Israeli Minister for Strategic Affairs Moshe “Bogie” Yaalon gave a foreign press briefing two days ago hosted by the ultra-hawkish pro-Israel advocacy group, The Israel Project. The former IDF general ranged over affairs in the entire Middle East. It was a deft, well-argued presentation that posited a region that would be in a state of perpetual conflict into the indefinite future. It presented Israel as a lone bastion of democracy in an enclave filled with radical Islamism that threatened not just his country, but virtually the entire world.
It was a briefing that was filled with lies, fantasies, with even a smidgen of fact thrown in. I found it fascinating. Fascinating, because it gives you entré into a certain strategic vision shared by Israel’s most hawkish, most delusional policymakers. But let’s be clear. Bogie Yaalon isn’t delusional in the way that the Hilltop Youth are. He’s not even delusional in the way that Avigdor Lieberman or Newt Gingrich is. He’s delusional in a stone-cold sober, cold-blooded way that could lead to tens of thousands of dead, blood running down the streets of Israel, Iran and numerous other Arab cities, and missiles bristling from bunkers and launch sites throughout the region.
A word on his background. He was IDF chief of staff until called upon by Ariel Sharon to help evacuate settlers from Gaza. When he refused, Sharon cashiered him unceremoniously, which left an incredibly bitter taste in his mouth. He is not just a security hawk, but caters to most far-right fringes of the Likud. I reported here on a visit he made to Australia in the company of Moshe Feiglin and members of Meir Kahane’s family, which is among the most extreme of the settlers. Feiglin has been banned from the UK as a figure whose extremist views might disturb the public order. He was promised the defense portfolio by Bibi Netanyahu before the last election, but the latter welched when he decided to bring Ehud Barak and Labor into the coalition government. This has left Yaalon and Barak as sworn enemies.
Before you read this, the question all of us should consider is–is Bogie Yaalon a lone wolf spinning his own strategic vision of apocalyptic doom or does he have the power to implement this vision? Does he have Bibi’s ear? Can he turn his views and theories into operational orders and boots on the ground? One way of answering this question is to note that Yaalon is within Bibi’s inner circle as a member of the Shminiya, the eight-member senior minister’s circle that votes on all major policy proposals such as an Iran attack. In that capacity, he has a huge platform to realize his views.
I would also argue that it’s known that both Bibi and Barak favor a military attack, while the leaders of the military-intelligence entities virtually unanimously oppose it. Given Yaalon’s impeccable IDF credentials as a former head of Aman and chief of staff, he would be a natural figure for Bibi to turn to, since he would reinforce views the prime minister already held. Thus, I would judge that the views you’ll read below are central to current Israeli strategic thinking. The only thing that is odd about all this is that Yaalon has been reported to oppose an Iran attack. When you read the material below you’ll believe that either he’s the best poker player ever to have played the game, or that his opposition is purely tactical and based on his hatred of Barak.
There may be some of you as wonky as I who’d like to hear the entire briefing. If anyone has any ideas on how to make the file publicly accessible without using up an incredible amount of bandwidth on my own site, let me know. So far as I know, filesharing sites don’t allow free public access unless you specifically and individually approve someone for it. If someone has a different solution let me know.
Yaalon began the briefing referring tellingly to what is commonly-known as the Arab Spring, as the “Islamist Winter.” He suggested that the liberal forces which began revolts in Tunisia and Egypt had been surpassed by radical Islamist forces who were exploiting democratic elections in order to attain power. The result, he predicted, would be the “collapse of the nation-state system” with a breakdown into “entities” dominated by Islamist ideology. This would happen in a way similar to Yugoslavia’s disintegration. At any rate, the future of the region would see Islam as the “glue” to both unify people and dominate them.
Calling the Arab Spring the beginning of a disintegration of the notion of statehood in the region is vastly premature. In fact, it seems much more likely to see it as part of a transformation from autocracy to something much more akin to popular rule. Now, we in the west may not like what popular rule may look like in the Arab world. It may involve religious parties and it may be “messy,” at least in western terms. But it looks like it will be vastly more democratic than what preceded it.
Keep in mind too that Yaalon prefers what preceded the Arab Spring. While he claims to support democratization, what he really supports is strongman rule as long as the strongman is amenable to collaboration with Israeli interests.
Israel, Yaalon averred, “wants democracy around us.” But the Arab Spring is not real democratization, he said. If you watch the way the Islamists are using elections to come to power, it reminds you of the way Hamas came to power in 2006. It exploited elections to take control of the PA. Then it proceeded to revolt against Fatah and take over Gaza by force. This, Yaalon viewed as the future of Islamist regimes elsewhere. Democratization “cannot begin by elections.” Rather, it must first start with “educating people to appreciate liberty, women’s rights and civil society.” This is not the case yet in any of the countries in which there have been revolts.
