Israel and the March to War

Richard Silverstein – Tikum Olam October 14, 2011

Two new pieces from the Israeli media, whose more perceptive journalists are monitoring what I’m beginning to think is a march to war on the part of Bibi Netanyahu and Ehud Barak. Amir Oren writes in Haaretz (one explanation is in order to give context to one phrase below–the medical residents are on strike in Israel for higher wages):

The modus operandi of Netanyahu and Barak shows a willingness to absorb a small loss if they think it will help them attain a great success. The behavior of prime ministers and defense ministers in previous affairs provides telling indications that add up to a clear direction: toward some sort of military adventure.

…Barak and Netanyahu regretted Gabi Ashkenazi’s fourth year as Israel Defense Forces chief of staff, Yuval Diskin’s sixth year as head of the Shin Bet security service, and Meir Dagan’s eighth year as head of the Mossad…Ashkenazi and Dagan made it hard for Netanyahu and Barak to take action against Iran.

…As for the green light from Washington, Netanyahu and Barak’s gamble is especially big. Maybe they think that Barack Obama will show restraint… If the two Israeli ministers are wrong, this is a particularly dangerous illusion. After the statement by U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta on board his flight to Tel Aviv and again at IDF headquarters – that “coordination” is required against Iran – should Israel take action, it would give an impression that there is such coordination.

…To put it in the terms of which Netanyahu is so fond, he behaved like Chamberlain this week, in trying to depict capitulation as an accomplishment. The day is not far off, Netanyahu believes, when Churchill will emerge from him. Until that happens, he would do well to give in once more, this time to the medical residents. They are needed in the hospitals, in preparation for the “escalation” for which the Shalit deal was prelude

This follows on themes developed by Alex Fishman in a Yediot story I translated here a few days ago, in which he reported that Bibi was prepared to make concessions on a lesser matter in order to lay the groundwork for a much bigger objective: Iran.

Next up, Ben Caspit, who I’ve also reported on here previously regarding his fears of an Iran attack. Today’s column, while presented as a quasi fairy tale (or is it horror story?), nevertheless warns us of very real dangers of war fast approaching:

There was a strange phenomenon happening over the past few weeks. More and more people, mostly former senior officials and even a few currently serving in security and intelligence services, who are making their way carefully and stealthfully to the light. That is to us, the media.

They meet with us in far-flung places. They whisper. They are afraid. They believe the great anticipated event in the East is approaching. They read and heed the words of Meir Dagan. They hear more words of others which don’t reach the ears of the public (because of the censor repeating the mistakes of 1973 [several major stories predicting the Yom Kippur War were censored in the days leading up to it]).

They cry out for help. They tell of one Benny Gantz, Israel’s chief of staff, alone in the Kirya [Israel's Pentagon], who also needs help.  During the previous term, there were those three giants Ashkenazi, Diskin and Dagan who stopped an earlier disaster with their own bodies (in their words).  But the previous term is over.  Now we await the next term.  Ashkenazi, Diskin and Dagan are no more.  Their successors (Gantz, Cohen and Pardo) think as they did.  But they haven’t developed their own authority…They need help.  They’re not persuaded that the pair of Netanyahu-Barak, or more precisely Barak-Netanyahu can realize its dangerous fantasies.  Neither are they persuaded they can’t.  They’re aware how big the bet is, how great the danger.  And some of them believe this isn’t just their imaginations, that Bibi doesn’t fully understand, and that Barak is satisfied playing on his fiddle on high as the city burns below.

I don’t have much to say to these people.

The American defense secretary, Leon Panetta, said it out loud [calling for Israeli restraint], and the people heard during his last visit two weeks ago.  That’s why he came.  Was the message heard in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv?  Not everyone is so sure.  According to the fatalist version, signing the Shalit deal was meant to “clear the table,” because afterward there would be nothing and no one with whom to sign because everything will be burning.  Let’s hope we’re talking about a child’s tale.

There are only two possibilities here: either the increasing mass of serious journalists writing in such a breathless gasps about looming war are right.  Or Bibi and Barak are attempting to psyche out the Iranians so that they’ll do the west’s bidding and compromise about their nuclear program.  Even if number 2 were true, any fool can see it’s not working and the Iranians are not folding.  That leaves us only with number 1.

In circumstances like this you always examine the motives and political leanings of your source.  And I’ve considered that in the case of Alex Fishman, Ben Caspit and Amir Oren.  If they were all hawks clamoring for war; or alternatively if they were all left-wing alarmists warning their readers because they were anti-war, of course I would discount them.  As it is the each represent different political allegiances with Oren on the (center) left, Fishman in the middle and Caspit on the right.  Caspit certainly is known for being right wing and is a close ally of Meir Dagan.  But even if you discount his views (which I don’t in this case), that still leaves you with two other journalists who don’t appear to have any axe to grind.

Some of you may wonder: how could Israel be preparing for the massive effort it would take to attack Iran and we wouldn’t know about it?  I remind you that Israeli censorship would prevent any specific information from being published that would offer any direct confirmation of such preparations.  And reporters know the system well enough that they pre-censor their material, or shape it so that they allude rather than state explicitly information they know won’t pass the censor.  That is why reports like the ones above give me such concern.  The only thing they don’t offer is a smoking gun…or F-16, fueling up for its rendezvous with destiny at Qom or Natanz.

I just consulted a trusted Israeli source, asking over the history of Israel’s wars, what was the media climate that preceded them.  I asked whether there were these mounting, thinly veiled warnings from the media after which war came; or whether wars came on more suddenly, without such media chatter.  S/He told me that Israel’s wars of choice (Cast Lead, Lebanon 1982, etc.) were much more like the current situation.  All of which makes me very, very scared.

I don’t know if Fishman, Oren, Caspit, Dagan and others are right about the oncoming war.  But their views are too sobering NOT to take seriously.  I would rather be wrong and have spoken out, than be right and not have said anything for fear of being wrong.

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