Column One: Who leads Israel?

The cabinet – and the Knesset – must take ameliorative action against the security brass to end their subversion of our duly elected leaders

THE KNESSET building.
Israel has a problem with its security brass. And this week we received several reminders that the situation needs to be dealt with.
Since the Hamas regime in Gaza announced in March that it was planning to have civilians swarm the border with Israel, through this week’s Hamas-Islamic Jihad mortar and rocket assault on southern Israel, the IDF General Staff has been insisting there is only one thing Israel can do about Gaza.
According to our generals, Israel needs to shower Hamas with stuff. Food, medicine, water, electricity, medical supplies, concrete, cold hard cash, whatever Hamas needs, Israel should just hand it over in the name of humanitarian assistance.
Every single time reporters ask the generals what Israel can do to end Hamas’s jihadist campaign, they give the same answer. Let’s shower them with stuff.
The fact that the Palestinian Authority is blocking humanitarian aid to Gaza makes no impression on the generals. For months now, PA chief Mahmoud Abbas has refused to pay salaries to Hamas regime employees or pay for Gaza’s electricity and fuel. Hamas, for its part, destroyed the Kerem Shalom cargo terminal two weeks ago, blocking all transfer of gas and food to Gaza. And this week it blew up its electricity lines with a misfired mortar aimed at Israel.
Hamas’s determination to use civilians as human shields for its terrorists is a pretty clear message that it does not care about the people it controls. But for whatever reason, it didn’t register with the General Staff. As residents of the South were rushing to bomb shelters every 10 minutes or so on Tuesday, generals were briefing reporters that Israel must give them medicine.
When Hamas then refused to receive medical supplies from Israel, the generals doubled down and said that the only card Israel has to play is to give Gaza humanitarian aid. And they told reporters that their job at the next security cabinet meeting will be to convince Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his ministers that Israel needs to give the Hamas regime stuff.
Then there is the issue of terrorist bodies.
Hamas holds the bodies of Lt. Hadar Goldin and St.-Sgt. Oron Shaul, both killed in action during Operation Protective Edge in 2014. Hamas also holds Israeli civilian hostages Avra Mengistu and Hisham a-Suwaid.
In January 2017, the security cabinet decided that Israel will retain the bodies of terrorists rather than transfer them to Palestinian authorities for burial. The purpose of the decision was to pressure Hamas to release the Israeli hostages and remains of the IDF personnel it holds.
Despite the cabinet decision, since the cabinet made its decision, Israel has transferred to Hamas the bodies of five terrorist murderers. Each time, the IDF General Staff stood behind the move.
Currently, the government is holding the body of Hamas terrorist Aziz Awisat who just died in prison.
Media reports indicate the IDF is pushing for the government to appease Hamas again and transfer his body to Gaza for burial. To block the move, Goldin’s parents petitioned the High Court on Monday and demanded the government inform them 72 hours in advance of any transfer of a terrorist’s body to Hamas. The government agreed to the Goldin family’s demand on Thursday morning.
It is inarguable that these bodies of terrorists are valuable bargaining chips in the government’s efforts to repatriate its hostages and the remains of its soldiers. The fact that the IDF General Staff repeatedly undercuts the government’s efforts to secure their release, by surreptitiously transferring the terrorists’ bodies to Hamas, is of a piece with its irrational belief that it is Israel’s responsibility to ensure a quality of life for denizens of Hamasland.
If the IDF General Staff’s chronic insubordination on behalf of Hamas terrorists weren’t enough, there’s also Iran.
In 2012, former Mossad director Meir Dagan first revealed to celebrity leftist reporter Ilana Dayan that in 2010 he went behind Netanyahu’s back and informed then-US defense secretary Leon Panetta that Netanyahu had just ordered the IDF and the Mossad to prepare an attack against Iran’s nuclear installations.
In 2016, after Dagan passed away, Dayan released a tell-all interview with Dagan where he detailed precisely how he blocked Netanyahu’s order; Dagan told Dayan that he used both the Obama administration, and an appeal to Israel’s legal establishment, to block Netanyahu from ordering the IDF and Mossad to attack Iran’s nuclear installations.
On Thursday morning, Dayan was at it again.
Her show, Uvda, released a preview of an interview set to air that evening with Dagan’s successor, recently retired Mossad chief Tamir Pardo. In his interview, Pardo relates that a year after Dagan scuttled Netanyahu’s order to prepare an attack against Iran’s nuclear installations, it was Pardo’s turn.
Pardo told Dayan that in 2011, Netanyahu again ordered the Mossad and the IDF to prepare the security services to attack Iran’s nuclear installations within 15 days. Pardo told Dayan that as he saw it, he had two choices: comply or resign.
So he chose a third option: legal subterfuge.
