Ex-NSC chief Uzi Arad: Israel’s next war should be decisive

Home Front vulnerability unacceptable

IDF troops during a training exercise – ‘In a situation where Israel is coping with multiple fronts, we still need to decide... what is the priority. This is a difficult problem.’ (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
IDF troops during a training exercise – ‘In a situation where Israel is coping with multiple fronts, we still need to decide... what is the priority. This is a difficult problem.’
Leading into the March 2 elections, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s twice former national security adviser, Uzi Arad, believes his former boss has not acted decisively enough in war, and has “left the home front unacceptably vulnerable.”
“If you are committing to a round of fighting, then act decisively in a way that there will not need to be any more rounds,” declared Arad forcefully in an extensive interview with The Jerusalem Post covering the Gazan, Hezbollah, Syrian, West Bank and Iranian fronts.
The national security adviser to Netanyahu both in 1997-1999 and again in 2009-2011, and also a top former Mossad official, said that he would have preferred that Israel deal a decisive blow to Hamas during the 2009 or 2014 Gaza wars.
However, Arad said that Israel now faces greater threats both from Hezbollah and Hamas than it did when Netanyahu took over in 2009, leaving it poorer choices.
As things stand now, “Israel has no interest in war on any front. If it’s necessary, then it’s necessary.... But if it leads to a calamity on our home front... then all military action would be a losing proposition because we’ll need to pay a price that we never paid before.”
Given Hezbollah’s and Hamas’s more deadly rocket capabilities, a problem that Arad said Netanyahu failed to prevent, “we should try to push off initiating a war until we get stronger and so we can be more ready to deal with the price.”
Zooming out to the broad view of threats Israel faces, Arad explained: “The fact is that in our situation, we can’t isolate one front from the rest, to say ‘this is our highest priority.’ Our biggest challenge is that we have a multi-conflict situation. There are many security challenges, and they are occurring simultaneously.”
“In a situation where Israel is coping with multiple fronts, we still need to decide... what is the priority. This is a difficult problem,” he said.
“At some point we need to end Gaza’s offensives against Israel. Just as we cannot tolerate an Iranian presence in Syria... so Israel cannot allow continued offensives from Gaza,” noted Arad, adding: “I said during Operation Protective Edge – we needed to go deep into Gaza... but you need to build the capabilities and strategy to accomplish this in advance. When the time comes, you must deliver.”
“He [Netanyahu] talked big about the 2014 Gaza war... but carried it out half-heartedly. When you only go halfway, you only get half the results,” said the former national security adviser.
Continuing, he said, “So Bibi said the goal was quiet for quiet. I said this is a strategic mistake because if you send the IDF, but then limit its goals, you are ensuring a future round of fighting.”
Addressing Iran’s proxies in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen which could threaten Israel, Arad said, “This is the most dynamic threat that must be prioritized.... The proof is that the IDF is actively carrying out missions nonstop.”
“No doubt, there have been achievements. But until now, this effort hasn’t stopped Iran from attempting to establish a footprint in Syria or from strengthening Hezbollah with precision-guided missiles,” he stated.
“So this is labeled as a front requiring our primary attention, and we will need to devote more resources to it,” he said. “That fact is dangerous on its own, because there’s a continuous problem, and it’s getting worse, including with Russia” weighing in more about IDF operations there.
Next, the Post noted to Arad comments last week by former national security council chief Yaakov Amidror, who said that a major war between the IDF and Hezbollah is inevitable, and that this time Israel must crush the terrorist group’s capabilities.
Arad responded, “I respect this view a lot – what Amidror says about needing to be decisive, what we need to do in the future and what to expect. This is very likely correct.”
But he said there are open questions. “Going into Hezbollah territory can happen in differing degrees. It can also take time.... Then will we get a decisive result? I don’t know... and how will we define a decisive result?”
“When ISIS came, former US president Barack Obama said that the US will degrade and destroy. This is straightforward... the US will degrade, but it will also continue on to destroy,” he said. “ISIS today is a shadow of what it was.
“In contrast, when the US went into Iraq in 2003, it also announced aspirational goals.... But look what happened: the US is leaving with its tail between its legs.
“After we [Israel] pay a big price for trying to win decisively, will we” leave in failure?
Moreover, he said, “there is also one dissonant point. If fighting a big war is the future picture, then we can’t at the same time say that we have the best security situation ever. Maybe someone [implying Netanyahu] wants to make people feel good,” but it is crucial to be honest with the public.
Returning to the threat posed by Hamas, he said, “The Gaza front at first looks like it’s less pressing, because in Gaza we limit our use of force and try to manage the problem using public relations or other methods without trying to strike a decisive blow.”
“It is all and well to focus our efforts more on Hezbollah and Iran, but Hamas doesn’t give us rest. They provoke and irritate us all the time, and force us to deploy forces there,” Arad stated.
In addition, Arad said, “The orientation of Hamas – day by day – is to harm the Israeli population [in the Gaza border communities]... which is actually felt more” than in the North.
By comparison, he said, “In the North, there is no current action against Israeli targets. Either we’ve deterred such attacks, or we’ve thwarted them. So the residents of the North are in a calmer situation than those in Gaza. But both fronts are open to extortion.”
He then went directly after Netanyahu, Defense Minister Naftali Bennett and former defense minister Avigdor Liberman for saying they were on the verge “of a major operation. They seem ready to use more force to obtain something.”
“But when they say it, will they do it? Do they know what result they want to achieve?... Will the result be achieved with a tolerable price?” he asked.
Arad recalled Netanyahu and other Israeli officials’ panic in 2014 when one Hamas missile fell near Ben-Gurion Airport, leading the US to halt all flights. “If that had continued a bit more, the harm to Israel’s economy would have been extremely grave.”
Delving into solutions, Arad commented, “There is the US plan which could lead to solving the Gaza issue. If you think that’s the best plan, then carry out that plan and you obtain the achievements that come with it. But if I decide I want treats from the Americans, but I’m not ready to pay the price, then you eliminated one of the options for solving the Gaza issue.”
Arad did not want to suggest a different concrete price to pay for a long-term ceasefire with Hamas, but he said the 2005 Gaza withdrawal had been a failure and that facilitating payments from Qatar to Hamas was also a failure, since it undermined the basis for disarming Hamas.
SWITCHING TO security challenges emanating from the West Bank, he said, “Add into all of this a third front where the IDF also needs to use force, the situation in the territories. The situation is fragile. It derives... from the absence of a diplomatic process emanating from Israel.”
Arad appeared to view the Trump “Deal of the Century” as something that is not currently moving, given the Palestinian side’s rejection of it and the Israeli side’s mixed messages about whether it accepts it partially or wholly.
“There is an Israeli move to annex, which puts pressure on the Palestinians. There are efforts from this area to carry out terrorist attacks against Israel all the time. Also, this could dangerously undermine security cooperation with the Palestinian Authority,” which Israel needs.
“At this moment, there is less terrorism, yet there is less because we are using military tools to prevent an eruption. But things could explode at any time,” he warned.
“These can all seem like independent fronts, but they aren’t, because they all influence one another. An eruption on one front can exacerbate another front, so that someone can take advantage of us being distracted.”
Whereas Netanyahu has claimed unparalleled success in delaying Iran from reaching a nuclear weapon, Arad said that opposing the Iran nuclear deal to get Trump to nix it may lead to the Islamic Republic getting nuclear weapons sooner rather than later. “This is maybe the biggest mistake Israel made in the Netanyahu era.”
Rolling into Election Day, Netanyahu’s former close national security adviser made it clear that he does not view him as a “Mr. Security” success.