Israel's New Hope?
By: P. David Hornik
Thursday, August 24, 2006

Finally, a leader who believes, "The best defense is a good offense."

“We are tired of fighting, we are tired of being courageous, we are tired of winning, we are tired of defeating our enemies, we want that we will be able to live in an entirely different environment of relations with our enemies. We want them to be our friends, our partners, our good neighbors, and I believe that this is not impossible.”


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“The best defense is a good offense, not a fence. The best way to deal with terrorists is to arrest them or kill them in their beds. . . . what we are doing is leaving a legacy for the next generation that will [have to] deal with Palestinians who believe that terrorism pays, that Israel cuts and runs under pressure. . . . we must stop getting used to these constant missile attacks as if they are rain. . . .  I do not see any prospect for peace and reconciliation on the Palestinian side. I needed no sophisticated intelligence to reach this conclusion; I only had to look at their textbooks, posters and so on.”


The first quotation is, of course, from a speech by Ehud Olmert, now Israeli prime minister, to New York’s Israel Policy Forum on June 9, 2005. The second quotation is from a speech by former IDF chief of staff Moshe Yaalon to Manhattan’s Lincoln Square Synagogue on May 8, 2006.


Although Olmert did not behave as a pacifist in the Second Lebanon War, he did show either an aversion to winning or a bungling inability to reach that result. Instead, the outcome of a month of hostilities that took the lives of 150 Israelis is that Hezbollah is already retrenching itself in southern Lebanon under constant resupply from its patrons while the UN fiddles, the Lebanese army dawdles, and France tries to make up its mind to send an intimidating force of two hundred troops.


That outcome is stirring bitterness and protest in Israel, especially among soldiers who feel they were, indeed, denied the chance of “defeating our enemies” and instead were sent on confusing, costly, sometimes pointless missions. With a state commission of inquiry possibly in the works and accusations being leveled at Olmert and associates from various places on the political spectrum, the future of his young government is already in doubt.


Meanwhile the second of the above speakers, Moshe Yaalon, told Israel Television Monday night that “Unfortunately this [war] reflects ills that must be dealt with. I expect those who should take responsibility to take responsibility and not shift it to those who are under them”—a clear reference to Olmert, Defense Minister Amir Peretz, and Chief of Staff Dan Halutz, who have all tried to blame IDF commanders for the blunders of the war.


Yaalon, who has completed a fellowship at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, is returning to Israel on Thursday to begin a fellowship at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem. But Israel Radio reported on Tuesday that he intends to join the Likud Party, as its leader Binyamin Netanyahu has been trying to get him to do, and could become Netanyahu’s candidate for defense minister.


For many of those deeply worried about Israel’s course over the past decade and a half, which has led from the Oslo disaster to the disengagement fiasco to the Lebanon imbroglio, Yaalon is a ray of hope. Though from a kibbutz background that usually fosters wishful, conciliatory views toward the jihadist siege, Yaalon as chief of staff under Prime Minister Ariel Sharon proved himself a realist who saw through the faulty assumptions of the disengagement.


For that clarity of vision he was denied a customary year’s extension as chief of staff and had to step down on June 1, 2005, before the disengagement got under way. It was, in effect, a dismissal that shocked Israel’s military and political establishment. Since becoming chief of staff at the height of the Oslo Terror War in 2002, Yaalon was credited with crafting a strategy that eventually substantially reduced the attacks and dealt harsh blows to Hamas and other terror groups.   

Since then Yaalon, in speeches and articles, has shown an impressive depth. Any lingering doubts about his position on the disengagement were put to rest when he told Haaretz (quoted on ynetnews) last July 6 that “The disengagement was a strategic mistake of the first order. It brought about Hamas’s victory. It emboldened terror groups. It has fueled the Palestinian struggle for years. It created a feeling among the Iranians, the Muslim Brotherhood, and al-Qaeda that Israel can be beaten.”

In a more general vein, he also said in the Lincoln Square Synagogue speech last May:

“From the dawn of Zionism until this day, the source of all terrorist attacks has been the refusal of the Arab world to recognize Israel’s existence. Until this changes, we will remain the target of violent terrorist activity. The ’67 borders are not a solution to rocket attacks, suicide bombs or more conventional forms of warfare. The two-state solution has failed and to my mind is now irrelevant. Even before the Hamas victory, a two-state solution was a mistaken fantasy—now it’s even more irrelevant.”

And in a wide-ranging discussion of Israel’s situation last spring in the Shalem Center’s journal Azure, Yaalon also focused, most significantly of all, on the Israeli side of the equation:

“To complicate matters, the Israeli public debate, including the core of the decision-making elites, has been permeated by post-Zionist claims which are aimed at undermining the Zionist narrative. Some of these claims reflect an ideology that repudiates the belief in a Jewish state; some are a product of historical ignorance; some reflect a kind of wishful thinking; some a reflexive self-incrimination as a response to perceived helplessness; and some simply reflect the poll-driven considerations of political manipulation.”

To that acute description Yaalon added the insight that “Our enemies draw encouragement from Israeli self-doubt. The greatest challenge facing the State of Israel, therefore, is to restore to Israeli society its faith in the righteousness of its path.”

As Yaalon told Israel Television Monday night, “I have a lot to say and I will say it when I return to Israel.” Those of us who still hope Israel can recover from the devastation wrought by leaders like Rabin, Peres, Barak, Sharon, and Olmert will be listening to what Yaalon has to say. And hoping he gets the chance to act on it.

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P. David Hornik is a freelance writer and translator living in Beersheva. He blogs at http://pdavidhornik.typepad.com/. He can be reached at pdavidh2001@yahoo.com.