Israeli Hardliners Debate Strategy

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If the distance from right to left in Israeli politics is a mile, then the hardliners currently holding the media spotlight for uncommon public remarks on Israeli strategy are close enough to touch each other. And yet, they are putting some critical issues–war against Iran, return to 1967 borders–on the table as now “politically corrrect” topics for discussion. Now, where are the liberals?
Former Mossad Chief Dagan continues to speak out publicly about key issues regarding Israeli national security, evidently believing that the free marketplace of ideas is the place to debate fundamental issues of national security. Given the record of national strategic decision-making in Israels smoke-filled rooms (e.g., the 1982 invasion of Lebanon that provoked the rise of Hezbollah, the 2006 invasion of Lebanon that gave Hezbollah a helping hand toward domination of the Lebanese government, the 2006 coup against a democratizing Hamas that drove it back into radical opposition), he has a point.
Former IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, another hardliner, evidently prefers the smoke-filled rooms, noting recently:
I do not think one should voice a strong opinion on whether an attack on Iran is required now, or other options. There are arguments in both directions, obviously there are disagreements, but what is important is keeping them inside the room and not outside it.
Another hardliner, ex-IDF intelligence chief Amos Yadlin, was quoted recently as observing cryptically:
Israel knows how to develop technological solutions and answers to threats and needs now to initiate diplomatic steps to its benefit.
While avoiding Dagans bluntness, he seems to have been suggesting a similar message the warmongering attitude of Netanyahu is unnecessary because Israel already has technological solutions (Stuxnet?) and could, if it would make the effort, develop diplomatic steps as well.
Given Israels propensity for unilateral and egregious violence, perhaps it should start its diplomatic steps in a modest way, e.g., by talking with the ominous writers and peace advocates and members of various European parliaments on the latest Gaza Flotilla instead of attacking them. That accomplished, Israel could listen to Turkish FM Davutoglus ideas about good neighborliness. Who knows where the new policy might lead! A creative regime in Tel Aviv might even figure out a logical, positive-sum approach to the upcoming U.N. debate about Palestinian statehood. {OK, OK! I am just musing theoretically here; I have absolutely no expectation whatsoever that Tel Aviv will actually break that far out of the box.}
With hardliners criticizing each other and key strategic assumptions in public, one wonders when we may hear an authoritative perspective from those not wedded to violence for the preservation of Israel. Such Israeli intellectuals are numerous and profound; it is Israels misfortune that none seems able to snatch the media spotlight from the hardliners who are now arguing about the amount and timing of violence in defense of Israeli superiority rather than focusing on fundamental questions such as how to move past violence to long-term safety and how to protect imperiled Israeli democracy.

More Israeli Warnings About Netanhayu’s Incompetence

Israeli military-intelligence officials are lining up to make public warnings against the Risk-Seeking Faction of Netanyahu that appears to want both a war with Iran and the destruction of the Palestinians. Only Obama has the power to stop the war.

Shlomo Gazit, major general and former chief of IDF intelligence, has come out in support of ex-Mossad chief Meir Dagan’s warning against an Israeli attack on Iran in the following blunt terms [thanks to Richard Silverstein for the translation from the original Hebrew in Maariv:

An Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear reactors will lead to the liquidation of Israel.  We will cease to exist after such an attack.  The result we seek in this attack of destroying Iran’s nuclear capability will have the opposite result.  Iran will immediately become an explicit nuclear power.  Iran will play the oil card to force the UN to pressure Israel to return to 1967 borders.  Such a settlement will, of course, include Jerusalem as well.

The threat of missiles across every part of Israel, international pressure and the necessity of returning the Territories.  This we will not be able to survive.  This is what Meir Dagan is trying to say.  Use some common sense and ask yourselves why such an attack is necessary.

Both the Maariv article and Silverstein’s English account of it are critical contributions to appreciating the profound significance of the debate instigated publicly by Dagan because of the evidence provided about how widespread opposition to such a war is within the Israeli military-intelligence elite.

The issue of Israeli aggression against Iran is deeply connected with the issue of a Palestinian state, as Dagan made clear. On the issue of a Palestinian state, Dagan has also been supported by officials. For example, ex-Minister of Defense and commander in both the Six-Day and Yom Kippur wars, Member of Knesset (the Israeli parliament) Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, as paraphrased in the right-wing Jerusalem Post on June 6, accused the Netanyahu regime of making “all the mistakes possible to lead Israel to disaster” regarding the Palestinian issue and called for “immediate” talks with the Palestinians “without preconditions,” saying “there is only one solution.” Netanyahu seems to feel that another solution exists: distracting attention by attacking Iran.

Military-intelligence officials are lining up to warn their leaders not to endanger Israeli national security, but it remains unclear how they can stop the politicians who are in control. Only Obama, with the massive U.S. Fifth Fleet sitting in the Persian Gulf and a string of airbases in occupied Iraq that could be employed to maintain a neutral and stabilizing peace in Persian Gulf skies, has the power to prevent an Israeli attack on Iran.

