Wednesday, December 14, 2005
General Yaalon recently retired after 37 years in the Israeli Defense Forces. For the last 5 years he was the IDF's Chief of Staff and Head of IDF Intelligence, and was primarily responsible for fighting the Intifada II.
I will summarize his remarks:
1) The recent American involvement in the Middle East by the Bush Administration has launched "an earthquake" in the region.
2) There is a fundamental "clash of values" at stake. Western, Judeo-Christian values focus on finding happiness during one's time here on Earth. There is a war within Islam at the moment to determine its future, but the dominant articulated version seeks happiness in death. This is a fundamental difference that is as it stands irreconcileable. This can only be resolved over a very long period of time, through education and prosperity.
3) The American insistence on a democratization path for Iraq and other Arab nations is itself an earthquake, and without it the region cannot be made healthy and integrated into the world. He spoke at length about accountability -- and that Arab national leadership has NEVER been accountable to its people. As a result, they must instead blame outsiders for their misery, and that invariably leads to blaming the US and Israel for everything. By creating representative and constitutional government in Iraq, Arab voters are taking a first step in taking responsibility for their own welfare. He said the same extraordinary thing is now happening peacefully in Lebanon. And he observed specifically about Lebanon that their elections have been free of anti-Zionist rhetoric, focusing instead on economic priorities and disarming Hezbollah. That is, people are demanding that elected leaders deliver the goods rather than blaming Israel. On this he seemed remarkably optimistic.
4) He referred to military action as "cutting the grass" versus "getting at the roots." His point was that, while the region requires a reasonable amount of grass cutting, education is the only treatment that will get at the roots of the values clash. And this will take at least one generation.
5) On the issue of peace between Israel and Palestine, he was very pessimistic in the short term. He said the current Palestinian leadership, like Arafat before him, does not recognize Israel's right to exist. The reason Arafat ultimately rejected a partition plan is that they continue to harbor a dream of a single, Arab Palestine. He observed that this should come as no surprise, as the Palestinian Arabs have now rejected three partition plans - 1937, 1947 and 1991. The answer is they don't want partition. They don't want to coexist with Israel.
Yaalon believes that following Palestinian election on Jauary 25th, Hamas will end its cease fire and step up attacks again. Other Palestinian gangs continue attacks currently. Furthermore, he observed that, in order to have a peaceful and stable two-state solution, Palestine needs "one leadership, one law and one 'gun' (army)". Today it has "one leader, no law, and many gangs." No peace is possible undeer those circumstances.
He is pessimistic about Gaza. They are receiving freely and openly arms and financing into Gaza today as the border is not patrolled by Iarael. And they are working to infiltrate the West Bank as well.
6) On Israeli conventional military capability - "we have never been in a better position in our history than we are today." As a result of the bankruptcy of the Soviet Union, Israel's adversaries have outmoded conventional military. And no money. It is this massive overwhelming conventional superiority which has given rise to the emphasis on terrorism and WMD on the part of their regional adversaries.
7) On Iran - the current Iranian leadership "is doing Israel a favor." Ahmadenijad is simply "telling the truth." Whereas Arafat and other opponents of Israeli existence would seek to dissemble on their core objectives - for instance Arafat would say completely different things is Arabic versus English - the President of Iran is taking a public position which forces the UN, Europe and even Russia to condemn him and isolate Iran. Israel and the US could never do that on their own. In effect, by publicly embracing the concept of the elimination of Israel, Iran helps to give Israel the moral high ground which the UN, elements in Europe and certainly Russia would otherwise deny. As before 1967, it again puts Israel in the public "right."
8) Iran is within months of attaining a nuclear weapon. It could be two months, it could be 12 or 18 months -- this depends on their own competence rather than receipt of new implements. They have produced material for 4 bombs and are seeking material for 4 more. They are not years away.
9) Israel is prepared to take military action, and can reach every single target they know about. They would prefer negotiations, led by Europe, to succeed. He referred to a local expression -- sometimes you don't just talk, you "explain." Explain is code for the use of "the stick."
10) On dealing with terror as a military tactic:
a) The best defense is a good offense -- Intifada II was successful against Israel until the April 2002 Passover bombing. At that moment, Israel went on offense, and Intifada II ultimately failed, at a high cost to the Palestinians. In addition to a good offense, you should have a perimeter fence and a defense.
b) "We prefer to arrest than kill" -- it gives us intelligence and mitigates resentment. But we kill if we must, without remorse. This is war.
c) To achieve long run success, you must have effective human intelligence, signal intelligence and visual intelligence, and you must have integration of these disciplines. You must have real-time information dominance from the top to the field, and you must have operational flexibility and creativity in the field. The challenge is to be able to capture or kill low profile, transient targets, as opposed to high profile fixed targets (he was comparing to conventional combat).
In all, he projected tremendous capability and confidence, impressive intellect and a high sense of morality. His discourse was full of moral reflection and moral thinking. He was politically correct only insofar as he would not either criticize or laud American action. He was unafraid of criticism -- in this sense, you felt like you were hearing from somebody who had heard it all. He was ultimately a realist -- he has been in every Israeli conflict since 1968 -- so he's used to it.
Makes you think we should all go back and read Weber's Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. If eschatological concerns are at the root of these differences, however, I fear that no end will ever be in sight.