For some people, it will be easy to write off former generals Avi Mizrahi and Gadi Shamni as leftists or people who have turned against their country. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. Between the two of them, they have served over 70 years in the IDF; they have been injured in battles with terrorists and have fought gallantly on battlefields and behind enemy lines.
Mizrahi and Shamni are worth listening to, since they both once carried the rank of major general and served as head of the IDF’s Central Command, the regional unit responsible for the entire West Bank and everything that comes with it: ensuring the security of the 400,000 Israeli residents there as well as working to foil Palestinian terrorist attacks like the one that killed two IDF soldiers on Thursday near Ramallah.
Shamni was OC Central Command between 2007 and 2009 and then went to the United States where he served as the IDF’s military attaché. Mizrahi took over after a stint as head of the Ground Forces Command, a position he took up after the 2006 Second Lebanon War, and in which he worked tirelessly to rehabilitate the IDF. He took over from Shamni in 2009 and served at the helm of the Central Command for three years, until 2012.
I spoke with both former generals this week after a group they belong to – Commanders for Israel’s Security (CIS) – launched a nationwide campaign calling on Israel to “divorce” itself from the Palestinian people.
Established four years ago by Yom Kippur War hero Amnon Reshef, CIS consists of some 300 senior officials who once served in the IDF, the Mossad, the Shin Bet and the Israel Police. The group though does not work – as some might expect – as a lobby for better retirement benefits or pension rights. Instead, as Mizrahi and Shamni both said: they are fighting to ensure the continued success of the Zionist dream.
THE MOTIVATION for the new “divorce” campaign, they both explained, is a concern that the Knesset is slowly creeping towards annexing the West Bank, a move which they warn would turn Israel into a binational state and forever alter the Jewish character of what is supposed to be the Jewish state.
“We are afraid that we will reach an irreversible situation, which will determine realities that will bring us to the end of the Zionist vision of a Jewish state that is a democracy and has a Jewish majority,” Mizrahi said. “Once you decide to annex part of the territory with legislation, you are showing the Palestinians that their hope and aspiration for a state is gone and they are only left with us.”
Shamni explained. Unrestrained construction in West Bank settlements, he said, will deter any future Israeli leadership from taking steps to withdraw from the territory. There will be too much despair on the Palestinian side, he added, and eventually they will simply demand to become citizens of Israel.
“If you talk to Palestinians, a lot of them already want one state,” he said. “They see one state differently than the Israeli far-Right, which wants an apartheid state. The Palestinians want one state where they can work and live in Tel Aviv – and that is something we don’t want to happen.”
Mizrahi said that he agrees with those who claim that there is not a viable peace partner right now on the Palestinian side.
“I agree that there is currently no peace partner and I agree that we will not be able reach a peace treaty in the near future,” the veteran tank officer said. “But we think that Israel should take its fate into its own hands and take a few steps that will ensure its security and future.”
Those steps include: completing the West Bank security barrier which still has three large gaps; announcing that the territory east of the barrier is negotiable; and working to ensure that Palestinians retain hope for an independent state – even if the establishment of one is not currently possible.
The talk by right-wing politicians, he said, of a “luxurious” annexation just of Area C, is a charade. “People say that Areas A and B make up 40% of the territory [having] 90% of the Palestinians, while Area C is 60% of the territory and only has 10% of the Palestinian people,” he said. “The problem is that you can’t just divide them: Area C wraps around all of A and B. So how can you annex it?”
I ASKED both officers if they reached these opinions while serving as heads of the Central Command. They both said no.
“There wasn’t an isolated incident that happened,” Shamni, who also served as head of the Hebron Brigade, said. “I spent so much time in the West Bank and Gaza and saw countless military and non-military situations. This is connected to an understanding of the reality... it is not sustainable. What is happening to Israel, the IDF and the soldiers by controlling another people leads us to bad places and turns us into something that we don’t want to be.”
Mizrahi touched upon the recent uptick in Palestinian terrorism in the West Bank.
“We will have a third Intifada,” he said. “We will win, but bloodshed will be spilled on both sides – and when it is over we will back to square one. So what is the point? Let’s change the reality now.”
In today’s highly-politicized discourse, I pointed out, you both will be framed as leftists; the coalition will claim that you are using security to advance a political agenda.
“If working to retain the Jewish character of the Jewish state means I am leftist, then I am a leftist,” Mizrahi said. “I am on a mission to save the country and prevent a binational state, which I fear we are heading toward.”
Shamni said he was not embarrassed to be called a leftist. “It doesn’t mean anything to me how they call us,” he said. “There are hundreds of retired officers – and we are the majority. For every 50 [who think like me], there are just a few who don’t think like that… Our advantage is that we are a group of people who understand the significance of the use of force and the limitations of power.”
Both men are aware that their warnings are not going to be accepted by everyone. But they refuse to give up. They feel a commitment to Israel’s safety and security, and believe that what they are doing now is a direct continuation of what they once did in uniform. Their concern is genuine; it is worth thinking about.
ANYONE WHO has children knows that they are independent beings. We, their parents, might try to educate them, teach them how to behave or live according to a certain set of values.
But, as we know, children ultimately do what they want. They grow up, they develop independence and formulate their own ideologies and opinions. That is a good thing. We don’t need replicas of ourselves. We need diversity.
Nevertheless, I imagine that most parents are disturbed by the conduct of Yair Netanyahu, the oldest son of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara. It is unbecoming, oftentimes grotesque and, simply put: out of line.
The latest example was the younger Netanyahu’s appearance in court on Monday to testify in a libel suit he brought against someone over a Facebook post. He was met outside the courtroom by a small group of protesters, to whom he decided to flick off a middle finger. During his testimony, he was censured twice by the judge for cursing and using foul language. Later that day, he uploaded a post on Facebook calling the media and the Left, “traitors.”
Yair Netanyahu seems to enjoy the attention. In October he called a TV anchor a “vulgar beast” and suggested that she advanced her career by having an affair with a married man. Last year, he posted a cartoon on Facebook that contained elements described by the ADL as “blatantly antisemitic.”
Why should we even pay attention to Yair Netanyahu? Two reasons: First, he reportedly still lives in the prime minister’s official residence and lives, to some extent, off the public’s dime. While other children of past prime ministers did not have bodyguards or a government-funded car to drive them around, he does. That means that the public is financing his lifestyle. As a result, we have a right to speak up.
The second reason is that because of his famous father, he is automatically in the spotlight. He is the son of the man who is soon expected to be Israel’s longest-serving prime minister. When Yair speaks or does something, it will reflect, to one degree or another, on his parents, whether he intends for that to happen or not. His father knows that, which is why on Monday night he denounced Yair’s treason accusations.
What is Yair Netanyahu’s ultimate objective? We still don’t know. Rumors have circulated for years that he has political ambitions. That is perfectly within his right – but until then we wouldn’t mind being spared his obscenities. I’d guess his famous father wouldn’t object either.
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