Yaalon completely distorts the history involving the 2006 elections by omitting the fact that U.S. envoy Elliot Abrams along with Israel pursuaded Abbas to initiate a coup that would topple Hamas and allow him to take power. Hamas pre-empted the coup by turning on Fatah and ejecting it from Gaza, just as Fatah proceeded to eject Hamas from the West Bank. Portraying the events as a cold, calculated will to power on Hamas’ behalf is false.
To prove his point, Yaalon quotes a Jordanian former foreign minister and World Bank officer, Marwan al-Muasher, who agrees, if Yaalon is to be believed, that Arabs are not ready for real democracy. The irony, of course, is that he served in the government of a state that was not itself democratic and whose king is in fact quite threatened by democracy, since it would mean the end of his dynasty. That irony seems to have been lost on Yaalon.
The upshot of Yaalon’s portrayal of the balance of power in the region is that Israel is a lone bastion of civilization amidst a swirling horde of Islamists lunatics baying for the blood of infidels. Instead of being beacons of hope for democratic change in the region, the Arab states whose autocratic leaders were toppled are stalking horses for radical Islamist religious theocracies.
This concept is so far-fetched, so completely bereft of any contact with political reality, that it leads me to conclude that if Yaalon’s strategic vision carries the day in Israeli policymaking circles, we could see a virtual repeat of the Crusades, in which competing religious forces battle for control of the region for decades, if not longer. The major difference being that Israel and the frontline states have massive amounts of firepower at their disposal.
The former Israeli general has a strategic vision that places Israel on a permanent war footing. It turns Israel not just into Sparta, but into Sparta in constant war with multiple neighboring states. Frankly, this is not a state of affairs that Israel can sustain over an extended period. There is no possible way Israel could fight an all-out war for eight years, suffering 1-million dead as Iran did against Iraq. That makes Yaalon’s vision deeply damaging, even pathological in terms of what Israel could actually sustain.
Moving on to Syria, the former IDF chief of staff sees Assad’s certain end signalling the decline of the Axis of Evil (note that Syria was never included in the original Axis of Evil), since in his view, without Assad acting as a middleman, neither Hezbollah nor Iran can continue their control over events in that part of the region. His view seems to be that whatever regime took his place, it would be so focussed on domestic issues that it would have little or no stomach for meddling in the affairs of Lebanon. This also presumes that even if this future regime dropped Hezbollah, the latter would become inert and lose its reason being, both of which seem unlikely. Yaalon expects those Arab countries beset by revolutions to be subject to “tribal sectarian violence.”
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not a central issue in the region, the strategic affairs minister insists, and the claim that it has exacerbated the Arab Spring or motivated greater violence or instability in the region is false. He informed the journalists that the PA has suspended its UN campaign for statehood until January.
He claimed that Palestinians were launching terror attacks from Sinai, another holdover-lie from the Eilat incident, in which Israel falsely claimed that members of the Gaza-based PRC had infiltrated southern Israel from Sinai. It was later proven that all the attackers were radical Sinai-based Islamists with no proven connection to Gaza at all. In answer to a reporter who referred to an Israeli TV news report that Hamas was using sites in Sinai as “rocket foundries” because Israel could not violate Egyptian sovereignty in attacking them, Yaalon didn’t specifically confirm the report. But he noted that Israel expected Egypt to police its territory and pursue such activities.
The majority of the presentation and the true ambition of Yaalon’s vision became especially evident when he spoke about Iran. He painted a gloomy picture of the Islamist regime as an arch-conspirator in the region, responsible for the worst acts of terror and harboring a grand ambition to realize Islamist revolution not just in Iran or the region, but in the entire world. We see, he claimed, Iranian “fingerprints” in Afghanistan and Iraq too. The goal of the Ayatollahs is instability because stability is against Iranian interests. The country funds, he asserted, the Popular Resistance Committees, Islamic Jihad and Hamas, providing weapons and training. It also acts similarly in Bahrain, Yemen and Lebanon.
As a sidebar, I’ve never heard any claim that Iran has provided arms or training inside Bahrain or Yemen. The claim that Iran is guilty of fomenting trouble in Afghanistan seems similarly built on sand. This seems to be a product of the former IDF chief of staff’s fevered imagination.
Then, Yaalon discussed Iran’s nuclear ambitions. He called an Iranian bomb a “nightmare” for the “free world,” which must be stopped “one way or the other.” He stately baldly that the IAEA report confirmed Israel’s worst warnings about the Iranian nuclear program, when other observers, even those who found the report conclusive, haven’t made the claim that it endorsed Israel’s views of Iran. The Iranians are “years, perhaps even months” from nuclear capability. He said specifically it could be 24 months, it could be sooner. It now has enough uranium for “a couple of devices, five tons.” It has 20kg at 20% purity. It is only a matter of months before Iran has “weapons quality” uranium.
