With what might be considered a characteristic lack of fanfare, Efraim Halevy published a book last week.
Man in the Shadows is in large part a memoir of the former Mossad director's twilight years of quiet creative thinking, common sense and troubleshooting in the upper echelons of the Israeli intelligence community, and in small part a recipe for trying to sustain life on the planet in the face of al-Qaida style global terrorist aspirations.
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Wise, often understated and sometimes shockingly counterintuitive, its construction, you sense, was guided throughout by the George Washington-authored dictum that Halevy quotes 20 pages from the book's conclusion: "The necessity of procuring good intelligence is apparent and need not be further urgedâ€¦ All that remains for me to add is that you keep the whole matter as secret as possible. For on secrecy success depends in most enterprises of the kind, and for want of it they are generally defeatedâ€¦"
In consequence, Halevy offers no headline-grabbing expos s of previously classified acts of Mossad derring-do, though he is uniquely equipped to have provided them and, equally importantly, to have argued disarmingly and persuasively with the present-day guardians of state secrecy as to the value of their publication.
And though he writes at length of his interactions with all of Israel's prime ministers and many of his and their regional and international counterparts in the period on which he has chosen to focus, from the late 1980s to the present, he steadfastly eschews sensationalist critique.
The material is frequently riveting. No breathless prose can compete with his central player's deliberate account of the progress toward peace with Jordan's estimable King Hussein in 1994, or of his equally vital role, when summoned home from diplomatic pastures, in the salvaging of that accord following the Mossad's botched assassination attempt on Hamas's Khaled Mashaal on the streets of Amman three years later.
"I suggested that Israel release the jailed founder-leader of Hamas, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, and hand him over to Jordan," Halevy dryly recounts, recalling the crisis that saw six Mossad agents trapped in the kingdom and Hussein preparing to abrogate the peace treaty. "A deafening silence greeted my suggestion. After the initial shock, my colleagues tore into it mercilesslyâ€¦ and suggested that I come up with a proposal that was less pretentious and dramaticâ€¦ [Prime minister] Netanyahu responded with an immediate rejection. It was unthinkable and he would not even give the proposal any further thoughtâ€¦ The following morningâ€¦ he accepted the request."
Halevy is not self-effacing, for instance readily highlighting and plainly delighting in his pivotal role in the formulation of the Sharon government's strategy for the isolation and political demise of Yasser Arafat. Seized upon and endorsed with stunning alacrity not only in the West but in parts of the Arab world, this policy was nothing less than a successful attempt at regime change - which is what Halevy rightly terms it here, but few did at the time.
Yet he writes subtly and without bombast - a publisher's nightmare, perhaps, but true to his own circumspect disposition.
There is reasoned praise for the motivations and capabilities of Yitzhak Shamir, Yitzhak Rabin and Ariel Sharon, and, notably, for Binyamin Netanyahu's "whirlwind mastery of diverse details and complex considerations" during the Mashaal affair and, in this and other times of crisis, his steadfast support for the Mossad's integrity and independence.
There is brief criticism of Barak - the familiar assessment that the ex-chief of staff's short and unhappy prime ministership, including what Halevy terms his "brave attempt to obtain a sincere settlement of the Palestinian conflict" at Camp David in 2000, was horribly undermined by the "atmosphere of deep mistrust" with which he seemed to regard most everybody who was supposed to be working with him.
And given that Rabin inexplicably blew Halevy's cover at the height of the Jordan peace talks, there is only mild approbation for the breach: "He had pointed his finger at my receding figure and said something [to a group of Israeli journalists] to the effect that they should look at me since all that was going to happen was my doing aloneâ€¦ Needless to say, the item hit the headlinesâ€¦ My professional cover had been irretrievably blown and I was exposed as never before. I then realized that I would probably have to leave the service before very long, that my Mossad career had probably come to an end."
Where Halevy is more savage is in a series of observations relating to Shimon Peres - his ego, his addiction to media flattery, his inability to honor pledges of secrecy, his tendency to underestimate the obstacles on the path to real negotiating breakthroughs. But even this withering assault is hardly groundbreaking; few could outdo Rabin, before their final, fleeting reconciliation, in expressions of contempt for his lifelong rival.
As for Halevy's recent nemesis Dov Weisglass, the behind-the-scenes kingpin at the Prime Minister's Office whom he seems to blame for misguidedly selling Sharon on the reviled road map and for gradually forcing his own resignation as national security adviser, the author cannot bring himself to so much as write his name.
