Ya'alon: Israeli leaders should quit

Ex-chief of staff tells "Post" he favors a state commission of inquiry.

yaalon troops 298 (photo credit: IDF)
yaalon troops 298
(photo credit: IDF)
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Amir Peretz and Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz should take responsibility for their failures during the second Lebanon war and resign, former IDF chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. (res.) Moshe Ya'alon said Thursday. Ya'alon, whom polls show would be a serious candidate for prime minister if he decided to run with the Likud, blamed prime minister Ariel Sharon's Gaza Strip disengagement for causing the war. Responding to charges from Olmert's associates blaming his polices as IDF chief for the war, Ya'alon told The Jerusalem Post, in his first interview with an Israeli media outlet since his return from the US last week, that until disengagement, Hizbullah had restrained itself, but that withdrawing unilaterally from Gaza had encouraged it to attack. "I am in favor of a state commission of inquiry to investigate," Ya'alon said. Israel and the international community must wake up from their approach of appeasement and make Iran and Syria pay a price for the war in Lebanon, Ya'alon said. Ya'alon started work this week at the new Institute for International and Middle Eastern Studies at the Shalem Center, a Jerusalem-based academic institute. Together with Prof. Martin Kramer and other top scholars, he came to the institute to strategize how Israel and the world should respond to the Islamic fundamentalist threat. "When Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says Israel should be wiped off the map, he means to destroy the West," Ya'alon said. "The world is sleeping. We are sleeping, too." Upon taking over as chief of General Staff in 2002, Ya'alon said he believed that Hizbullah was in the midst of undergoing a process of restraining itself. Every Hizbullah provocation, he said, was met by a fierce IDF response. The world, he said, was also beginning to recognize Hizbullah as a terror group, and Israel was succeeding against Hizbullah both diplomatically and militarily. But then came disengagement. "The disengagement was portrayed as a victory for terrorism, and it was a reward for Hizbullah and the Palestinians," said Ya'alon, a vocal critic of withdrawal. Calling Israel's war against Hizbullah the "world's war," he said that the international community's approach of appeasement "encourages terror against the world." "I am worried by the world's behavior," he said. "The West is stronger than Islamic fundamentalism, but the West's lack of determination worries me." UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which called for a cease-fire between Israel and Hizbullah, was another act of appeasement, Ya'alon said. "The world agrees that Lebanon must have sovereignty and that Hizbullah must be disarmed. Most of Lebanon is in favor," he said. "But the world put out a resolution that helped Hizbullah with a cease-fire, and the rest is just declarative... the disarmament of Hizbullah should have been possible to achieve even without a war." Iran and Syria, he said, had to be held accountable for the war. He said that Hizbullah was their proxy, and the world was letting Iran and Syria get away without paying a price. "We have to handle this at a diplomatic level," he said. "Iran uses proxies, and Syria plays the role of facilitator, and the world is letting them get away with it. We need a diplomatic effort to make sure the world holds them responsible." If Syria and Iran didn't pay a price, he said, it would put into question Israel's achievements in the war. "The West is being portrayed as lacking determination, and that image is hurting us," he claimed. "We lived for a decade under the assumption that we were about to obtain peace and quiet. We need to be woken up." Ya'alon said he believed that the Shalem Center could serve as the right platform for his work in trying to bring the Western world to the point that it correctly recognizes the Islamic fundamentalist threat. "It is not enough just to do a diagnosis; I feel that a prognosis is also needed," he said. "I learned new things and wrote diagnoses on diplomatic and security issues [since retiring from the IDF], and I decided that the Shalem Center would be a good platform to continue doing it here." Shalem Center president Daniel Polisar said he had recruited Kramer and Ya'alon because they are "outstanding and original thinkers with perspective as mavericks within their circles, developing ideas before others and then attracting support for those ideas." He said he hoped the fresh ideas that the two develop at Shalem will be of academic significance and help decision-makers in Israel and throughout the world deal with threats to the West, such as the nuclearization of Iran and the lack of democracy in the Arab and Muslim world. He said the events of the last few years, especially the war in Lebanon, demonstrated that the West in general and Israel in particular are facing challenges that demand answers at the level of ideas that have not yet been effectively developed, analyzed and presented - but will be by the institute. "Ya'alon is extraordinarily well respected in Israel and increasingly around the world," Polisar said. "His joining the institute will hopefully attract interest in the ideas being developed at Shalem; but our principal interest is not in his name but in the quality and originality of his thought."