During the briefing, Yaalon referred to Iran having 10,000km missiles capable of reaching the U.S. He made it sound like Iran already had such weapons or threatened to. But I’ve never seen any reference to such a long-range missile in the country’s arsenal. The longest range I’ve heard of could reach Europe on a good day and with winds blowing in the right direction. So once again, Yaalon is guilty of a fever-dream of anti-Iran paranoia.
The money quote of the entire briefing was this: “Iran should be given the choice to have a bomb or survive.” The west must present this in the most aggressive and intrusive way possible as a dilemma the Iranians must answer, a stark choice, basically of life without a bomb or death. It wasn’t clear whether Yaalon was speaking of the death of the Iranian regime or the death of the country itself. Even if he only meant the former, it was truly a spine-shivering articulation of the goal of Israeli policy.
The ultra-hawkish Yaalon told the reporters that the west should “support the Iranian opposition morally.” In the typcial way you must read the Israeli political tea leaves, this means that not only should the west support the most radical elements of the opposition such as the MEK, but that Israel would support it far more than morally. In fact it’s well-known that George Bush appropriated somewhere between $300-400 million in 2007 for destabilizing Iran. A portion of this may be going into MEK coffers to fund the terror campaign I’ve reported being conducted by the Mossad with MEK muscle.
A reporter asked point-blank for Israel’s view of the MEK’s attempt to be delisted from the U.S. terror list. He also asked whether Israel made use of MEK to pursue its interests inside Iran. Yaalon denied this:
We don’t consider MEK [an Israeli asset]. We are not interfering in the internal affairs of Iran. The Green movement could play a significant role in Iran in the future. But Israel is not involved in this process.
Everyone both inside Israel and outside knows this is a flat-out lie. In fact, the very claim is enough to provoke the Iranians even more than they already have been.
Yaalon reinforced the “need for a credible military option.” At another point, he said:
A military strike [by Israel] cannot be excluded.
He added that the west should “hurry” to force Iran to face up to the dilemma he alluded to above, of having the bomb or surviving. Iran, he said, was the “core of instability” in the region. Stopping it was important both in terms of ending the nuclear threat and stopping the nations’ efforts to “promote regional instability.
In answer to a question about whether Israel was prepared to attack Iran alone, he answered that as the “Little Satan” Israel should not lead efforts against Iran by acting independently. But if the international community would not force this dilemma on the Iranians, then Israel should be ready to “defend itself.” The minister would not talk specifically about timetables or dates for action.
Here again we see the pathology of Yaalon’s point of view. Attacking Iran would not be an act of aggression, but one of defense. Because Iran is guilty of such grievous sins that stomping on it like a cockroach would only be doing the world a favor.
Iran, he reminded, is a rogue state and “enemy of the free world.” Note here the echoes of Cold War terminology and a return to the binary world of that era. According to this notion, there are countries free and enslaved, and the latter are subject to whatever means necessary to stop them from enslaving others.
Another questioner asked, if Israel got its wish and Iran gave up its nuclear weapons program wouldn’t it remain as a severe threat to Israeli interests in the region, given the role he claimed it played in fomenting “revolution?” Interestingly, Yaalon didn’t answer, but rather fell back on the nuclear threat. I would guess the reason for this is that Iran without a weapon would, in Israel’s view, be a power much easier to contain, since it would no longer have the ultimate threat, whether defensive or offensive.
At this point in the briefing, Yaalon entered into the land of fables and lies. He said:
We don’t consider Iran as an enemy. We don’t share a border with them nor have a border dispute. They consider us as an enemy.
The continuation of this thought led him into a direct contradiction. He then said that Israel “had a problem with the Iranian regime–its ideology, its strategy against the State of Israel.” Their goal is to:
Achieve hegemony in the region, to impose revolution, their vision of Islam, political Islam, in the region and beyond. Further, they seek to bring the End of Days by imposing Islam wherever they can [in the world].
A nuclear weapon is part of that strategy. This is the reason that once Israel succeeds in eliminating a nuclear Iran it would not stop there. Let’s be clear that Israel’s goal, at least in Yaalon’s eyes, is the elimination of the Iranian regime. Until it is eliminated, until the threat of Islamist domination is uprooted from the region, Israel can never rest. That is why I believe that this is a vision of total war between Israel and Iran, between Judaism (and the west if Christians are willing to join) and Islam.
