Ilana Dayan has produced yet another dramatic segment for the Israeli 60 Minutes-like news magazine, Uvdah. It deals with the history of Israel’s covert war against Iran. More specifically it recounts a pivotal security cabinet meeting which took place in 2010, at which Prime Minister Netanyahu told the senior security officials present to raise Israel’s military preparedness level to “P+.” This is essentially one step below actual war. Mossad chief Dagan and IDF chief Ashkenazi did something rare, if not unheard of in the annals of Israeli political history: they balked.
Dayan reveals that for some strange reason, the Israeli censor refused to allow her to make public the date of the meeting. Through my own source I can say that it occurred in late May or early June 2010. This was shortly after the Mavi Marmara massacre, which was the subject of the meeting (again according to my source). Only at the very end, as attendees were practically walking out the door, did Bibi drop his P+ bomb shell.
But why in God’s name can’t Israelis know the date of the meeting? Will it expose an intelligence source? Offer vital secrets to Iran?
I’m not sure why Dayan claims all knowledge and discussion of this meeting was under military censorship, because several outlets have spoken very clearly about the meeting and what happened, though not with the level of specificity she brings here. Perhaps she means that the participants in the meeting were sworn to silence till now.
At any rate, now Dagan, Ashkenazi, Barak and Netanyahu have broken their silence with the sort of KABOOM! one only sees watching old Batman TV shows. The language was flinty and unvarnished. Dagan raged that Bibi was engaging in an “illegal act.” That he intended to “steal a war” by refusing to bring the matter to the full cabinet for a vote. Ashkenazi flat-out said that the IDF was not prepared for war against Iran. They both said raising the military preparedness level to just short of outright war would virtually guarantee there was one. They wanted none of it. Eventually, by the end of the meeting all agreed there would be no change and Bibi never brought the subject up again.
But the debate caused bruised egos and bad blood between Bibi and Dagan and between Barak and Ashkenazi. Within a year both would be out of their jobs.
The interviews are so riveting and compelling it’s easy to forget that the subjects are themselves acting a role. You have to restrain yourself from wanting to believe every word spoken (though perhaps the impact might be different on an Israeli viewer who grew up with these figures and feels more cynical towards them). For example, the documentary begins with a recounting of the assassination of an Iranian nuclear scientist. Then, Ehud Olmert tells Dayan how hard it is to make the decision to take a man’s life because you know the morning he’s to die that he’s said goodbye to his wife and children, who know nothing of what’s to befall him. Great television. But believable? Not for a second.
Olmert himself once boasted to the Jerusalem Post that Israel would assassinate Yasser Arafat, and according to Clayton Swisher’s Al Jazeera report may’ve done precisely that. If anyone thinks that Olmert or any Israeli prime minister or general has misgivings about killing purported Israeli enemies, they’re living a fantasy. Remember what Dan Halutz said when asked whether his conscience was rattled when he had to order a killing: “about as much as my plane shudders when I drop a bomb” on one of these terrorists.
Anyone who expects moral qualms or tortured debates on the nature of good and evil from Israeli policymakers will surely be disappointed. Israelis don’t ponder. They act. Even if the act turns out to be disastrous, there’s such a premium on action that it doesn’t matter.
One sees the delusion clearly in Olmert’s remarks, when he says that the reason he killed Iranian scientists was because they’re trying to kill his children and grandchildren. Dayan nods sympathetically as he intones these heavy words as if they both understand that the burden placed on a prime minister is too heavy and profound for anyone to truly understand. When the truth is that Olmert is spouting absolute nonsense.
Might such a scientist be pursuing research leading to an Iranian nuclear weapon? Possibly. But only if Iran’s Supreme Leader gives approval for the nation to build and deploy such a weapon. Not to mention that killing an individual scientist or five, as Israel has done, will not demonstrably weaken or deter Iran’s pursuit of nuclearization if that is its ultimate goal.
Is that enough certainty to justify a sentence of death on such an individual? Clearly in the Israeli universe it is. It might pass muster in the Obama White House as well, since it’s proven to be a bit happy-go-lucky about maintaining kill lists and offing Muslims. But for the rest of us–not so much.
In a subsequent segment, Dayan takes us through a tour of the government conference rooms where the decisions were made and debated and, with pensive music setting the background, she intones that these matters came to the fore when “it became clear that Iran wanted a nuclear weapon.” To whom did it become clear? Not to the IAEA. Not to those who compiled the National Intelligence Estimate in 2007. But it became clear to Ilana Dayan because Bibi and Barak told her so. The level of credulousness here is simply astounding.
Dayan addresses the NIE Estimate and says with deep shock that its claim that Iran had abandoned its nuclear weapons program in 2003 was the “opposite of everything known to Israeli intelligence.” Once again, we see this breathless embrace of Israel’s security apparatus as ultimate arbiter of truth, when such trust should’ve been examined if not rejected many times over by any serious, skeptical journalist.
