Ambition drove many men to become false; to have one thought locked in the breast, another ready on the tongue
– Gaius Sallustius Crispus (Sallust), Roman historian and politician, (86 BCE-c.35 BCE)
is our experience that political leaders do not always mean the
opposite of what they say – Abba Eban, Israeli diplomat and politician
It may be instructive to keep the sentiments conveyed in the above excerpts in mind while reading the following essay.
Next week will usher in the opening of the fourth Israeli Presidential Conference.
titled Facing Tomorrow, its list of speakers features a cavalcade of
internationally renowned dignitaries, drawn from fields spanning nearly
the entire range of human endeavor, testifying to the president’s
impressive drawing power. The program offers a myriad of intriguing and
important topics that almost certainly will impinge on the lives of
billions in the future.
As the conference follows this week’s
award of the US Presidential Medal of Freedom to Peres by Barack Obama –
both men were among the most “puzzling” recipients of the Nobel Peace
prize ever – the media-hype surrounding the event is likely to be even
more intense than usual.
Ostensibly, all this attention is well-merited.
all, Peres is not only a figure of considerable world standing, having
had almost every conceivable international honor bestowed on him – but
has, to a large degree, restored the aura of presidential dignity to the
office, so severely undermined by his predecessor.
week’s Facing Tomorrow Conference might be an apt opportunity for a
glimpse at Peres’s (apparently forgotten) “Yesterday” and an assessment
of the route he has traversed in attaining his position at the pinnacle
of world acclaim.
The fruits of failure
extraordinary ability, passion and energy are beyond dispute. But so it
would seem is his unbridled ambition, making the caveats in the
introductory excerpts highly relevant.
During the state’s first
decade, as a young protege of David Ben-Gurion, he is credited with
playing a leading role in setting up much of the foundations for the
nascent nation’s military infrastructure that has been so crucial in
ensuring its survival and its technological edge – including Israel
Aircraft Industries (today Israel Aerospace Industries), the acquisition
of advanced combat aircraft from France and the establishment of the
nuclear facility in Dimona.
As defense minister as the time of
the Entebbe raid in 1976, many identify him as providing the political
will to push through the decision to carry out the now legendary
But perversely, it has not been Peres’s successes –
but his failures – that have catapulted him to international stardom. It
was not his’s dramatic feats in the service of his nation that brought
him global celebrity status, but his disastrous fiascoes in the pursuit
of his wildly unrealistic illusions.
It was the Oslo Accords – which have long since imploded into bloody ruin – that brought him the 1994 Nobel Peace prize.
was his lofty vision of a “New Middle East” – with peace and prosperity
stretching from the Maghreb to the Persian Gulf – that caught the
imagination of so many but now appears nothing but a ludicrous delusion.
it was not his considerable contributions to Israeli security that made
him such a sought after figure on the global stage, but rather his
adoption of the role of supranational statesman on a noble quest for
regional peace, a quest that precipitated nothing but death and
‘Tomorrow’ as a brand-name
has always been obsessed with “Tomorrow.” In many ways he has
appropriated it as his profession trademark, in an endeavor to brand
himself as future-oriented statesman. And while there was much to
substantiate that image in an earlier era, his predictive acumen seems
to have deserted him in later years.
One of his first forays in
to “Tomorrow-territory” was a programmatic book he authored as chairman
of the Labor Party, just after it had lost power for the first time, to
Menachem Begin’s Likud. Titled Tomorrow is Now and published in 1978, it
laid out Peres’s prescriptive vision for the future conduct of the
affairs of the nation.
In many ways, the book – available only in Hebrew – is an astonishing document.
For those who are only familiar with the post-Oslowian version of Peres, it offers staggering surprises.
the citizens of Israel – and anyone concerned with the fate of the
Jewish state – it raises deeply disturbing questions regarding the
judgment, credibility and integrity of those who have served in
positions of senior leadership, and serious doubts as to the trust that
can be placed in their pronouncements to the nation.
Prudent pre-Oslowian predictions
Tomorrow is Now, pre-Oslowian Peres gives a chillingly accurate
prediction of would occur if the policies endorsed by post-Oslowian
Peres were in fact adopted, sternly cautioning as to the realities
liable to emerge should Israel accept the idea of a Palestinian state.
establishment of such [a Palestinian] state means the inflow of
combat-ready Palestinian forces (more than 25,000 men under arms) into
Judea and Samaria; this force, together with the local youth, will
double itself in a short time. It will not be short of weapons or other
[military] equipment, and in a short space of time, an infrastructure
for waging war will be set up in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip.
Israel will have problems in preserving day-to-day security, which may
drive the country into war, or undermine the morale of its citizens.”
was of course proved right – for these were precisely the realities
that precipitated the IDF’s Operation Defensive Shield Judea and Samaria
in 2002 – and later Operation Cast Lead in Gaza in 2009.