This is little different from the vision of Anders Breivik. The difference being that Breivik was a homicidal lunatic and Yaalon is a highly influential member of the government of a nation possessing at least 200 nuclear weapons and the fourth most powerful military in the world. That’s a lot of bodies littering the streets of the region if Yaalon succeeds in imposing this strategic vision.
In answer to a question asking whether Israel told the U.S. that it would not inform it before an Iran strike, all Yaalon would say coyly is “that’s what I read in the newspapers.” In other words, “You bet.”
A reporter asked why Yaalon had such confidence an Israeli attack would substantially damage Iran’s nuclear program, when even Israeli military analysts say a strike would at most delay Iran’s attaining a nuclear weapon by two years, with some arguing it would delay them by six months. In reply, he claimed that when Menachem Begin assaulted Saddam’s Osirak reactor, Israel estimated it would set him back by a year, and that the French would likely replace the reactor. None of these things happened, and in fact, Saddam gave up on Osirak and turned to other weapons programs. The same thing could happen regarding Iran, in Yaalon’s estimation.
For an otherwise intelligent military-intelligence operative not to understand the massive differences between Iraq circa 1980 and Iran circa 2011 leads one to conclude that he’s either a fabulist or deliberate fabricator. Iraq had a single reactor. Iran has multiple facilities and has hardened it’s program with multiple fail-safe provisions and redundancies to ensure that if one or more are taken down there are others to take their places. Saddam ran a virtual dictatorship, a top down centralized state in which decision-making was controlled solely by him and a narrow band of loyalists. Iran, whatever may be said against it, is a much more formidable adversary.
When a journalist asked the former general if Israel was prepared to absorb the counter strikes Iran would send “the day after,” the latter simply refused to answer, as if this didn’t even factor into his strategic thinking. This too is another fatal flaw, as an autocratic nation may expend thousands of lives and not lose the will to fight, while a democratic one simply cannot make such a commitment. I maintain that it’s likely that Iran would inflict high casualties on Israel in revenge formats attacking Iran. This too is Meir Dagan’s view and the reason he’s opposed to a strike.
Moving on to discuss the issue of settlements, here Yaalon was at his most mendacious, saying:
We don’t allow any new illegal construction in the settlements. We demolish any illegal construction.
The minister, among Israel’s most hawkish senior cabinet officers, had an especially paternalistic view of democracy in the Arab world. He pointed out that Europe had taken “centuries” to develop democracy, while the Middle East “was only in its first century.” He views elections as fake democracy since, in his view, the Arabs are mired in backwards attitudes which don’t allow democracy to flourish. Before there is real democracy, there must be education about western values and they must be given long amounts of time to sink into the consciousness of Arab youth.
Islamists play the democratic game to win power, but they aren’t committed to true democratic principles. Yaalon expressede Israeli apprehension about developments of the Arab Spring:
We’re afraid of it [this Islamist exploitation].
He compares the Islamist parties to Israel’s Kach party, which was banned from participating in Israeli elections. Like Kach, the former should be banned as well. He repeated that “you can’t reach democracy through elections.” It is a “long process which must be based first on education. Democratization is a process that requires preparing people over a long period of time.
Of course, there is absolutely no proof that the mostly moderate Islamist parties that stand on the cusp of taking power in Tunisia and Egypt have anywhere near the violent, intolerant, even fascist views that Kach did.
The Palestinians in particular do not have a civil society or capacity for democracy. Palestinian elections led to:
Hamas killing the opposition. For sure, this is not democracy.
Yaalon again during the briefing denied vociferously that there could be no linkage between either the Palestinian elections and Arab Spring or between the latter and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In other words, the latter could not be seen as a cause of instability in the region.
He then quoted Bibi offering a particularly mendacious account of the Israeli-Palestinian disagreement:
Our conflict has never been about the establishment of a Palestinian state. Rather it’s about the existence of a Jewish state.
The former IDF chief of staff claimed that Abu Mazen and other PA figures deny Israel as a Jewish state. Israel is ready to sit without preconditions, he said, but Abu Mazen “denies the existence of the Jewish people,” since he claims Judaism is a religion and not a nationality.
Keep in mind that this is the guy who just said he’d sit without preconditions. Yaalon offered that when “we sit around a table, we will have three questions we will ask that aren’t preconditions: are you ready to recognize Israel as a nation-state of the Jewish people? Abu Mazen says “Never.” Second, will a settlement resolve all claims between the two parties. Abu Mazen has doubts about this since he won’t give up the Right of Return.
Returning to the notion of democracy beginning in education. Yaalon makes the false claim that in contrast to the Palestinians:
We don’t educate our kids to kill Palestinians.
What does he think that 17 and 18-year old Israeli teenagers are doing in the West Bank and Gaza?