She brings forth former IDF intelligence chief Amos Yadlin, who recounts the first time he was given the NIE report by an American official. He says that he was so shaken by its claims that he returned to Israel and created a Red and Blue team whose mission was to tear apart on the one hand, and uphold on the other, the U.S. claim. We’re supposed to feel reassured that no one on either team could support the American claim “based on the evidence that we [Israel] had.” This last phrase is very important because it tacitly acknowledges that the U.S. may’ve had intelligence information not available to the Israelis. But of course, the intent of these words is to make the Israeli audience believe U.S. intelligence had produced a report that was simply daft. Something that any reasonable observer of these matters knows is simply not true.
The documentary takes us back to 2002 and the days of Ariel Sharon’s prime ministership, and says he was the first Israeli leader who believed Iran wanted to produce a nuclear weapon. The interviewees, all intimates of Sharon, make clear that Israel had no intelligence capacity at that time concerning Iran. Which meant that Sharon was making such a judgment based on nothing more than his own hunch. To add gravitas to Sharon’s sense, they note that his genius was as a field commander who makes such snap judgments often. Apparently, they’ve never heard of field commanders who actually make battle decisions based on intelligence rather than on hunches sprung from thin air.
The choice of interview subjects made by the producers is also telling. They interview only figures from the Bush administration including such war hawks as Elliot Abrams who says on camera: “I don’t think we had any doubt [in 2007] about where the Ayatollahs wanted to go. They wanted to build a nuclear weapon.” Yet another specious claim that reinforces other specious claims put forward by the Israelis till you have a perfect self-reinforcing system based almost entirely on false or unfounded assumptions.
Dayan saves her interview with Bibi Netanyahu for last. And here the level of self-delusion is astounding. After she warns him that through a deep sense of the fatefulness of Jewish history, that he may be leading Israel to a very dangerous place, she asks whether there is evidence he could show her that would prove to her that his fears are well-founded and that she should share them. To this, Netanyahu responds that there are “libraries” full of such evidence and that there is no doubt that Iran’s intent is to annihilate Israel. He says this with straight face, with the conviction of the best of actors. But that is all that he is–an actor who plays a politician. A convincing one. But still an actor whose lines are ultimately unconvincing.
The final question asked of Netanyahu is: Can you promise that by the end of your next term, Iran will not have a nuclear program.” To which he answers with a simple, Yes. With this he tells yet another bald-faced lie. A lie that presumably most Israelis won’t hold against him because they don’t take it seriously. But I’m old-fashioned that way, while I may understand that politicians lie, it offends me when they lie so unashamedly and when they must know that they are lying.
There is no possible way that anyone can guarantee that Iran will not have a nuclear program in four years. Unless of course you were willing to commit your nation to send tens of thousands of troops to overthrow the current government. Then of course you might get your wish. But no one short of Elliot Abrams or Michael Ledeen foresees such an eventuality. Which makes Bibi one helluva liar.
Let’s talk about whether Bibi intends to attack Iran. Even if we doubt it–and many bloggers and journalists who should know better have declared without any doubt that either he doesn’t or he can’t or whatever–in Iran the prime minister has a perfect election manifesto. It is a huge smokescreen that obscures every other issue that might trouble the campaign: problem with social issues? Trot out the ayatollahs. Problem with the budget? Those friggin’ Iranians want to bring another Shoah on us.
The beauty of Iran is that he can use it freely as his personal political cudgel. But after the election he can use it or not as he chooses. No one will call him to account after the election if he doesn’t go to war. In the meantime, he’ll have another four year mandate to further transform Israel into the sort of State that would’ve made Meir Kahane proud.
I’m watching with a certain degree of amusement as it begins to dawn on Israeli politicians and media that their prime minister has virtually promised Israel a war with Iran all the while thumbing his nose at the U.S. president who won re-election, to their chagrin. With Obama’s victory last night, Israelis who may’ve deluded themselves into thinking it was possible they might have a much more malleable president in Mitt Romney, now awaken to the fact that they’ve got a guy they believe is their worst nightmare.
MK Danny Danon wasted no time is wishing his American friends well. His message of congratulations went like this: we won’t bend for Obama. No doubt for this reason, Bibi has directed all ministers not to make any public statements about the elections without prior coördination with his office. He himself dutifully traveled to the U.S. ambassador’s residence to get his bear hug from one of Israel’s biggest sycophants in the Obama administration, Dan Shapiro.
Again, this is terribly amusing. It’s as if the prime minister thinks if he can just shove a sock in the mouths of his ministers that Obama and the rest of America won’t know what the Likud really thinks of our president-elect. I hate to be a broken record about this, but the level of self-delusion simply astounds.
Lest the pro-Israel right worry that Obama may make Bibi pay the price for his political lap-dance with Mitt Romney–not a chance. Obama has proven time and again that he has neither the stomach, nor the political guile to navigate the shoals of the Israeli-Arab conflict and its attendant complexities. Obama will not brook the Israel lobby. He will not make it or Bibi pay the price for their perfidy during the election. No worries folks, the pro-Israel juggernaut is safe and will live to fight another day. Barack Obama will not rock Israel’s boat.
I do have a feeling though that Obama may be more robust than he ordinarily would’ve been in opposing any attack on Iran. Chances are had Bibi played his cards right Obama might’ve given a tacit green light. But I doubt Israel will see anything but red on this score.