Fundamentally Freund: Israel's big-mouth syndrome

Stop talking, start acting.

michael freund 88 (photo credit: )
michael freund 88
(photo credit: )
Here we go again. Every few months, it seems, an Israeli government minister decides to open his mouth nice and wide, and blurt out something entirely superfluous or unnecessary, regardless of the damage that it may cause to the country and its interests. Back in February, you may recall, it was Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai who needlessly sparked an international uproar when he threatened the Palestinians with a "shoah" if they continued to fire Kassam rockets at Israel. "The more Kassam rocket fire intensifies and the rockets reach a longer range, they (the Palestinians) will bring upon themselves a bigger shoah because we will use all our might to defend ourselves," he told Israel Army radio (February 29). While the word "shoah" means disaster or conflagration, it also just happens to be the Hebrew term used for the Nazi Holocaust. "It could be that he should have picked another word," Vilnai's spokesman admitted somewhat sheepishly. You think? Not surprisingly, Reuters and other media outlets had a field day with that one. THEN, LAST week came Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz's turn to speak, well, out of turn. In an interview with Yediot Aharonot, Mofaz declared that "If Iran continues with its program for developing nuclear weapons, we will attack it. The sanctions are ineffective." Now don't get me wrong. I am all in favor of bombing Iran in order to stop the would-be Hitler of Persia from obtaining nuclear weapons. But why on earth did Mofaz have to telegraph Israel's intentions to the enemy? It's the equivalent of a football coach announcing his team's next play for the benefit of the opponents. Only this is a matter of life and death. Mofaz's comments were roundly and summarily condemned across the political spectrum, if only because of their sheer inanity. Indeed, it was widely theorized that with talk of Kadima planning to hold party primaries in the near future, Mofaz was anxious for a dramatic headline that would position him to Olmert's right. And so, in a mad rush for the limelight, the former IDF Chief of Staff breathlessly threw caution to the wind, even if it came at the country's expense. Will these guys ever learn to shut up? OF COURSE, this is hardly the first time that loose Israeli lips have nearly sunk ships. Back in February 1978, Moshe Dayan revealed that Israel was secretly selling arms to Ethiopia, which led the Addis Ababa government to angrily halt the nascent aliya of Ethiopian Jewry. Seven years later, in early 1985, the covert airlift of Ethiopian Jews known as Operation Moses was called to an abrupt halt after it too was leaked to an Israeli newspaper. And even on the most sensitive of military subjects, Israel's politicians often seem unable to contain themselves. Take, for example, the deliberate veil surrounding Israel's nuclear ambiguity, which was a cornerstone of national policy for decades. That carefully constructed strategy was rudely shattered in an instant back on July 13, 1998, when Shimon Peres told an audience in Amman, Jordan, that Israel had "built a nuclear option not in order to have a Hiroshima but an Oslo." And so, with one slip of the tongue, Peres undid what teams of Israeli diplomats and strategists had spent years carefully trying to calibrate. Sadly, Israel's leaders seem to suffer from an acute case of BMS, or Big-Mouth Syndrome. Drunk with power, they spill the beans faster than a child caught with his hand in a cookie jar. Their behavior brings to mind Plato's observation that "wise men speak because they have something to say; fools because they have to say something." Or, as the sages of the Talmud (Pesahim 99a) put it, "Silence is fitting for the wise, and all the more so for fools." Of course, all this would make for little more than entertaining copy if it weren't for the severity of the consequences. But gratuitous blather is a luxury that Israel can ill-afford, particularly when we are in a high-stakes game of survival facing down enemies such as Hamas, Hizbullah and the ayatollahs. Our leaders' habit of speaking out of turn only serves to cast further doubt on their already dubious sense of judgment. If they can't even keep their mouths closed about matters of great national import, can they really be relied upon to make the right decisions? MOREOVER, EXCESSIVE talk is often the last refuge of the powerless. Just think of how many times in recent months various Israeli leaders have warned Hamas to stop firing rockets at Sderot and the Negev. These threats have proven empty time and again, diluting their deterrent value and impact, and making a mockery of Israel's defense. The evident gap between our words and our actions invites more than just accusations of posturing. They project a cartoonish sense of weakness, which the enemy is only too happy to exploit. So here is a simple piece of advice for all the Matan Vilnais, Shaul Mofazes and various other loquacious types who currently inhabit our government: please stop talking, and start acting. Instead of hurling empty threats at Hamas, or well-intentioned threats at Teheran, why not devote your precious time and energy to actually doing something about these issues. Stop blowing off a lot of hot air, and start taking care of business, before it's too late. Don't tell us what you might do, what you want to do, or even what you're going to do to our foes. Just do it already, and let your actions speak for themselves. Oh, and one more thing. The next time you feel an unquenchable urge to throw open your jaws and blabber about some state secret to the nearest guy with a microphone, just take hold of yourself and remember Will Rogers' timeless counsel: "Never miss a chance to shut up." Believe me - you'll be doing yourself, and your country, a well-deserved favor.