Thursday, April 22, 2010

Former Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon speaks out

The former Chief of Staff of Israel's Defense Force and presently Strategic Affairs Minister, General Moshe 'Bogie' Ya'alon was interviewed for the just celebrated Israel's 62nd independence day in the Jerusalem Post (19 April 2010)

Here follow some of the important things this true patriot said:

There is a lack of clarity about what the US is asking of Israel. What are their demands?

The US is Israel's ally. This is a deep, strategic, alliance, based on common values and interests. But between friends there are disagreements that sometimes become public. On the one hand, there are disagreements, on the other there is a continuing dialogue.

Most of us in the government have accompanied the diplomatic process over the last 17 years. We have a different view of the challenges before us, and what the priorities need to be in the Middle East.

We do not think the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the heart of the issue. I would even say that if Israel, God forbid, ceased to exist, the US and the West would need to deal with the wave of jihadist Islam. That is the main problem.

When we condense this conflict to a territorial one, either in Lebanon or in Gaza, we see that our withdrawals strengthened jihadist Islam. That is an example of differences in view that we share with the US.

The second difference, obviously, has to do with Iran. We see the Iranian issue as the most important.

If you are looking for a center for instability, it is not the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; it is precisely the Iranian government. It fuels the jihadist Islamic wave.

Does the US not see in Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas's refusal to accept Ehud Olmert's generous offer in 2008 as a lack of willingness on the Palestinian side to come to an agreement?

Apparently not. From the dawn of Zionism there has not been a Palestinian leadership willing to recognize Israel's right to exist as the national home of the Jewish people. This is the source of the problem, and not what is called the occupied territories since '67. The opposition to Zionism began before we liberated Judea, Samaria and Gaza; before we established a state.

In order for there to a proper prognosis, you need a proper diagnosis. We are arguing, and not only with them, but with the Israeli Left, about what is the root of the problem. Part of the issue, which influences the US and European positions, is our internal confusion.

I also used to think the solution was land for peace, until I became the head of military intelligence, saw things from up close and my thinking underwent an evolution.

We are willing to move forward in Judea and Samaria with the government of Abu Mazen [Abbas] and Salam Fayyad. But for this we don't have to return to the '67 borders or divide Jerusalem; we don't have to place ourselves in danger again.

There is a general denial - including by Fayyad - of the connection between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel. He gave a lecture at an interfaith conference in New York two years ago about the sanctity of Jerusalem, and he talked about how it was holy for Christianity and Islam. How is it possible to deny the connection between the Jewish people and Jerusalem? How?

Have you seen any improvement in this attitude recently?

No, there is no change. There is a change in tactics. They understood that terror doesn't work, especially after 9/11. It is better to characterize this as opposition to occupation, that is more convincing in the postcolonial world, because those who don't know the details here think we are colonialists, deny that this was our home dating back 3,000 years.

Those who want to continue the Oslo process, who want us to continue to give and give and give, without a Palestinian willingness to recognize our right to a national home, are cooperating with the phased plan for Israel's destruction.

Before Annapolis, which was not that long ago, Abu Mazen - the head of a government considered moderate - was asked by Olmert to agree at the end of the conference to a declaration saying 'two states for two peoples.' He was not willing.

Saeb Erekat was asked why not on Al Jazeera, and said because there is no Jewish people; that Judaism is a religion, and why should a religion get a state.

The prime minister said before the elections he was willing to accept the commitments of the previous government, among them the understanding between [George] Bush and [Ariel] Sharon, that no new settlements would be built in Judea and Samaria, and that construction in the settlements would be allowed [to enable] normal life, not exactly natural growth. That was the understanding, and construction continued through the Olmert and Sharon governments.

More than that, he [Netanyahu] said we accept our commitment regarding dismantling 23 outposts that were defined by the Sharon government as illegal. He accepted that, until it became clear that the US administration does not accept the commitments of the previous administration.

Secondly, we completely reject the argument that the settlements are the reason there is no peace. I think Arafat was willing to go to Oslo because of the settlements. When he saw the [massive Russian] aliya, and the settlements, he thought he was going to lose everything.

But if we are talking about coexistence and peace, why the insistence that the territory they receive be ethnically cleansed of Jews? Why do those areas have to be Judenrein? Don't Arabs live here, in the Negev and Galilee? Why isn't that part of our public discussion? Why doesn't that scream to the heavens?

Do you really think Jews will be allowed to live there under Israeli sovereignty in a future Palestinian entity?

In Judea and Samaria, if you are talking about peace, there is enough place for Jews and Arabs. If you are talking about war, it is more complicated. How much open space do you have in Judea and Samaria? Quite a bit. What percentage of the territory do the Jews control? Five percent. That is what everything hinges on?

In your mind there will be no need in the future to uproot any settlement?

No settlement. I don't even want to talk about territorial withdrawals in an age in which the withdrawal from Lebanon strengthened Hizbullah, and the withdrawal from Gaza strengthened Hamas to the point where we have the second Islamic republic in the Middle East - the first in Iran, and the second in Gaza: Hamastan. That is opposed to our strategic interest, and to the strategic interests of the west.

With that, we are completely isolated today, and the Palestinians can sit and wait until the Americans step in and impose something.

First, we are not completely isolated. The issue today is whether there is a partner who is willing to recognize our right to a national home here. That is the key. That is where the discussion needs to start, not about construction in the settlements or east Jerusalem.

But here there is also an issue of trust between us and them [the US]. We heard from the secretary of state after we declared the moratorium that it was unprecedented, and that the ball was now in the Palestinian court.

