No previous column of mine has ever been preceded by such searing soul-searching, or written with such a heavy sense of melancholy. It is a column that I would have preferred not to write – yet I feel I have little option.
A (rare) personal moment
I find myself compelled to take strong public issue with a man I have known, respected, even admired, for almost four decades: Shabtai Shavit, the former director of the Mossad.
Shavit has been not only a trusted commander, and later, a friend – but was in many ways almost a father figure for me. More than once, he sent me into what could be described as harm’s way. But every time he did, I had implicit trust in his operational judgment and believed, unequivocally, that the risks I was expected to take were unavoidable and worthwhile.
In the years following my service I had the privilege of traveling with Shavit to numerous countries, some of which included meetings with the prime minister of India, the former heads of the KGB and RAW (the Indian secret service), and a candidate for the presidency of (pre-Islamist) Turkey.
For years Shavit cooperated closely with me in many of my public and academic activities. He did me the honor of providing a complimentary forward to a book I wrote, co-authored with me a critique of the role of the media in Israeli politics, and frequently appeared as a speaker at events I organized.
More than once, he stood by my side where others had turned away from me – even against me. For all of this I owe him a great debt of gratitude of which I am keenly aware.
Recently, however, Shavit has chosen to affiliate himself with a newly formed group of around 200 high-ranking former security officials (brigadier-generals and above in the IDF and their equivalents in the Mossad, Shin Bet and Police), which calls itself “Commanders for Israeli Security.”
CIS has taken upon itself to promote a “vision” for the resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict, based on the Saudi Peace Plan – a.k.a. the Arab Peace Initiative (API), and a regional arrangement with the “moderate” Arab states.
The API in effect calls for the return to the indefensible pre-1967 lines (with “comparable and mutually agreed minor land swaps” – whatever that might mean).
In exchange for this the Arab states would, allegedly, consider the Arab–Israeli conflict over, sign a peace treaty with Israel and establish normal relations, within the framework of a comprehensive peace.
According to CIS’s prescription, the durability of this unlikely arrangement will be underwritten by the goodwill and credibility of some of the most decadent, corrupt and unstable regimes on the planet, all located in the world’s most tumultuous region, in which uncertainty is the only certainty.
To my dismay, Shavit has not only thrown his considerable public prestige behind this patently perilous and preposterous proposition, he has become one of its principal promoters – appearing prominently on CIS’s website and Facebook page, and publishing two detailed articles endorsing it.
Oslo on steroids
Shavit, by his own admission, was always critical of the Oslo process. Yet astonishingly, he now embraces a proposal that can only be described as Oslo on steroids – far more concessionary than ever envisaged by Yitzhak Rabin as the permanent settlement with the Palestinians.
As I pointed out last week, the API contravenes every precept laid out by Rabin shortly before his assassination, in his last Knesset address, detailing what he saw as the parameters of such a settlement.
Moreover, it should be underscored that CIS’s paradigm for dramatic political concessions and drastic territorial withdrawal is in no way universally accepted by former senior security personnel. Indeed, in recent years an impressive team of ex-generals together with former high-ranking diplomats, intimately familiar with the political milieu in the US and Europe, produced a detailed analysis of what Israel’s minimal security requirements were.
The team was composed of Lt.-Gen. (res.) Moshe Ya’alon, former IDF chief of staff and current minister of defense; Maj-Gen. (res.) Uzi Dayan, former IDF deputy chief of staff and national security adviser; Maj-Gen. (res.) Yaakov Amidror, former national security adviser; Brig.- Gen. (res.) Udi Dekel, former head of the IDF Strategic Planning Division; Dr. Meir Rosenne, former ambassador to the US and France; Dore Gold, former ambassador to the UN.
Military assessment vs political speculation
In contrast to the glib sound-bites of what is essentially a political wish list of the CIS, this team produced a detailed document, over 100-pages, stipulating Israel’s minimal security requirements, which totally obviate the need for implementation of the API.
Indeed, to the best of my knowledge, CIS has detailed no security blueprint for how Israel would function, should the core elements of API be adopted, apart from assuring the public that CIS’s supporters have accumulated thousands of hours of security experience in the field. But then so did Ariel Sharon and Rabin when they assured the public that the disengagement and Oslo would enhance security and stability.
Moreover, as time passes, CIS is, by its own admission, emerging as part of the political lobby to replace Netanyahu, without detailing how, if its recommendations were accepted, the country would function with its only international airport within mortar range and the Trans-Israel Highway within tunnel reach of a Palestinian state.
In fact, apart from expressing deep dissatisfaction with the prevailing situation, CIS offers little by way of substance.
Its focus is on articulating largely unsubstantiated speculation as to the plausibility of possible political scenarios – a field in which it members have no special advantage of experience or expertise. They eschew, however, any sound appraisal of the security/military situation that would arise were its political prescriptions to be implemented – the field in which they can claim such advantage.
Right diagnosis; wrong prescription
In an opinion piece published in Haaretz (November 24, 2014), Shavit expressed fears for the future of Zionism: “… for the first time… I am truly concerned about the future of the Zionist project… about the critical mass of the threats against us on the one hand, and the government’s blindness and political and strategic paralysis on the other.”
In a column “On the cusp of carnage,” one week previously, I expressed similar concerns: “A perfect storm is brewing for Israel. On virtually every front, ominous clouds are gathering, and should the menacing maelstroms they portend hit together, it is far from certain that the Jewish state will survive the destructiveness of their combined impact.”