Peres continued, warning of the grave consequences further territorial
concessions advocated by post-Oslowian Peres would entail: “If a
Palestinian state is established, it will be armed to the teeth.
it there will be bases of the most extreme terrorist forces, who will
be equipped with anti-tank and anti-aircraft shoulder-launched rockets,
which will endanger not only random passersby, but also every airplane
and helicopter taking off in the skies of Israel and every vehicle
traveling along the major traffic routes in the Coastal Plain.
time of war, the frontiers of the Palestinian state will constitute an
excellent staging point for mobile forces to mount attacks on
infrastructure installations vital for Israel’s existence, to impede the
freedom of action of the Israeli air force in the skies over Israel,
and to cause bloodshed among the population...in areas adjacent to the
Territory’s enduring significance
it was not only low-intensity conflict and terror-related dangers that
concerned pre-Oslowian Peres. He expressed grave concern over
conventional warfare threats as well. Although post-Oslowian Peres
commonly dismisses the importance of territory in the age of modern
weaponry, pre- Oslowian Peres knew better, articulating a cogent
rationale why the enhanced range, mobility and firepower of today’s
weapon systems enhance its strategic significance: “In 1948, it may have
been possible to defend the ‘thin waist’ of Israel’s most densely
populated area, when the most formidable weapon used by both sides was
the cannon of limited mobility and limited fire-power.
20th century, with the development of the rapid mobility of armies, the
defensive importance of territorial expanse has increased... Without a
border which affords security, a country is doomed to destruction in
war,” he wrote.
Regarding Israel’s minuscule dimensions,
pre-Oslowian Peres elaborated: “It is, of course, doubtful whether
territorial expanse can provide absolute deterrence. However, the lack
of minimal territorial expanse places a country in a position of an
absolute lack of deterrence. This in itself constitutes an almost
compulsive temptation to attack Israel from all directions.”
Dismissing Arab credibility
disconcerting is the dramatic dichotomy between Peres’s pre-Oslowian
denigration of the value of agreements with the Arabs and his
post-Oslowian enthusiasm for them – particularly with regard to
Pre-Oslowian Peres warned: “Demilitarization of
the West Bank also seems a dubious measure. The major issue is not
[attaining] an agreement, but ensuring its actual implementation in
practice. The number of agreements which the Arabs have violated is no
less than number which they have kept.”
It is difficult to imagine that any later, post- Oslo, experience has served to enhance his confidence on this matter.
Indeed, Peres maintained his deep cynicism regarding Palestinian trustworthiness right up to the conclusion of the Oslo Accords.
in his The New Middle East, published in 1993, he asks: “Even if the
Palestinians agree that their state will have no army or weapons, who
can guarantee that a Palestinian army would not be mustered later to
encamp at the gates of Jerusalem and the approaches to the lowlands?”
continues: “And if the Palestinian state would be unarmed, how would it
block terrorist acts perpetrated by extremists, fundamentalists or
Peres on settlements – yesterday.
perhaps the most astounding of all is pre-Oslowian Peres’s stance on
the issue of “settlements” and the imperative he saw for their
development. He urged Israel:
"to create a continuous stretch of new
settlements; to bolster Jerusalem and the surrounding hills, from the
north, from the east, and from the south and from the west, by means of
the establishment of townships, suburbs and villages – Ma’aleh Adumim,
Ofra, Gilo, Beit El, Givon – to ensure that the capital and its flanks
are secured, and underpinned by urban and rural settlements.
settlements will be connected to the Coastal Plain and the Jordan
Valley by new lateral axis roads; the settlements along the Jordan River
are intended to establish the Jordan River as the [Israel’s] de facto
security border; however, it is the settlements on the western slopes of
the hills of Samaria and Judea which will deliver us from the curse of
Israel’s ‘narrow waist.’”
No kidding! He really wrote that.
imagine how distressing it must be for the hundreds of thousands of
Israelis who rallied to implement pre-Oslowian Peres’s call to “deliver
us from the curse of Israel’s “narrow waist” and establish settlements
that post-Oslowian Peres now denounces.
Would a bitter sense of betrayal not be totally understandable – even inevitable?
A crisis of credibility?
breathtaking divergence between the positions of pre-and post-Oslowian
Peres raised hugely troubling questions as to the credibility of Israeli
leaders – and the store the Israel citizenry – indeed the Jewish people
– can place in their words.
While people are, of course,
entitled to change their minds – and Peres may indeed have had a change
of mind – one cannot but wonder what could have possibly induced him:
• to abandon a position that proved so well-founded for one that proved so wildly unfounded?
to adopt a policy he previously rejected as too perilous for the
nation’s security – particularly as his forebodings all proved
• to urge his people down a path that he himself warned
was disastrous – especially as all the predicted perils did in fact
How can such conduct be reconciled with a genuine
concern for the national interest? And if it cannot, what conclusions
should be drawn?
Perhaps the insights in introductory excerpts as to the nature of “Ambition” might provide a clue to the answer?