A recent interview by journalist Ari Shavit with former IDF chief of staff, now vice premier, Moshe Ya’alon, provides a fascinating insight into the thinking of one of Israel’s most sophisticated political leaders and covers the crucial challenges facing the nation. It deserves to be widely read.

Ironically, the extensive interview was published in the weekend magazine of Haaretz, the Israeli daily notorious for promoting the very views which Ya’alon’s interview devastatingly demolishes.

Coincidentally, precisely seven years ago I devoted a column to Ya’alon, describing him as one of the most adroit strategic thinkers to have headed the IDF. He was then accused of being disgruntled and embittered after his premature termination as chief of staff by then-prime minister Ariel Sharon in response to his fierce opposition to the withdrawal from Gaza – for which he was subsequently totally vindicated.

Ya’alon was retired in the wake of his successful military response to terror which demonstrated that, contrary to the mantras invoked by the bleeding-heart leftists, resolute military action can significantly neutralize terrorism. He was also proactive when he instituted dual-track initiatives of targeted assassinations and construction of the security fence, the combination of which effectively brought an end to the second intifada.

In my earlier column, I expressed frustration and anger that, in a country facing existential threats from its neighbors, a retiring chief of staff’s explicit warnings of disastrous repercussions arising from the policies of prime minister Ariel Sharon had been totally ignored by the government and opposition. Regrettably, his predictions were subsequently basically realized.

Although highly politically incorrect at the time, Ya’alon also asserted that Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas and his predecessor Yasser Arafat were birds of a feather. Far from being peace partners, he insisted that they were primarily committed to ending Jewish sovereignty in the region.

He furthermore predicted that the Arab “right of return,” which other Israeli leaders contended was merely a PA negotiating ploy, was set in stone and would remain a cornerstone of the intransigent Palestinian demands.

He also warned of impending missile attacks directed toward Israel’s civilians unless the government took steps to enforce tougher deterrence.

Vice-Premier Ya’alon is certainly not typical of contemporary right-wing activists. He is a follower of Ben- Gurion rather than Jabotinsky. He is a kibbutznik with a Labor background who displays traditionally liberal approaches in relation to most social, religious and economic issues. Yet while not religiously observant, he enthusiastically endorsed Jewish heritage educational programs designed to promote national consciousness in the IDF.

This new interview provides fascinating insights into Ya’alon’s view of the current imbroglio and reaffirms his primacy as a profound strategic thinker in relation to Israel’s external military threats.

A major component is devoted to the Iranian nuclear threat. Ya’alon stresses that we must not, under any circumstances, stand by and enable “the apocalyptic-messianic regime of the ayatollahs” to obtain the bomb. Although hopeful that Israel will not be obliged to go it alone, Ya’alon insists that “we are not bluffing” and that despite the likelihood of considerable Israel casualties should armed conflict ensue, it is unquestionably preferable for us to bomb rather than to be bombed.

He points out that the IDF has the ability to hit the Iranian surrogate Hezbollah with 150 times the explosive power they could direct against us, which should make the Lebanese government weigh the consequences if they enable missiles to be launched against Israel from their territory.

Ya’alon also articulates what few other Israeli leaders are willing to say publicly. “I was ready to divide the land but they are not... because they say ‘either them or us,’ I say ‘us’... as long as the other side is not ready to recognize our right to exist as the nation state of the Jewish people, I am not ready to forgo a millimeter. I am not even willing to talk about territory. After land-for- peace became land-for-terror and land-for-rockets, I am no longer willing to bury my head in the sand.”

He adds, “One of our biggest problems is that we have become solution-oriented and expect a solution now.... We need to look not for a solution but for a path. There are problems in life that have no solution.

At the moment the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a problem with no solution.... Anyone suggesting otherwise is promoting a false illusion. A golden calf. Selfdeception.”

Yet Ya’alon remains optimistic. “When I see where my grandparents and parents were and where my children are – I see that time is not working against us....The secret of Zionism is that when our ethos is to build and the ethos of the other side is to destroy, our ethos will triumph.... We must free ourselves of being solution- orientated and discard self-blame. We must free ourselves of thinking that if I give in to the enemy and please the enemy, the enemy will give me quiet. That is an Ashkenazi way of thinking unrelated to the reality of the Middle East.”

Ya’alon was asked, “As a Mapainik, a kibbutznik, a Rabinist, how did you become a Likudnik?” To which he responded, “The Labor movement had Yitzchak Tabenkin and Yigal Allon and Yitzhak Rabin.

Even Rabin from the Oslo process was never from Peace Now. He supported the Allon Plan in the broad sense and firmly opposed withdrawal to 1967 lines.

Before his assassination he spoke in the Knesset about an eternally united Jerusalem and about the Jordan Rift Valley and about a Palestinian entity that would be less than a state.”

Ya’alon is perhaps the most understated minister in the government and is considered a highly untypical Israeli leader. He is not an adept political street-fighter.

He is soft-spoken, even dour, and certainly lacks charisma.

Despite his low profile he is one of our most capable leaders. He was a brilliant chief of staff who can take credit, to a large extent, for creating the strategy that brought an end to the era of the suicide bombings.

His moral integrity would qualify him to serve as a role model for most Knesset members. Irrespective as to whether or not he rises to more senior positions in the government, it is comforting that a man of his caliber is today a senior member of the security cabinet and influential in the formulation of defense policies.

It is also reassuring to know that if Ya’alon ever considered that the government was initiating policies endangering the country, unlike numerous other politicians, he would not remain silent.

The writer’s website can be viewed at www.wordfromjerusalem.com. He may be contacted at ileibler@netvision.net.il

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