What have the Palestinians done since then to enter the negotiations? What have they done? For a full year they did nothing to get into the process, and all of a sudden the ball is back in our court because of the excuse of 1,600 apartments that went through a bureaucratic process in Jerusalem?

What will happen if Obama stands up in September and says this is our plan? How do you react?

There have been so many plans in the past, so many proposals, and none of them were implemented. I hope we don't get to that.

If the Arab world feels that the US has given Israel a cold shoulder, then the likelihood of an outburst of violence will increase. Therefore, we need to do continue to talk [to the Administration], share with them our thoughts, and prevent the types of situations that we have been reading about over the last few days in the papers.

But there are those who say Zion is not necessarily Isawiya or Abu Dis.

You don't have to talk to me about territorial compromise, because I was willing until Oslo.

I grew up amid the camp prepared for territorial concession.... I was ready for territorial compromise along the lines of Oslo. But then it became clear to me that there was no partner, including among those considered moderates.

How concerned are you by the argument heard increasingly in the US that we are endangering the lives of US soldiers?

That is first and foremost a manipulation, and a lie. The truth is the complete opposite. If we are seen as standing firm against the jihadists, against Hamas and Hizbullah, that serves the US interests. And if we are seen as weak, whether in Lebanon, Gaza, or in Judea and Samaria, that harms US interests.

It is clear to us that the central threat today, and the thing that needs to be the highest priority for the world, is not the Israeli-Palestinian issue, but rather the Iranian one. Even before Iran has nuclear capability, it nourishes terrorism, supports it, and pays for it. It also does this in the US's backyard, in South America. The link between Chavezism and jihadism is crawling, but has now spread to five states.

When it comes to the Iranian nuclear threat, it is clear that what is needed is steadfastness from the west. It is not Israel vs Iran, which unfortunately I see in headlines on CNN. It is America, Western civilization vs Iran.

We think the Iranian government should long ago have had to face this dilemma: the bomb or survival. That is the dilemma, and it should be created before you deploy a military option. But it has to be based on Western determination, Western unity, diplomatic isolation, economic sanctions and in the background a credible military option.

Which leaders today are the most determined regarding Iran?

We see France today demonstrating the right policies, and Britain. They understand the enormity of the challenge.

Does Obama?

Something has happened here that we haven't seen in the past. Previously the US led the aggressive line. Today, as I said, the president of France and prime minister of Britain are leading a more aggressive line than the president of the US. And then you have Germany and Italy, who join up with the American position.

I don't think there is an actor in the world who wants to see a nuclear Iran.

You don't really think that another UN round of sanctions will get Iran to stop their nuclear program. What will?

First of all, I hope this isn't the last step to place the Iranian government in the dilemma between bomb and survival. I hope the free world will continue to lead these types of steps against Iran. And as I said, a credible military option always has to be waved in the background ... Those who want to prevent using that option need to invest in diplomatic isolation and economic sanctions.

Beyond that, things are happening inside Iran. The Iranian economy is in a problematic condition. The government is already having to deal with the issue of whether to cancel subsidies, which can by itself awaken instability.

According to our understanding, most Iranians do not want a jihadist Islamic government. Therefore, from a historical perspective, this government will not survive forever. [But] the link between unconventional weapons and an unconventional regime is a poisonous and dangerous connection.

Look at the Washington [Nuclear Security] summit ... Where will the nuclear material for terrorism come from, if not from these types of regimes? This is the big concern - that a regime of this type, which is messianic-apocalyptic, and has as its strategic objective the imposition of Islam all over the globe, can use proxies with dirty bombs against the US, Europe and Israel.

You describe a situation, both concerning the Palestinians and the Iranians, in which we feel the Americans think they know better than us what our interests are, and where we are trying to educate the Americans what their interests are.

Look, we live in the Middle East. I can testify, as someone familiar with the relationship with the US over many years ... that there were many times when, yes, we needed to explain to the US what is really happening, and what is really the right way to do things. You see how many mistakes the Americans have made in the last few years.

Because they didn't listen to us?

Yes, because they didn't listen to us. In Iraq, at the beginning, they didn't come here to learn. [Also] on other questions, on the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

[Former US envoy Anthony] Zinni came here [in 2002] and said the [terrorism] problem is because of the roadblocks.... We live here [and experience] the fundamental problems. If you don't live it, if you come to the area on a visit, then you say, 'Oh, the problem is the roadblocks. Take them down and there will be no more terror." But before 2000, there were no roadblocks from Jenin to Hebron, only on the perimeter ... So nobody can come and tell me the terrorism is because of the roadblocks. The roadblocks are because of the terrorism. Were there no terror, there would be no roadblocks.

But people like Olmert and Sharon strengthened the impression that we could just set the borders unilaterally. The American reaction now is partly a result of the policy of previous governments.

There is not one person in the septet who thinks it is possible to reach a permanent agreement according to this formula in the foreseeable future. Not one person.

This conversation has been a bit depressing. Where is the ray of light?

If there is something we need to strengthen on the 62nd Yom Ha'atzmaut it is the spirit. That has been eroded, at a time when the physical dimensions are so strong.

Unfortunately we hear statements - we heard them from the previous government - that time is not on our side. We hear this even today. My reply is that the fathers of Zionism used to say that time is on the side of those who take advantage of it. Just as we took advantage of it in the past, so too must we take advantage of it in the future: to build, to grow, to develop in all spheres. I am convinced we can do it, the fact is that we have done it successfully in the past. We just need to continue.

International Christian Zionist Center
P.O. Box 49063
91490 Jerusalem, ISRAEL

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