YET THERE is real, blood-racing drama in this memoir, nonetheless. It stems from Halevy's sober and somber thinking on the stakes of the global conflict with Islamic extremism - his uncluttered assessment that we are in the grip of World War III and have no concerted international strategy for waging it.
The book's publication in the Pessah season only heightens the impact. Every year our Haggada reminds us, in the "Vehi She'amda" passage, of the forces that have arisen "in every generation" to try and wipe us out. Every year now, we mark the Seder as the still-fresh anniversary of the second intifada's worst suicide bombing, at the Park Hotel in Netanya in 2002. And this year we sat down to delve into our people's bloody history of implausible survival in the fresh shadow of Iran's announcement of another stride toward nuclear capability.
What Halevy takes pains to point out, however, is that Israel is only one priority for the global Islamic terrorists, and not a major one at that. "Al-Qaida," he writes, "has set its sights on the entire world with the goal of effecting an Islamic international revolution that will encompass the entire planet. It is as simple and diabolical as that."
He notes that the perpetrators make no secret whatsoever of this agenda. "It is not a hidden blueprint. It is stated up front for everyone to read and absorb." It is equally clear that the enemy will use whatever means at its disposal to achieve the goal - "from the roadside bomb to the civilian aircraft." Were it to obtain non-conventional weaponry, it would have "no reservation about employing that device at any moment considered appropriate and against any target, civilian or military, across the globe."
Halevy explains why it is proving so hard to forge an effective counterstrategy, a failure he argues is rooted in the disinclination of the general public "to come to terms with the reality of terrorismâ€¦ no matter how horrifying the acts," and the consequent reluctance of political leaders to lose their constituencies by endorsing the kind of radical policies required to prevail.
He calls for a "master plan" of offensive action to be agreed upon by all states targeted or perceived as likely terror targets, and to be implemented over a fixed time frame - an "extreme" strategy to "up the ante" and "accelerate the rate of physical confrontation before the terrorists have the opportunity to upgrade the sophistication of the weaponry they have at their disposal." It seems an improbable suggestion, unless or until acts of terror still more extreme than 9/11 bring appalled new focus to the minds of presidents and prime ministers.
Beyond this, in any case, he acknowledges, the war cannot only be won through offensive action. It is primarily "an internal struggle within Islam." And it is in this aspect of his assessment that Halevy is original indeed.
He distinguishes between movements like Hamas, and its "territorial" aim for the complete destruction of Israel, and the al-Qaida brand of terror which, he argues, belongs "in a category in itselfâ€¦ They do not wish to conquer country A or country B. They do not wish to secure this or that tract of land. Their aims and aspirations are universal." Furthermore, he notes, the likes of Hamas have political and social interests, too. They have constituencies, property, educational programs, welfare agendas. "In their own way, they aspire to be part of the system and not, as al-Qaida aspires, to destroy it."
Earlier in the book, Halevy briefly muses as to whether Hamas's 30-year "truce" offer to Israel in the late 1990s might have been worth exploring. In these concluding pages he notes the Hamas pragmatism that saw it opt to enable an "ordered and dignified withdrawal of the Israel Defense Forces" from Gaza last summer, rather than attacking the retreating army and demonstrably savoring victory, because it recognized that Israel would have hit back with a fury that would have jeopardized its major assets.
In short, he argues, Hamas has much to lose. Indeed, right now, it is being given a choice, by Israel and the international community, between terrorism and politics - a choice that could never be put to al-Qaida which, by its very nature, could never be a political partner.
At present, Halevy stresses, "it is not politically correct for a responsible Israeli or American or European to contemplate bringing Hamas into the fold." But the day might come, he believes.
The notion that Hamas, and Hizbullah for that matter, might ultimately constitute a relative force for internal Muslim moderation, part of the solution to al-Qaida's assault on global free society rather than part of the problem, "might seem, at present, entirely in the realm of fantasy," Halevy allows. But at the beginning of his narrative, Saddam Hussein was the guardian of vital US interests in the Middle East, confronting Iran's Shi'ite revolutionary zeal, and the Taliban and Osama bin Laden were miniheroes in the American celebration of victory over the Soviet Union.
And that was less than two decades ago.
"The events of the last few years," writes this most savvy of veterans, "have stretched the limits of imagination as never before." The strangest of partners have come together under pressure from joint enemies.
In order to triumph against global Muslim fundamentalist terror, the world will need to muster all its imagination and all of its intelligence. Because the very act of living, he concludes, "is fast becoming more impossible than ever in human history."