Dagan insisted at the Jerusalem Post Conference in 2015 that Netanyahu did not have the legal authority to order an attack against Iran. Only the security cabinet had the authority, he said. Dagan said he demanded that Netanyahu receive the approval of the security cabinet for the attack.
Apparently, Dagan based his legal position on a unique interpretation of the law regarding authority to declare war.
Under the law, the security cabinet is authorized to declare war. Dagan decided that Netanyahu’s order to strike Iran’s nuclear installations constituted a declaration of war. And so he said Netanyahu lacked the authority to order the attack. Perhaps afraid that he wouldn’t have the votes, perhaps afraid his plans would leak in the larger forum, Netanyahu stood down.
Pardo told Dayan that like Dagan, to get out of his dilemma of obeying Netanyahu’s order or resigning, he applied Dagan’s radical interpretation of the law to Netanyahu’s order.
Instead of resigning, or preparing the attack, Pardo said he went behind Netanyahu’s back to then-attorney-general Yehuda Weinstein, to get him to sign on to the Dagan-Pardo legal theory of what constitutes a declaration of war. And just as Pardo assumed would happen, Netanyahu stood down again.
Thanks to Pardo and Dagan, Iran’s nuclear expansion went on unimpeded. Thanks to Pardo and Dagan, then-US president Barack Obama had a clear path to negotiate his 2015 nuclear deal with the mullahs that gave them an open path to a nuclear arsenal by 2025 and $150 billion to finance their regional aggression.
Early last month, the media and opposition lawmakers expressed outrage when the Knesset amended the law for declaring war. Under the amended law, under certain extreme circumstances, the prime minister and defense minister are empowered to declare war without security cabinet approval.
The media and opposition lawmakers presented the amendment as an arbitrary move. Netanyahu, the commentators and opposition lawmakers insisted, was giving himself dictatorial powers.
Cabinet ministers were embarrassed into action.
Last week, they voted to freeze the amendment and retain all power to declare war, even in extreme circumstances, in the cabinet’s hands.
Given that the normal interpretation of the phrase, “power to declare war,” would not include “power to order a strike against an enemy state’s nuclear installations,” no one made the connection between the amended law and the subversive behavior of two Mossad directors. No one realized that the purpose of the amendment was to prevent insubordination at the top levels of the security community. No one realized that the move was a means to ensure Israel’s elected leaders have the minimal authority they require to order the military and the intelligence services to take actions they deem necessary to ensure the national security of Israel.
But now, with Pardo’s interview, and recalling Dagan’s subversive actions, the need for the amendment is obvious.
It is past time for Israel’s political leaders to rein in our generals. Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005.
Israel’s civilian responsibility for Gaza ended the moment the last soldier shut the gate.
Hamas is not Israel’s enemy because it lacks money or electricity. It is Israel’s enemy because it is a jihadist terrorist group committed to the annihilation of the Jewish people. No amount of free electricity or medicine will change this basic truth.
Hamas will not transfer the bodies of Israel’s fallen soldiers or release the Israelis it holds hostage because Israel gives it money or concrete. Hamas will not embrace Israel if Israel purifies the Gaza water supply which Hamas deliberately polluted by over-drilling.
The fact that the IDF General Staff hasn’t figured this out does not speak well of our generals’ cognitive capabilities.
In response to Pardo’s revelations, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan told Israel Radio on Thursday morning, “It seems problematic to me that the head of the most secret security organization we have is describing the [national security] decision- making process. And the fact that he placed doubt in the legality of the orders he received from Israel’s prime minister seems deeply problematic to me.
Erdan added, “If security or intelligence officials began questioning their orders, I assume they did great damage to Israel’s deterrence. Everyone who undermined Benjamin Netanyahu’s ability to advance his policies toward Iran over time has been deeply wrong.”
Over the past several months, the IDF General Staff’s handling of Hamas’s offensive along the border, like its handling of this week’s rocket and mortar offensive, has been marked by a lack of creativity.
Rather than consider new ways to handle old threats, the IDF repeated the tactics it has used to inconclusive ends for the past decade.
As for Iran, Netanyahu’s revelation of the Mossad’s stunning capture of Iran’s nuclear archive makes clear that Mossad officers have the capacity to do the impossible. Had Dagan and Pardo unleashed those capabilities in 2010 and 2011 rather than subverting Netanyahu’s authority, there is every reason to believe that Iran would not constitute the multidimensional threat to Israel it poses today.
Lt. Goldin’s parents, Simcha and Leah Goldin, told reporters this week that if the cabinet would simply implement its own decision to hold terrorists’ bodies, they would have had no need to petition the High Court against it.
They are right, and not just about the bodies of terrorists.
The cabinet – and the Knesset – must take ameliorative action against the security brass to end their subversion of our duly elected leaders. A first step in that direction would be to unfreeze the amendment to the war declaration law and give the prime minister and defense minister the ability to stand up to insubordinate commanders.