Israeli Hawks Debate Utility of A Second Hiroshima

Israeli hawks fighting to preserve Israeli security are in open warfare against the militant political core of the War Party. Those who want to avoid a second Hiroshima should take advantage of this opportunity to work with the most rational individuals among the hawks to prevent the disaster toward which short-sighted War Party politicians are headed.
The argument among Israeli hawks and their American fellow travelers about the idea of a preventive war to prevent Iran from assuming its natural role as a regional power (though of course the hawks never put it in those terms) keeps spreading. Morality plays no role in this debate, which essentially amounts to a civil war between the short-sighted politicians and those who are cautious enough to counsel limiting Israeli (or American) aggression to economic, technical, and asynchronous warfare. Both sides retain the blind assumption that force is the way to resolve the issue of whether or not Iran will be allowed to emerge as a major regional player. 
No one in this group seems able to understand the fundamentally self-defeating nature (for democratic societies interested in living in a peaceful world) of preventive war. Nevertheless, the differences between the politicians looking for short-term accomplishments to burnish their careers and the military/intelligence specialists looking to strengthen the foundations of Israeli security are enormous, and as long as the war party writ large is publicly debating over tactics, the world has an opportunity to promote a rational outcome.
IDF Military Intelligence Chief Brigadier-General Aviv Kochavi reported to the Knesset in January his assessment that the issue regarding Iran was about political intent, not technical capability, and that he judged Tehran to be unwilling to develop nuclear weapons at this time:
The question is not when Iran will have the bomb. The question is how long it will take for an Iranian leader to decide to have the centrifuges start enriching at 90 percent. Iran‘s regime is guarding [the country’s] stability despite the sanctions against it.The sanctions don’t hurt their nuclear development program or the strengthening of their military. Rather the sanctions affect the country’s economy and citizens.
He thus presented Iran as a rational actor and the issue of Iranian nuclear arms as one amenable to political, rather than military, solutions. (Coincidentally, at the beginning of June, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stated that Russia has no evidence of such a political decision or that Iran is building a bomb.)
Dagan has reputedly shown himself quite willing to engage in illegal adventures to the point of covert warfare against Iran:
According to a Wikileaks report, Dagan told a senior American official that it would take a series of coordinated moves to stop the Iranian nuclear program. He reportedly suggested increasing the economic sanctions against Iran, preventing the export of products required for the nuclear project to Iran, covert warfare, and encouraging minority and opposition groups to topple the Iranian regime.
Nevertheless, in January he estimated Iran would not have the technical capability to build a bomb before approximately 2015. In early May Dagan called an air strike on Iran a stupid idea that offers no advantage. A few weeks later, Dagan told a Tel Aviv University audience that an attack on Iran:
would mean regional war, and in that case you would have given Iran the best possible reason to continue the nuclear program.The regional challenge that Israel would face would be impossible. [New York Times, June 4, 2011.]
On June 9, another former Mossad chief, Zvi Zamir, seemed to voice implicit support for Dagans warning, stating that Dagan was expressing his distress.
Former DIA official Jeffrey White, who now works at the AIPAC mouthpiece, Washington Institute for Near East Policy, described an attack on Iran as a complicated thing. Its not something you can easily gloss over the complexity of and said an attack would be a big attack, i.e., genocide like Hiroshima, not some hypothetical pinpoint removal of nuclear infrastructure.
Dagans remarks were no outburst, though they have been so described by War Party members now on the defensive, individuals who are notably playing kill the messenger to evade debating the issue. Dagans remarks were instead some of the most intelligent and thoughtful recently heard from any major U.S. or Israeli official on the issue of Israeli national security:
there is shallowness in the debate over Israel‘s security challenges, they are all being dealt with in slogans. I don’t dispute the authority of the Prime Minister and Defence Minister, they are responsible, but I have already said that sometimes, brains and good decision-making are not connected with being elected.
Unfortunately, the unwillingnessperhaps inabilityof decision-makers supporting an unprovoked war on Iran to engage in serious debate (as opposed to propaganda) means that the debate remains shallow, still mired in slogans. For example, Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya’alon intoned in late May:

We strongly hope that the entire civilized world will come to realize what threat this regime is posing and take joint action to avert the nuclear threat posed by Iran, even if it would be necessary to conduct a pre-emptive strike….An Iran possessing nuclear weapons would be a threat to the entire civilized world.

But an official glimpse of reality was given recently by Minister of Home Front Defense Matan Vilnai in a sobering speech to Israeli industrialists:
In an all-out war, most of your employees have been called up to the various fronts, and simultaneously, hundreds of missiles fall in central Israel. Not thousands, hundreds. We checked this and measured it. We calculated how many missiles they have, how many we can destroy in attacks we initiate, how many we can intercept in mid-flight and more. They will fire thousands of rockets and missiles daily and hundreds will hit central Israel. And this will take at least a month, including Fridays and Saturdays, without rest.
And Vilnai was describing just a war with Syria, Hamas, and Hezbollah.