NOTE: My web host, Hostgator, suspended my site for what seems like the tenth time over the weekend. These stoppages are agonizing and inexplicable to me. I apologize for the inconvenience to you.
Former Mossad chief, Ephraim Halevy, has–unlike some relatively new converts to the cause like Benny Gantz, Tamir Pardo, Yuval Diskin and Meir Dagan–been an Iran contrarian for years. While opposed to Iran attaining a nuclear weapon, he never believed it would be an existential threat to Israel. He never believed attacking Iran was a viable method for stopping Iran’s nuclear program. Although not opposed to sanctions, he never believed that any single method like a strike or sanctions could work absent real diplomatic engagement.
In that sense, Halevy is a throwback to a more pragmatic era in Israeli intelligence work. His assessments were not ideological like so much of which emanates from today’s Israeli political leadership. If any intelligence operative could be said to be operating out of a set of values, rather than political blinders, it would be someone like Halevy. Not that I mean to romanticize him, because Israeli cloak and dagger has had a strong element of amoral skullduggery no matter who was running it. But Halevy, today, does seem almost quaint in his strict adherence to humility and apolitical pronouncements.
That’s why his interview in Haaretz is so important. Unlike his colleagues who are a more rough and tumble lot, Halevy doesn’t seek to demonize anyone. Not Netanyahu nor the Iranians. More than anything he appears to want to present rational, reasonable alternatives to those who’ve gotten caught in the thicket of their own delusions:
“What I have to say is complex…I do indeed argue that a nuclear Iran does not constitute an existential threat to Israel. If one day we wake up and discover that Iran has nuclear weapons, that does not mean the start of the countdown to the end of Israel’s existence. Israel need not despair. We have deterrent capability and preventive capability. If Iran acquires nuclear weapons, Israel will be able to design a true operational response that will be able to cope with that. We will be able to prevent a Hiroshima in Tel Aviv and we will prevent a Hiroshima in Tel Aviv; so we must not talk about a Hiroshima in Tel Aviv, because prophecies like that are self-fulfilling.
Halevy cuts to the quick of the Netanyahu rhetoric in this powerful critique of the Churchillian pretentions of the prime minister:
The true Churchillian way is not to talk about the possibility of a second Holocaust, but to ensure that there will be no holocaust here. I was a boy in Britain during the Blitz. I remember vividly Churchill’s speeches blaring from the radio. He did not talk about the possibility that Britain might not survive. On the contrary: even in the direst straits he said that Britain would have the upper hand. He promised that whatever happened, come what may, in the end Britain would win. Anyone who purports to be Churchill needs to talk like Churchill and project self-confidence.
“I am absolutely appalled when I hear our leaders talking as though there were no Israel Defense Forces and as though there were no State of Israel and as though Auschwitz is liable to be repeated. As I see it, the message we should be conveying to the Iranians − and to ourselves − is that we will be here in any event and in any scenario for the next two thousand years.
I’ve noted in my own posts that the ultranationalist line of reasoning posits an Israel that is eternally threatened, eternally beset by Jew-hating genocidaires. Theirs is an Israel constantly on the brink of annihilation. You cannot build a state on such negativity. You cannot build a future when you anticipate the worst.
Churchill believed in England as a real nation and in England as an eternal value. He could never foresee either being wiped out. Nor would he ever allow his own personal pride or his faith in his country even to hint that it might. This is where Bibi differs. He lacks such self confidence either because he knows somewhere deep down that his cause is profoundly flawed or because Jewish history has so warped him that he cannot ever imagine an Israel safe, secure and at peace with its neighbors.
