Former defense minister Ehud Barak has the distinction of being the most decorated soldier in Israeli history.
Whether he possesses equal gravitas as Israel’s teller of tales out of school is another story.
Nevertheless, he may have recently exposed more than just state secrets; this former general may have revealed Israel’s modern-day Achilles heel: the price of becoming a regional power and a sidekick to Silicon Valley was a diminished appetite for military heroics and a more sober and deliberate assessment of regional strength.
Mistakes made during the 2006 Israel- Hezbollah War in Lebanon sapped the confidence of cabinet ministers whose earlier counterparts didn’t flinch before invading that same country in 1982. The reality of all those undiscovered tunnels underneath schoolhouses in the 2014 Gaza campaign prompted hesitation and second- guesses that would not have disturbed the sleep of Menachem Begin.
Loosely lipped during an interview with his Israeli biographers, Barak revealed that he, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and foreign minister Avigdor Liberman were united in wanting to bomb Iran’s fledgling nuclear facilities in 2010, 2011 and 2012, but were thwarted each time for different political reasons.
Many believe that such an attack now by Israel – both militarily and operationally – would have a much lower chance of success. The window of opportunity was apparently closing each year that Netanyahu’s government was losing its nerve.
Whether this palace intrigue is true is less important than what it suggests. Perhaps Israel is experiencing a rebalancing of priorities, a change in national character.
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The sabras who once dreamed of becoming fighter pilots in the Israel Air Force are now more content imagining themselves as venture capitalists selling the next great idea to Google. Israel’s innovative flare and improvisational readiness has migrated from the military to the corporate boardroom.
The Start-up Nation has refocused its agility and entrepreneurial spirit toward less nationalistic endeavors – civilian in nature, capitalistic by design. Wall Street is now the wall worth wailing over – IPOs the new ethic, spreadsheets and PowerPoints the corporate weapons of choice.
Is Israel in danger of replacing the Masada complex with the military-industrial complex? Yes, Iron Dome is an example of how an incubator for high-tech wonders could give birth to the ultimate military defensive weapon.
Yet there was a time when the kibbutz culture of early Zionism thought about nothing other than desert irrigation and national security.
Tel Aviv was just a beach town; Herzliya not quite a suburb.
These were the days when the nation that miraculously made the deserts bloom became even better known for its derring-do: heroics such as Operation Entebbe, the kidnapping of Adolf Eichmann, the hunting down of Black September, the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists, the creation of the Stuxnet cyber virus, and, of course, Operation Opera – the bombing of Iraq’s nuclear installation in Osirak. Israeli’s spying operations are still very much active and suspenseful, its arsenal and inventory of espionage intact, its flair for the dramatic still bona fide and Bond-like. But militarily, perhaps, Barak may have revealed that Israel’s willingness to go to war, and the fearless deployment of its qualitative edge, may have diminished with the passage of each Independence Day.
PERHAPS THE circumstances surrounding Iran’s march toward nuclear autonomy were different. US President Barack Obama promised to have Israel’s back, after all. More likely, however, Israel’s esteemed heroics may simply be artifacts of an earlier, bolder military age.
Today’s world and Israel’s place in it is not the same as the run-up to the Six Day War.
The Arabs may have finally “out-crazied” the Jewish state. Islamic State is ascendant, its blades sharpened for anything that even hints “infidel.” Hezbollah is armed like North Korea and stands at the ready to do Iran’s bidding.
Hamas has never met a sack of cement it didn’t think was most usefully deployed to construct tunnels. The mullahs of Iran shamelessly threaten a map without Israel.
The days when Israel could defeat all of its enemies and demolish their weapons in less than a week is now revered history, and not a sensible military option.
The United States would clearly have disapproved had Israel undertaken unilateral action against Iran. American-Israeli relations under President Obama – not to mention Israel’s dealings with the P5 partners – would have sunk to even lower depths of unpleasantness.
Israel is more isolated on the global stage than ever before, with the world’s condemnation a daily mantra and Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaigns flourishing. No other nation is under such extreme, microscopic scrutiny. Perhaps Israel’s options are simply more limited; its leverage leveled to nothing higher than a zero tolerance for mistakes.
Today the Jewish state may have far more to lose than the plucky, heedless and headstrong Israel at Entebbe. The world is a scarier place.
What it can accomplish among neighboring lunatics is more limited.
Despite its heroic history, there are some risks, perhaps, that Israel can no longer afford to take.
The author is a novelist, essayist and a Distinguished Fellow at NYU School of Law where he directs the Forum on Law, Culture & Society. He is the author of Payback: The Case for Revenge.
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