Israel’s Internal Warfare


It is more than disconcerting to read daily reports of high-level Israeli officials publicly and sharply criticizing each other in disagreeing over whether Israel is or isn’t prepared to attack Iran’s nuclear program, whether it should or shouldn’t go forward with the plan, and whether the motives of the prime minister and defense minister are based on security or politics.

One wonders how these folks could orchestrate a secret, delicate and incredibly complex military mission when they can’t even keep their views to themselves. Indeed, Israeli leaders are looking less like military masterminds these days and more like The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight.

Deputy Prime Minister Danny Ayalon noted wistfully the other day of a time when “Israeli politics stopped at the Mediterranean,” referring to the fact that government leaders would confine their disagreements to within Israel. When they traveled abroad they spoke with “one voice,” according to Ayalon, one of several top officials and former officials who spoke at a Jerusalem Post-sponsored conference in New York on Sunday. (See page 10.)

But that is certainly not the case anymore. Ehud Olmert, the former prime minister, focused his remarks at the conference on how and why he differs with the current Netanyahu government on Iran, the Palestinian peace effort and diplomatic relations with the White House. And there were pointed remarks about Israeli policy throughout the day from speakers and panelists.

But disagreeing over politics is one thing; going at each other over security matters of the greatest importance is another, displaying an alarming lack of discipline.

The latest round of nasty charges and counter-charges involves Yuval Diskin, the well-respected former head of Shin Bet, who not only opposed an Israeli attack on Iran but called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak “messianists” unfit to lead Israel. Diskin’s remarks were defended by Meir Dagan, the former head of Mossad and another critic of military action. Barak dismissed the criticism as “politically motivated,” and defended his position, stating Monday that while an attack on Iran would be complicated, “a radical Islamic Republic of Iran with nuclear weapons would be far more dangerous both for the region and indeed the whole world.”

He was skeptical of the current round of international talks on Iran’s nuclear program, even as predictions of an imminent war have receded.

Some say Netanyahu and Barak’s vocal and hawkish views are a form of psychological warfare that may be paying off; others assert that Iran may be backing down from its nuclear plans in light of the threat of even tougher sanctions set to take effect July 1.

Clearly, removing the prospect of a nuclear Iran without taking military action is the desired goal, but as Barak said this week, “Israel cannot afford to be duped.”

It also can’t afford to engage in public sniping among its leaders without appearing out of control and deeply split on what may well be its most important security decision.