Haaretz reports that Maj. Gen. Uri Saguy, former chief of military intelligence (Aman), has launched an attack on the credibility and Iran war plans of Defense Minister Ehud Barak:
Saguy, who was head of the IDF’s Operations Directorate during the first Lebanon war and MI chief from 1991 to 1995, decided this week – in light of what he calls “orchestrated and purposely timed hysteria that puts the country into a state of anxiety, artificial or not,” regarding the Iranian nuclear issue – that he had to make his voice heard in public.
…”I am outraged by the zero degree of responsibility shown by the person who is interviewed or who leaks information,” says Saguy, “although I can’t say I am surprised by this. Analyses are one thing. Someone who analyzes something in one way today could be voicing the total opposite opinion a month and half from now, with the same self-confidence and persuasive ability. Responsibility is another thing.
“When something goes wrong, the blame will be laid on someone else. However, we must understand that it does not have to be this way…
“It would be a mistake if Israel uses force, certainly now, in order to thwart the Iranian nuclear potential.”
…The essence of Saguy’s message: Israel’s citizens cannot trust Defense Minister Ehud Barak or Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Saguy does not trust the latter because he has not seen him make, in either of his two terms as prime minister, even one single important decision. He does not trust Barak because he’s seen the results of many important decisions the minister has made, as chief of staff, prime minister and defense minister.
…Saguy can barely mention Barak’s name. He snorts upon hearing the warnings and analyses attributed to “that man, who appears morning, noon and night in the media and is known to me personally as someone who hasn’t succeeded in most of the strategic tests he’s been subjected to.
…”I have the feeling that someone is lighting a fire, then yelling that it has to be put out … I have doubts as to the judgment. I have been eagerly following the brilliant intellectual analyses of experts…and of those responsible for our security,” says Saguy. “They insist they are right and they abandon the basic strategy, learned from experience, of a proven Israeli security doctrine: Depicting two extremes, either-or, is blatantly unreasonable.
“I don’t take the Iranian threat lightly,” Saguy assures me. “An Iranian nuclear bomb will be a danger. Not the use of it, incidentally, but rather the possession of it. But I am outraged by the cheapness of the use of the term ‘existential threat.‘ Isn’t it enough to say ‘serious’ and ‘grave?’ All the historical comparisons to the Holocaust derive from an ideological school of thought.
“It is necessary to be rational. This is an international and regional problem and Israel is trying to pull the chestnuts out of the fire by itself. The proof of the pudding is that this won’t work: The use of military force cannot thwart Iran’s intentions and capability. Even according to the disciples of military force in the government, maybe it will delay the Iranian nuclear program and maybe it won’t. This is the domino theory, or the house of cards: One touch and it all comes tumbling down on itself.
“[An attack] is not possible without coordination with the Americans and their agreement. They, tactically and out of scheduling considerations, cannot address this issue in the very near future. The push for an operation before the elections there is irritating the public and the government. We need to expunge from the lexicon the sentence, ‘Do I agree that Iran should have a bomb?’ No, I don’t personally agree, but it doesn’t depend only on me and therefore not only will an attack not advance the achievement of the goal, it also entails long-term dangers.”
Another point is often ignored in the discourse about Iran, according to Saguy. “The ambiguity we enjoy with regard to our long-term strategic capability is liable to crack. It has been achieved with a lot of hard work, thanks to the founding fathers, and those who followed in their footsteps. If we do certain things without America, we will jeopardize it.”
This series of responses to the orchestrated leaks Barak has published in the pages of every major Israeli newspaper, is unprecedented. As Saguy notes in this article, there was a time when the views of former senior command officers were solicited in private. Barak has stopped such interchanges because he’s looking for Yes-men, not debate or full exchange of views. That’s one of the reasons he prohibits his chief of staff from testifying in Knesset forums. Can you imagine Pres. Obama or Leon Panetta forbidding Gen. Dempsey from testifying to Congress? The nation would wonder how a President could appoint the highest general in the land and then not have enough confidence in him to allow him to appear before the legislative body. It would simply be astonishing beyond words. Unfortunately, Israeli politics are so dysfunctional especially around the especially divisive issue of attacking Iran that this appears not terribly out of the ordinary.
