Another Tack: Shelly’s macho-man mentor

In this treacherous neighborhood our guiding motto should always be caveat emptor – buyer beware.

Labor party chairwoman Shelly Yacimovich 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Labor party chairwoman Shelly Yacimovich 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Hanna Rovina, the late-great first lady of the Israeli theater, once quipped: “people with connections don’t need protectzia” (“favoritism,” in Israeli parlance).
This is perhaps why in days bygone retiring IDF generals invariably gravitated to the Labor Party, where they had ample connections which guaranteed them a helpful leg-up to the top of the political hierarchy.
It was all mutually advantageous – symbiotic, in fact. Star officers were fast-tracked to prominence, while Labor basked in their military glory. The effect lent authority to the party’s claim to be the ultimate arbiter of what’s good for our national security. We had whom to count on and the-generals-turned-politicians couldn’t agree more. They profusely sang their own praises.
But nothing is what it used to be, particularly not in Labor. And so the heiress to David Ben-Gurion’s mantle, ex-radio presenter Shelly Yacimovich, found herself without a pivotal vote-getting ex-general figurehead. She had to have one, even if thereby she admits her own lack of experience and need to rely on the mentoring of a macho-man.
So she looked and looked and finally came up with... Uri Sagi. Two weeks on, Sagi withdrew from the Labor race citing “personal reasons.” Shelly is now looking again.
But Sagi’s short-lived political dabble isn’t a negligible footnote. If anything, this brief, embarrassing episode is emblematic because Sagi is hardly in a class of his own. He is garden- variety common.
For those who don’t recall, Sagi, nearly 70, is the ex-OC Military Intelligence who for years has been bewailing the failure to cede the Golan to the Assad clan. His oft-repeated refrain is that this was “a huge historical miss, a mistake of massive strategic proportions.” Even the bloody upheavals in Syria didn’t suffice to change his tune – the one he has been humming incessantly.
This man was the first choice to whisper words of wisdom in the neophyte ear of Binyamin Netanyahu’s prime challenger for the premiership.
Sagi’s transient upgraded status hadn’t one iota detracted from his penchant to pursue his single theme. He may have been hyped as Labor’s latest great hope and solver-of-our-national-problems, but he kept on carping before every available microphone about what a tragic bungle Israel made when it wouldn’t acquiesce to Syria’s demands.
Back in 2000, when Ehud Barak headlined the last Labor-led government, he appointed Sagi to quarterback the Israeli team negotiating with Syria. Sagi spent hundreds of hours with Syrian interlocutors, apparently investing much personal prestige in the project, which he later felt bound to vindicate.
So Sagi concluded that the flop was Barak’s fault and that of America’s then-president Bill Clinton for letting down Hafez Assad (beleaguered ruler Bashar’s deceased father) and, worse than that, for spurning Sagi’s own recommendations.
Sagi hasn’t forgiven Barak and plainly detests him. Consequently, for the past dozen years Sagi has been intoning that all could have been hunky-dory had the Israelis and Americans not gotten last-minute cold feet. A year ago he published a book (in Hebrew) expounding on the thesis, The Hand that Froze (and didn’t sign on the dotted line).
As he has it, a peace deal with Syria would have induced the Assads to renounce their various alliances and hence the Damascus-Tehran axis would have gone bust. How does Sagi know that? How can he be sure? He apparently has unshakable faith in his own sagacity.
One of the most infuriating traits of Israel’s career-fixated ex-generals is their know-it-all swagger. Each macho-man is also an omniscient, who detects better than clueless plebeians what’s happening out there and – better yet – what’s going to happen. All we need do to safeguard our future is to listen to any given bigheaded clairvoyant and pay homage to his vainglorious endorsement of his own superiority.
The Shin Bet’s ex-chief Ami Ayalon was enlisted by Labor a few years back to fill the same slot that Sagi fleetingly held. On December 20, 2005, shortly before the pivotal Palestinian Authority elections, Ayalon appeared on Channel 1’s Erev Hadash and haughtily pooh-poohed dire right-wing predictions that Hamas (having been remarkably empowered by disengagement) would triumph. And so stated smug soothsayer Ayalon to interviewer Dan Margalit: “I am telling you already now, and you can write my words down – Hamas won’t win. It’s not because it can’t, but because it doesn’t want to.”
This outstandingly flawed forecast didn’t prevent Ayalon a mere five days post-election from declaring on the Knesset Channel that “I saw it all coming – I wrote about it. I spoke about it. Already in December I warned that Hamas will probably win the elections.”
Sagi and Ayalon both are so doggone gallingly archetypical. They and their top brass ilk all superciliously expound, endlessly opine and drill into us the commanding preeminence of their analysis and prescience.
