JERUSALEM (May. 14)
A majority of the Cabinet backed Chief of Staff Gen. Rafael Eitan today in an angry controversy that erupted over his remarks in a television interview that Israel must retain the West Bank permanently in order to defend itself. He also questioned the good faith of Arab peace initiatives and insisted that Israel must deal with the Arab states as if their ultimate goal was its destruction.
Eitan’s statements, in an Independence Day interview broadcast Thursday night, aroused wide-spread public protests. Labor Alignment MK Yossi Sarid submitted an urgent motion to the Knesset accusing the Chief of Staff of involving Israel’s armed forces “for the first time in the history of the State in the central political debate now taking place in the country.”
The issue was raised at today’s Cabinet meeting by Deputy Premier Yigael Yadin, leader of the Democratic Movement for Change, who charged that Eitan made political statements outside his prerogatives as commander of the armed forces which represented a challenge to the concept of civilian control of the military.
But an official communique issued after today’s Cabinet meeting said, “The Cabinet determined that in giving his replies, the Chief of Staff did not depart from the rule of his being subject to the authority of the government.” Yadin told newsmen afterwards that although he disagreed,” the Cabinet decision abides.” He said in his opinion military functionaries should not express public views of a political nature. “It is not good for the army or for the democratic system as a whole,” he said.
KNESSET DUE TO DEBATE ISSUE
The controversy over Eitan’s interview is expected to be the subject of a debate in the Knesset which begins its summer session this week. The remark that drew most protests was his flat statement that Israel’s armed forces could not guarantee the protection of the State “without Judaea and Samaria” notwithstanding the modern weaponry at its disposal.
Eitan was less dogmatic about the Sinai. He said the fate of the Egyptian territory depended on the nature of a final agreement reached with Egypt. But he claimed that past experience proved that the Arabs did not honor agreements they signed. “It is time we stop being naive,” Eitan said.
He claimed the basic intention of the Arabs still was to “get Israel off the agenda” even if some of them are now trying different methods to achieve it. “Until they declare that they do not want to do so, we must treat them as if their basic goal is still valid,” he said. Both Defense Minister Ezer Weizman and Finance Minister Simcha Ehrlich expressed support for Eitan’s statement on Judaea and Samaria.