There are those who will feel reassured that Pres. Peres and Saguy are voicing their opposition publicly. I used to feel that way. But I’ve come to the conclusion that the only reason these figures are going public is because they realize that policy is being determined on a whole other level that does not include them or their voices. In other words, Israel has become a political duopoly, by which the nation’s military strategic decisions are made by a group of two. Everyone else, especially those who hew to a different narrative or approach to these questions, is frozen out.
In other words, these public statements are not a breath of fresh air, they’re a cry of desperation. They’re the last call by members of the élite who are stricken by the fact that there could be a war and that their perspective has been deliberated excised from the debate.
Perhaps in a different time such individuals could’ve found comfort in the prospect of new elections bringing a different coalition to power. That at least would give such figures hope for change. But Israel now isn’t a real democracy for many reasons. One of them is that the electorate either cannot or will not provide a real alternative to the far-rightist pro-war narrative.
There have been two major wars in the past six years. There will likely be a third before the end of the year. Israel has become a country in which war has replaced serious attempts to address policy issues by non-martial alternatives. It’s a sign of a nation in marked decay.
In the debate between Athens and Sparta, Israel has chosen Sparta. Israelis should remember that the only reason Sparta still exists in modern consciousness is because it snuffed out the promise represented by Athens. Is that the legacy Israel really wants?
Saguy attests to several critical failures of Barak’s past leadership. These aren’t just historically important, they reflect upon the potential success or failure of an Iran attack. In 1999, the Israelis and Syrians had negotiated a settlement to their differences. Saguy reveals (I believe for the first time) that the Syrians had consulted with the Iranians, who had approved a potential settlement with the Israelis. Yet it was Barak, when presented with this monumental achievement, who nixed it. The result is history:
…When Hafez Assad wanted to make peace with Barak, in 1999-2000, the Iranians announced they didn’t oppose the move; and there were another two such occasions as well.
“Hats off to whoever is saying that the person [Barak] who thwarted peace with Syria in 2000 did us a favor. Such prophetic powers. Whenever Israel is able to, and I hope also wants to, come to agreements with its neighbors, this is a diplomatic and moral obligation. The reluctance to make peace with Syria was a crudely missed opportunity. Syria would also have committed itself to renouncing any other alliance that would come into conflict with peace with Israel.”
There cannot be a situation in which Israel relies solely on its military might to respond to threats, Saguy cautions. An attack on Iran will inevitably be condemned by the countries of the Arab world, “even if deep in their hearts they will rejoice.” And the current timing makes this prospect particularly dangerous. It comes, he continues, “precisely at a time when the Shi’ite world and the Sunnis are on a collision course, Turkey is wrestling with Iran for hegemony – and instead of exploiting this struggle we are digging ourselves deeper into a crisis with Turkey.”
If there had been such a settlement there would’ve been no 2006 Lebanon war, Hezbollah would not be an implacable foe on the northern border, and tempers in the region would be substantially lower than they are. To those who argue that such an agreement would not have been stable or trustworthy in light of the current civil war in Syria, I’d suggest looking at Egypt, whose new Islamist government continues to uphold its own treaty with Israel.
There seems to be a certain liberal-left perspective on a possible Iran attack that holds that such a strike will not happen and that anyone who writes about it as if it could is either misguided, a fool or a dupe of Israeli intelligence. To me, such an approach is a product of wish-fulfillment. These individuals don’t want a war therefore think it can’t or won’t happen. Here’s a perfect example of this type of thinking.
It’s disheatening to read individuals with advanced degrees in this field, teaching at distinguished universities and publishing in prestigious journals like Foreign Policy, who allow their brain to be led by their heart. I can understand the impulse to protect Israel, not to want it to pursue a policy you know to be destructive. But simply because you want the best for Israel and believe it couldn’t possibly march into a disaster, doesn’t justify closing your eyes to what they would see if they were open.
In Feldman’s argument, there couldn’t possibly be a war against Iran because Pres. Peres and Maj. Gen. Saguy and a host of current and former generals and intelligence figures universally oppose it. This leaves out one critical factor: those opposing war aren’t in a position to make the decision. There are only two people doing that and they seem to care little about the views of others.
On an unrelated subject, Bob Mann noted that a former Boeing computer engineer, Richard Stiennon, has written a fascinating, suggestive piece at Forbes which discusses the danger of unanticipated collaterial damage from the type of Israeli cyberattack outlined in the war plan document I published last week. His writing further confirms that this document is far from a piece of fiction dreamed up by an armchair warrior and published at an Israeli gossip site.