Labor’s ex-minister Binyamin “Fuad” Ben-Eliezer (whose diverse portfolios included defense) is another product of the IDF head-honcho mold. His confident posture and prattle are geared to impress. A couple of years after the withdrawal from Gaza, Fuad pontificated in an unforgettable tour de force, also on the Knesset Channel, that “Israel made a mistake when it carried out its unilateral disengagement and evacuated settlements.”
He omitted mention of his enthusiastic backing pre-disengagement for what his political opponents somehow managed already then to identify as the dangerous sham that it indeed was. But in real time self-important Fuad dismissed them all as pesky no-account naysayers. Nonetheless in retrospect, instead of expressing sincere remorse, he still tooted his own horn by informing the viewing public that “I reached this conclusion,” about the folly of disengagement, “already a few days after the implementation of the settlements-removal and the IDF pullback.”
In other words, what bothersome opposition nuisances and “right-wing alarmists” figured out long before the dreadful deed, Fuad was insightful enough to comprehend “already a few days after.” Singular perspicacity indeed.
If need be, Fuad is still there to counsel Shelly, who could also in case of acute distress lend an ear to her guru-cum-nemesis, former defense minister Amir Peretz. He spared no effort during the Second Lebanon War to prove time again that strategic amateurism by no means prevents him from pompously parading as Napoleon-reincarnate.
All these years later, and his ignominious resignation from the defense helm notwithstanding, Peretz is still avidly at it, still conceitedly confident of his uncanny insight, still seeking to convince us that no one gets things as right as he does.
A case in point is his assertion that “that Netanyahu missed an opportunity to make peace that may not reappear.”
Peretz maintains that Netanyahu should negotiate with none other than convicted murderer Marwan Barghouti, one-time commander of the particularly vicious Fatah offshoot of Tanzim and now doing five life terms and another 40 years for attempted murder.
He was found guilty by an Israeli civil court on May 20, 2004, on five counts of murder, including commissioning and organizing the attack on Tel Aviv’s Seafood Market restaurant, where three guests partaking in a bachelorette party were shot to death. Yet inexplicably Peretz has been paying regular visits to Barghouti, boosting him as an honorable and indispensable peace-partner.
No wonder Shelly needed (and still needs) a fresh new, face to decorate her “defense team.” But could she truly find no one more credible than Sagi? Wasn’t she put off by his Syrian hang-ups? There is of course the possibility that she does in actual fact subscribe to Sagi’s views that bargains can be struck with autocratic regimes without their people’s authentic backing.
If she does, then she is astonishingly imprudent for a candidate seeking to sway the Israeli mainstream. With healthy common sense ordinary Israelis, in contrast to our indefatigable peace-purveyors, comprehend that paying off assorted dictators to secure a semblance of accommodation is a losing proposition. Aside from moral issues, putting our trust in tyrants is foolish because eventually they will disappear.
With these here-today-gone-tomorrow despots will vanish the peace we shelled out for. Worst yet, there’s no Better Business Bureau or Customer Service to refund our hefty, tangible and eminently dicey investment in land-for-peace fantasies.
In this treacherous neighborhood our guiding motto should always be caveat emptor – buyer beware.
Those within our embattled society who obsessively orchestrate the clamor to surrender our existential assets, haven’t the ethics or gumption to confess their error. Blithely they overlook the fact that all the bleak risk assessments vis-à-vis their foolhardy Oslo spawned misadventures have been borne out.
Don’t expect them to own up that it’s imbecilic to push for more Israeli territorial giveaways. To hear them, nothing panned out because the anti-appeasement crowd didn’t let them cede all they might have.
With Syria in flames, how could a party that purports to pitch a centrist line countenance fielding a hotshot who still wishes we had done a deal with Assad? Can this be marketed as realism?
As Syrians bomb their own civilians and torture their own children, how can any Israeli avoid pondering what they would have done to us, if they only could? If they treat their own so pitilessly, what would they have unleashed on a non-Arab, non-Muslim people that they have been indoctrinated from infancy to abhor?
Thank Heaven, the Golan is still ours, a buffer between our small sliver of a state and the Syrian mayhem. Imagine our misfortune if Assad’s tanks were parked on the shores of Lake Kinneret. Would we have been better off had we installed Tehran’s Damascene bedfellow directly above the Galilee?
Those who insistently brainwashed us that this is what’s prescribed for our national well-being should beat their own breasts in contrition. The Sagi syndrome isn’t an individual affliction. It’s endemic in broad left-of- center circles.
Sagi’s well-connected Labor patrons – the ones who to start with co-opted him to up Labor’s machismo ratings – should all line up next to him and join in the act of penitence.
The braggadocio and the hubris they sponsor potentially puts us all in harm’s way.