary Guards have deprived Nasrallah of the authority to initiate major offensive activities against Israel on his own, so as not to drag Israel into a conflict and waste the weaponry arsenal on what they consider to be nonsense.

In many regards, Ya’alon as minister of defense and his chief of staff Gantz are of the same mind. Both are paratroopers in their hearts, and they are not the more rugged kind that the Golan brigade usually produces. As chief of staff, Gantz holds thinking forums while dressed in civilian clothes, so that the participants will be able to speak freely without fear of ranks. When Ya’alon was chief of staff, he held forums where the order of the speakers was not according to rank, from the lowest rank and up to the highest ranking person who concludes the debate (in such debates, the junior officers usually say what the commander is expected to say at the end more than what they really think).

In his first year as minister of defense, Ya’alon will need to formally approve the IDF's five-year plan for force buildup, known as “Oz.” Barak successfully maneuvered the government as minister of defense to increase the defense budget, even in years where Netanyahu and Treasury Minister Steinitz dramatically announced budgetary cuts.

As chief of staff, Moshe Ya’alon founded the C4I Branch a decade ago, and may work to strengthen it as minister of defense. During Ya'alon's term, the Ground Forces branch will not rest easily; There are essential facts that are etched into Ya'alon's memory: eventually, the majority of infantry forces arrive to the battlefield by foot or in soft vehicles. He himself made it to the crossing of the Suez canal during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, by bus, and entered Lebanon by foot during Operation Litani as a paratrooper company commander. As head of the minister’s committee for the IDF’s force build-up affairs in the previous government, Ya’alon blocked part of the plans for acquiring Merkava tanks and Namer APCs. The original IDF plans for acquiring armored instruments were reduced due to pressures from Israeli ministers.

Fewer Iron Dome Systems

The new minister of defense is not among the enthusiastic fans of the Iron Dome system, nor of the other systems for intercepting enemy missiles. He is interested in the Iron dome and the David’s Sling systems, but in a reasonable amount, and not in numbers that necessitate enormous budgets and manpower, even if most of the funding continues to come from the US.

It seems that during the Ya’alon period, the IDF will suffice with the master plan of acquiring 13 Iron Dome batteries (five batteries are already operational today). Grandiose plant for filling Israel with Iron Dome batteries which were considered under Ehud Barak will be taken away.

Bogi and Bibi

It seems that more than Netanyahu wanted Ya’alon as his defense minister, the appointment was one that was forced upon him, despite the fact that the connection between them goes back dozens of years.

The Netanyahu-Barak team left behind one unfinished mission: halting the Iranian pursuit of a nuclear bomb. Now, the mission to halt the Iranian bomb falls to the hands of Ya'alon as well. In contrast to what is commonly thought, Ya'alon is not an opponent of an Israeli strike in Iran – nor is he one of those supporting such an attack. It all depends on the circumstances, the issue and the chances of success. The truth is that at the current point in time, Israel lacks a genuine military option for attacking Iran. If an attack does occur, moments before Iran gets to a bomb, it will be done by the US, and not by Israel.

In a recent interview published by IsraelDefense, Ya’alon said that “the most dangerous threat today is the nuclear threat on the part of Iran, which is working to achieve regional hegemony. It is funding terrorist activities in our region and sending its long arms here. It is impossible to deal with the Middle Eastern instability without dealing with this threat - it must be at the top of our priorities, not necessarily the Palestinian-Israeli issue, and we need to prepare for defending ourselves.

“However, this does not necessarily mean war in the next year. Ahmadinejad must be presented with a very simple dilemma – nuclear weapons or regime survival. Iran faced this dilemma in 2003, and at the time, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei halted the nuclear project so as not to give the West an excuse for an attack, after the entry of US forces into Iraq and Afghanistan. Iran knows that the West has far greater capabilities than it does, but it is not convinced of the Western willingness to fight it. It’s possible that the 2003 dilemma may be restored today, but for that to happen, much more severe sanctions must be imposed on Iran, which is something that has yet to happen.” In general, Ya'alon is familiar with the Iranian issue. As minister for strategic affairs, it was at the core of his dealings, and even managed many contacts with the US.

With regards to the Palestinian issue, the US may not find Ya’alon so amicable. As is his custom, he will tell the US what he thinks, and his opinions of the head of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazzen), and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad are nothing special. 20 years ago, Ya’alon supported the Oslo Agreement, which he retroactively defined as “a Trojan horse” when he was IDF chief of staff. Today, he does not believe that Abu Mazzen and Fayyad are genuinely working to end the conflict, and repeatedly reminds the fact that they completely rejected generous proposals from former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.

Citizen or General

Nine years away from the Kiriya HQ, including nine months in a Washington research institute, have changed Ya'alon. In the Chief of Staff's bureau, he did not excel in selecting teammates. His aides established a fortified wall around him, cutting him off from the lower ranks.

As a politician, he surprised people with his endless informal meetings with members of the Likud HQ, even if he was not thrilled with wandering about the party branches. As minister of defense, Ya'alon is expected to appoint Maj. Gen. Dan Harel as director general, and bring with him some people from the ministry of strategic affairs, including ministry director general, Brig. Gen. (Res.) Yossi Kuperwasser.

The beehive built around him will affect his success as minister of defense, perhaps more than anything else.

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