Moshe “Bogie” Ya’alon has taken over as defense minister.
the ministry well from the many years and long hours of discussions with
previous defense ministers in which he participated first as a major-general and
later as IDF chief of staff.
Ya’alon will be the one to stand at the
forefront and handle Israel’s greatest security threats. Of course, he will act
in accordance with directives from Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, but his
influence in the security establishment that he heads will be quite
Ya’alon was not Netanyahu’s first choice for the position, but
Likud primary constraints, including the pre-election deal with Yisrael Beytenu,
forced him to choose the only viable option available at the
Ya’alon was also definitely not the first choice of many senior
Likud members, especially ministers who top the list and who have set their
sights on future leadership of the party. They are anxious about their future,
and recognize that Ya’alon’s appointment directly threatens their chances of
ever leading the Likud.
What issues will Ya’alon have to contend with as
he assumes his new position?
1. The Iranian threat – World leaders are holding
talks, the Americans are threatening, the Europeans are imposing sanctions,
while the Iranians get closer and closer to becoming a nuclear
According to senior officials in the defense establishment, this
is perhaps the only real threat currently facing the State of
Sanctions by Western countries have indeed slowed down Iran’s
progression in becoming a nuclear power. There have also been embarrassing
mishaps, strange computer viruses, and Iranian nuclear scientists who have died,
all of which have contributed to the slowing of Iran’s progress, and convinced
them to return to the negotiating table.
However, even in their current
state, the Iranians are already operating tens of thousands of centrifuges, and
have a growing stockpile of enriched uranium, which according to official
estimates are enough to arm five or six bombs. They only need six more months to
complete their nuclear warheads.
Yet it’s important to note that they
have not yet reached this stage.
They continue to work diligently toward
this goal, while at the same time they are spreading a smokescreen in the form
of willingness to participate in negotiations with the West. The main question
is, how do we react to this threat? Talks have gotten us nowhere, sanctions and
economic hardships in Iran – such as secret warfare – have caused significant
delays, but have not been able to halt their nuclear program. It is unlikely
that there will be a change in Iranian leadership or government in the near
future, and it is hard to imagine that Israel or Western countries would let
Iran become a nuclear power. President Barack Obama has made it clear that a
nuclear Iran crosses the US’s red line.
This means that in the absence of
an Iranian policy change, the only available option is some type of military
operation – with or without US or world support. Ya’alon made no secret of his
determination in this matter when he said that he considers Iran to be the
leader of the axis of evil.
The Iranians also aim to completely
obliterate Israel, a mission that Syria, Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad – and until
recently, Turkey – have joined.
Ya’alon has stated publicly on several
occasions that he believes that the West should engage in diplomatic talks with
Iran up to a certain point.
But in the absence of progress, the only
realistic course of action is a military one.
The Arab Spring has turned
into the Middle Eastern Winter for us Israelis. The domino effect in the series
of revolutions in neighboring Arab countries has not yet come to an end. In most
of these countries, radical Islamic groups have wrested control.
will be the next in line to fall, and according to all indications, Bashar
Assad’s days are limited. A number of militant groups are fighting against the
minority Alawites over control of Syria, and there is tremendous concern that
Islamic extremists might overtake the country.
While this is not an
existential threat for the State of Israel, the Syrian arsenal and its impact on
Hezbollah, as well as the possibility that these weapons could reach the hands
of terrorists, are cause for great concern and food for thought for the incoming
Israel continues to suffer from political isolation as
the “powerful and violent occupying force over the Palestinians.”
is therefore finding it quite difficult to change world opinion or to win over
This threat is not the exclusive domain of the minister of
defense, but its impact on Israel’s security policy is critical.
threat is mainly the result of Israel’s security status.
challenge, as Ya’alon sees it, is to implement Israeli policy, while at the same
time acting with determination to change Israel’s world image and making an even
greater effort to present the logic of the Israeli position.
Palestinian conflict – For Ya’alon, there is no real possibility of progressing
in negotiations with the Palestinians.
According to Ya’alon, without the
Palestinians‚ full recognition of the Jewish state’s right to exist, and the
renunciation of Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine, Israel will not be able
to move ahead with political negotiations with the Palestinians.
that neither of these acts is likely, Ya’alon understands that Israel must
continue to live with this ongoing conflict. He believes that the Palestinians‚
challenge is not to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but rather to
reinforce it and to maintain it for as long as possible, or at least until the
Palestinians change their minds.
3. Arab Israelis – Israel’s lack of
proper maintenance of Palestinians, along with years of neglect, have increased
their feelings of alienation and anger. It is clear today that it is only a
question of time until another outbreak occurs.
According to futurist
Bar-Ilan University Prof. David Passig, along with the sharpening divide in the
haredi and secular communities, this could constitute an existential threat for
Israel within three decades.
Ya’alon’s solution to these challenges is
the continued investment in developing Israel’s security and military strength,
and relying exclusively on its own security capabilities in the air, sea and
In this age of budget cuts, Ya’alon will also need a bit of luck,
US aid, and stability on the home front.
Will he succeed? Only time will
The writer is a former brigadier-general who served as a division
head in the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency). Translated by Hannah Hochner.