I, too, pointed to political and strategic dysfunction on the part of the government: “By adopting a policy of continually trying to avoid confrontations in which it can prevail, Israel may eventually find itself forced to engage in a confrontation in which it cannot.”
Shavit correctly observes: “Anti-Semitism and hatred of Israel have reached dimensions unknown since before World War II. Our public diplomacy and public relations have failed dismally… University campuses in the West, particularly in the US, are hothouses for the future leadership of their countries. We are losing the fight for support for Israel in the academic world…”
All very true. But, while I fully concur with Shavit’s diagnosis of the gravity of the situation, I strongly disagree with his prescription for remedying it.
Selling surrender as strategy
Although I am certain he will hotly dispute my characterization of his proposal, what Shavit is suggesting is surrender in the guise of strategy.
The API is for all intents and purposes a document of capitulation – acquiescence to virtually all Arab demands that successive governments have rejected as unacceptably hazardous. It forgoes virtually all the gains of the 1967 Six Day War, and imperils some of those of the 1948 War of Independence. Willingness to agree to it, even as a basis for negotiations, is a clear signal that every Israeli “No,” however emphatic initially, is in effect a “maybe” and a potential “Yes” in the future.
While I share Shavit’s views on the abysmal performance of Israel’s public diplomacy and its grave ramifications, the appropriate response to this is hardly to accede to maximalist Arab demands, thereby implicitly conceding we were wrong, and they were right, all along.
Rather, it should be to qualitatively enhance Israel’s public diplomacy endeavor, to radically increase the current miserly budget, to allot the resources it needs to rebut the mendacious recriminations Israel is subjected to, and present Israel’s just case assertively and robustly to the world.
Readers may recall I have repeatedly called to set up a billion dollar (1 percent of the state budget) diplomatic “Iron Dome,” rather than raise the white flag of surrender.
Thus, when Shavit bemoans the fact that Israel is losing the battle for hearts and minds across university campuses in the West, he should be aware that Israel has not lost the campuses – it has abandoned them to pro-Palestinian activism.
Again, the appropriate Israeli response is to mount a resolute public diplomacy offensive to retake them, not to acquiesce to Arab fabrications.
Window of opportunity or deceptive black hole?
In his second article (Hebrew) titled “Time to Initiate: Passive Policy Won’t Work” (February 8), he remarks that in his contacts with Arab leaders, he got the distinct impression that the Palestinian issue has, for many, become an annoying headache.
He goes on to contend that the unfolding developments in the Mideast – particularly the Iranian nuclear drive and the emergence of Islamic State – have created a convergence of interests between Israel and certain allegedly “moderate” states, notably Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan. He also includes Gulf states but, significantly, excludes arguably the most influential, Qatar. His conclusion is that Israel should “adopt the Saudi initiative as an anchor for renewing the negotiations to resolve the conflict.”
This argument is so flawed that it would take an entire column for an exhaustive rebuttal. But in a brutally condensed nutshell: The entire region is in meltdown. There is absolutely no guarantee that the current regimes will be in power for long. It would be foolhardy in the extreme to bet the farm on their durability.
Who would be responsible for imposing law and order in the nascent Palestinian state, established across the pre-1967 frontiers? Would Arab armies be allowed west of the Jordan River – a long standing taboo with all Israeli governments? If so, what would happen if a not totally unforeseen regime change took place in the home country of an army deployed? Would the IDF be expected to defend beleaguered Arab regimes that have “joint interests” with Israel if they were challenged by inimical rivals? If not, what interest would those regimes have in the deal? Would the prospective Palestinian state be demilitarized? If so, who would be responsible for its external defense? If not, how could Israel’s minimum security requirements be met?
Black hole (Cont.)
Thus, it is even money that Israel could end up making hazardous concessions under the assumption that benign, relatively like-minded regimes will safeguard purported “joint-interests” only to find that very soon they have been replaced by totally different regimes, with totally different perception of interests. Indeed, Qatar is a case in point, once one of the most amenable Gulf states, now a prime funder of jihadist terrorism.
But an even more fundamental question arises from Shavit’s proposition.
If, as he claims, the Palestinian issue is not of central importance to many Arab states, why should Israel have to make dramatic and dangerous concessions on it, just so that these states would deign to cooperate with Israel – to further other, far more vital, interests of their own? One might well ask why Israel should have to make any concessions to induce Arab states to cooperate in advancing their own national interests.
Worshiping the Golden Calf?
Disappointingly, Shavit also appears to fall prey to the El Dorado promise of untold prosperity should some unlikely regional arrangement come about. He cites a study promising dramatic increases in standards of living and reduction of defense spending.
Again, it would take an entire column to exhaustively disprove this claim, which one might have thought would have been permanently discredited with the demise of the Peres delusion of a “New Middle East.”
Suffice it to say that if the API were adopted, and a Palestinian state established on the fringes of Greater Tel Aviv, an equally – if not a more – plausible scenario could be advanced for economic collapse, disruption of air traffic, cessation of tourism , and spiraling defense expenditures.
After all, imagine the effect of Sderot-like realties being visited on the Coastal Plain from the commanding heights of a newly established “Palestine”…
I have raised these criticisms of Shavit’s proposals in good faith – for I believe, with deep conviction, that they imperil all that Shavit has spent most of his adult life defending. I hope he will relate to them as such and take up my invitation to respond to them in the spirit they were made.
As for CIS, I will continue to relate to its activities in future columns – on the assumption, of course that, it will not be disbanded soon after the election.
Martin Sherman (www.martinsherman.org) is the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies.