(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Former IDF chief of General Staff Moshe Ya'alon expressed concerns on Thursday that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni are making decisions regarding Operation Cast Lead according to what suits them politically.
"I am worried that some of the leaks and some of the decisions from the highest political level have been made for political reasons and I hope that the substantive decisions about when to begin and end the war have not also been made for political reasons," Ya'alon said in a telephone interview on Thursday.
Ya'alon is considered a likely candidate for defense minister should the Likud win the February 10 election, unless it forms a national-unity government with Labor, in which case the job is expected to go to Barak.
Ya'alon has been a frequent critic of the disengagement from the Gaza Strip and the recent six-month truce with Hamas.
Much like his party chairman, Binyamin Netanyahu, Ya'alon has been supportive of the ongoing operations in Gaza while expressing skepticism about the abilities of the current leadership to achieve a desired result.
Ya'alon said that militarily, the operation was going well and that the IDF had proven its abilities and its professionalism. He said questions remained, however, about what the politicians leading the campaign hope to achieve before it ends.
Cabinet ministers were divided Thursday among those who sought an immediate cease-fire, others who want to topple Hamas and bring Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas back to power in the Gaza Strip, and still others who favor an international force in the Philadelphi Corridor between the Strip and Egypt.
"I don't support any of those sides," Ya'alon said. "From my experience, the goal has to be creating a new reality so that Hamas won't dare fire a rocket or smuggle arms.
"For this we don't need a UN decision or an international force," he said. "We saw how the UN decision that ended the Second Lebanon War and the UNIFIL force in Lebanon have allowed Hizbullah to rearm and didn't stop Katyushas from being fired today."
Ya'alon called the operation in Gaza "better late than never," and said it should have taken place when the first rocket was fired after the disengagement.
He said the optimum solution was what happened following Operation Defensive Shield in the West Bank, which ended on Israel's terms, with it being made clear that the IDF would continue to respond to any provocation.
While Netanyahu and Ya'alon support toppling Hamas, they believe it must be done in a staged process that brings the Palestinian people to realize that Hamas's ideology is not good for them.
This follows the Likud's diplomatic approach of first building up the PA economically before trying to make progress on final-status issues.
"We have been focusing too much in the current fighting on the symptoms and not the real problems," Ya'alon said. "We have to remember what brought us to this situation, which was a policy of disengagement and cease-fires. It's important to learn lessons from the mistakes of disengagement and the diplomatic policies since then."