A 2005 interview with then Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Moshe Ya’alon is the most candid and insightful statement of any public figure I have read since making aliyah in 1976.
What the Chief of Staff has to say
Chief of Staff Ya’alon attributes Israel’s plight to the weakness of its society, and not (contrary to fact) to the shortcomings of its political leadership and institutions (which of course he dared not criticize under the circumstances, i.e. as a member of the Government).
Ya’alon said the Arabs believe that Israeli society cannot tolerate much loss of life, and that this encouraged them to circumvent the unbeatable Israel Defense Forces and attack Israeli society by terrorism, more precisely, by a sustained war of attrition, which they believed would lead to Israel’s collapse.
But surely it is not Israeli society, which has adorned enormous loss of life, so much as Israel’s Government that is primarily at fault. Israel’s elected leaders have failed (1) to teach the nation of the implacable nature of her enemies on the one hand, and (2) to articulate a clear sense of Jewish national purpose on the other. No Government of Israel has done this in an intellectually serious and concrete way, at least not in the last 26 years.
Israel’s morale,Chief of Staff Ya’alon suggested in that 2005 interview, began to decline with the failure of Operation Peace for Galilee in Lebanon in 1982. But as Prof. Wolf Pearlman and I have documented, it was Shimon Peres, the eminence grise of Peace Now, that undermined the Begin Government in that war. In addition to encouraging Peace Now demonstrations, Peres went abroad and actually persuaded foreign governments to pressure Israel to stop the war when he, Peres, knew the war was virtually won.
Another example of decline mentioned by Chief of Staff Ya’alon was the Government’s (unprecedented) exchange 1,150 Arab terrorists in 1984 for three Israeli soldiers captured by the Jabril terrorist group during the Lebanese war. Yitzhak Rabin was Defense Minister at the time, and publicly said, in effect, “It’s not easy to resist the appeals of the parents of the three Israelis held by Jabril.” Of course it’s not easy, but we expect toughness – not sentimentality – from a Defense Minister concerned about the nation as a whole, and whether the nation is perceived by its enemies as pussy cats or as tigers!
And then there was the retreat from Lebanon in 2000, which Ya’alon obviously deemed a dreadful mistake. That retreat confirmed the enemy’s belief in the softness of Israeli society: it could not endure the death of 25 soldiers a year. Yes, but it was Prime Minister Ehud Barak who yielded to the “Four Mother’s” movement and ordered that ignominious retreat. That retreat encouraged Arafat to commence the al-Aqsa War.
Do not blame Israeli society
To show how misleading it is to fault Israeli society for Israel’s present plight, let me recount a most revealing exchange between Shimon Peres and MK Yossi Beilin during a Labor Party Central Committee meeting the month Sharon was elected prime minister (February 2001). Peres implored the delegates, “We must listen to the people and join in a national unity government,” to which Beilin replied: “Since when have we ever listened to the people?!?”
How true! Some 65% of the people opposed recognition of the PLO prior to the 1992 elections, the elections that brought Rabin and Peres to power and enabled them to conclude the disastrous Oslo Agreement.
And when 63% of the people gave Sharon an overwhelming victory in the February 2001 election, a victory that signaled a NO to Oslo, what did Sharon do but appoint Oslo’s architect Shimon Peres as foreign minister! As for Peres listening to the people, 85% opposed his meeting with Arafat after the election, but that did not stop him from embracing that arch-murderer.
Unfortunately, various generals have said in the past, “The people are tired of war.” That’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. Studies indicate that an increasing majority of the people feel powerless. What too few people understand, however, is that Israel’s governing institutions MAKE them powerless. The Supreme Court, a self-perpetuating oligarchy, scorns the Jewish heritage and hinders the IDF’s fight against terrorism. The Knesset is merely a cipher, since forty of its members are ministers or deputy ministers in the Cabinet. Since these ministers are high up on their party lists, the Cabinet can and does ignore Jewish public opinion with impunity.
In conclusion, the core of the problem is not the weakness of Israeli society, so much as the flawed character of Israel’s ruling elites on the one hand, and the crippling character of Israel’s political institutions on the other. To correct the former, it will be necessary for the Knesset to drastically change the latter, but this is like asking chickens to vote for Colonel Sanders! ◙
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