Halevy also warns against the false “bomb or bombing” dichotomy:
“Going to war is an absolute and irreversible act that entails high costs. Accordingly, before using force, we need to exhaust all the other possibilities. To the best of my knowledge and to the best of my assessment, the other possibilities have not yet been fully exhausted. Some of them have not even been tried. The simplistic equation of bomb or bombing led to a mistaken focus on bombing as the only response to the bomb. But the truth is that a situation is possible in which there will be both bombing and a bomb. A situation is also possible in which there will not be a bomb without bombing…
“I also think that it is right to create a bombing capability and threaten with a bombing capability. But what I am suggesting is to step out of the box now and stop thinking in binary terms, and…stop the Iranian nuclear project without engaging in an all-out war. Because an attack on Iran is liable to foment a generations-long war with Iran, it is our duty to do all we can to prevent a bomb and prevent bombing and resolve the crisis creatively.”
In the following passage, the former Mossad director does something unthinkable in the current overheated environment. He suggests actually trying to understand the psychology of Iran’s leaders and the nation. I know: it’s hopelessly reasonable and common-sensical and so will never be respected by any policymakers either in Israel or the U.S. The more’s the pity, as war will bring the devastation of which he warns, while engagement would bring a positive outcome for both sides. All the more reason for the extremists on both sides to choose to ignore principled thinkers like Halevy:
“What we need to do is to try and understand the Iranians. The basic feeling of that ancient nation is one of humiliation. Both religious Iranians and secular Iranians feel that for 200 years the Western powers used them as their playthings. They do not forget for a moment that the British and the Americans intervened in their internal affairs and toppled the regime of Mohammad Mosaddeq in 1953. From their perspective, the reason why, to this day, there is no modern rail network and no modern oil refineries in Iran is that the West prevented that. Thus, the deep motive behind the Iranian nuclear project − which was launched by the Shah − is not the confrontation with Israel, but the desire to restore to Iran the greatness of which it was long deprived.
“I believe that if the West could find a way to propose to Iran alternative methods to acquire that sense of greatness, Iran would forsake the nuclear road. If Iran were offered trains and oil refineries and a place of honor in regional trade, it would consider this seriously. You say carrots? The carrots offered to Iran until now were not big enough.
…If Israel had adopted a creative, active policy, and if the international community had held up to the Iranians a far richer package of threats and enticements, I think there would have been a chance to dissuade the Iranians from embarking on the dangerous road they have taken.
…”If instead of focusing on a military solution, Israel were to succeed in mobilizing the international community for complex and sophisticated political-economic action, I believe that the results might be surprising.”
The tragedy for Israel at this stage of it’s tenuous existence is that this man, who represents intelligence and balanced discourse on this subject, is ignored by virtually anyone who has real power.
Netanyahu in all his monomaniacal megalomania treats U.S. politics as if it were his personal plaything, rather than something that involved the fate of the nation. He naively believes he can play off a supposedly hostile American president against a pliantly pro-Israel Congress. He even imagines that he may serve as the decisive force in bringing a victory for Mitt Romney. All this would be merely delusional if it were merely his own fate in the balance. But when it’s the nation’s fate too, then it becomes an even more serious matter:
it is clear that he [Halevy] is very worried. He does not like Netanyahu’s intervention in U.S. politics, and he is apprehensive about the interface that has been created between the Iranian issue and the U.S. elections this November. He thinks that Israel must on no account be perceived as having contributed to the election of one candidate or torpedoed the candidacy of another. His evaluation is that a combination of a Holocaust-influenced frame of mind and the desire to promote the election of the next American president is dangerous.
…We need to remember that we are very much dependent on the United States and not utter boastful slogans that we are sovereign and therefore will take our fate into our hands.
Here is a final bit of supremely lucid, and therefore utterly irrelevant to current decision-makers, analysis:
“What I recommend is trying to calm the Iranian-Israeli conflict and not escalate it. It is possible that, in the end, we will have no choice and will be forced to attack…But before venturing on such an extreme and dangerous action, I suggest making a supreme effort to avoid it. We must not hem the Iranians in and we must not push them into a corner. We have to try to give them an honorable way out. It’s always worth remembering that the greatest victory in war is the victory that is achieved without firing a shot.”
Bless the fact that Israel has such intelligence among it’s citizens, but curse it for ignoring them.