Shush! Look who’s talking!

Former officials' sudden need to speak unflatteringly about the state of the country raises a great deal of public debate.

meir dagan 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
meir dagan 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
I might be going crazy. I’m hearing voices. I’m not sure when they began, but I first became aware of them around the time that the Oslo Accords were being signed, so I can be forgiven, perhaps, for fearing the worst.
They come and go. Lately, they’re not going as much as they used to. The voices are not in my head, fortunately. But they are there every time I turn on the radio talk shows, or watch the news and current affairs programs, and they have a significant presence in the printed press.
The noise is more annoying than anything else, but it makes it hard to concentrate.
These are not just ordinary voices, either. They are recognizable. One sounds like Opposition leader Tzipi Livni, another like former Meretz leader and Oslo architect Yossi Beilin; one like former Center party head and former chief of staff Amnon Lipkin- Shahak and another like Yuval Rabin, son of assassinated prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. Former chiefs of the Shin Bet (Israel’s Security Agency) Yaakov Peri and Ami Ayalon also have their say.
And now there is a new name and voice: former Mossad head Meir Dagan.
Dagan spent eight years silently serving the country in one of the most sensitive positions. He’s now making up for it.
Dagan’s recent volley of comments relates to everything from the plight of Gilad Schalit to the Ofer brothers’ standing in the wake of the US sanctions on their shipping company for allegedly maintaining trade ties with Tehran; from warning that a military strike on Iran would be a “stupid idea” to scolding that Israel should not have ignored the Saudi peace initiative.
This sudden need to speak out has naturally raised a great deal of public debate. It says a lot about the state of the country – none of it flattering – that more than the contents of his comments, the media, politicians and general public were concerned with his motives.
Nobody is doubting his contribution to state security during his term in office – he is widely credited with having been involved in operations to slow down Iran’s race for nuclear weapons; thwart Syria’s atomic plans; and eliminate arch terrorists in ways that could provide Hollywood with inspiration. He has probably stayed awake at night for many other operations that allowed ordinary Israelis to sleep soundly, but the modest hero would say, “Don’t mention it” – and mean it in every sense.
So what made him suddenly speak out, again and again? Just six months after leaving his post, did he wake up and feel that there was something so fundamentally rotten with the decision-making process of the country’s leaders that only he, Meir Dagan, could save us? Or did he look ahead in his empty diary and decide that he needed to do something with the rest of his life, and – in a route traveled by many before him – choose to pave the way for a political career? Among the many questions raised by his sudden burst of talkativeness is not only why he kept silent until now, but why he continued to serve a political leadership he believed was leading the country to disaster. And why he hadn’t informed the relevant forums, in the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, for example, beforehand.
As Yediot Aharonot’s Yoaz Hendel noted, what Dagan revealed, above all, “was Retired General Syndrome.”
In Israel, the fast track from the military and security services to the dirty business of politics is almost the norm. Dagan has the right to speak out – even the duty, if he believes the situation is so dire – but there is a time and a place, and an appropriate manner.
Dagan is not the first. The Star is Born phenomenon is causing many to shoot their mouths off. Once upon a time, the heads of the security establishment were known only by initials: Now we know their names, hobbies and political inclinations.
For example, two months ago, among the signatures on a new but highly familiar peace initiative were former Mossad chief Danny Yatom, former Shin Bet chiefs Peri and Ayalon; Lipkin- Shahak; Amram Mitzna, a retired general aiming for a second chance of leading what remains of the Labor Party; and Rabin Jr., who seems to think he can offer a special insight into the huge diplomatic and security dilemmas facing the country as a result of growing up in his particular household.
Their platform, apparently drawn up according to the formula of the Saudi-inspired 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, calls for the 1967 lines to be a basis for a two-state solution, with east Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian state. It also advocates Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights, although watching the events of the past few weeks, I’m relieved that that clause hasn’t got off the ground.
Apart from threats to water supplies and other strategic interests, I can’t help but feel that without the Golan, the Palestinians attempting to storm into Israel from the Syrian border would instead be rushing on Galilee every Nakba, Naksa and Na-nana- na-na day.
IT WOULD be a good idea for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to take the initiative, it’s the surfeit of initiatives that worries me. There’s the Arab Peace Initiative, the Saudi Initiative, George W. Bush’s 2002 Initiative; the Geneva Initiative; and those with long memories might even recall Israel’s 1989 Peace Initiative under prime minister Yitzhak Shamir and then-defense minister Rabin.
The French would like to start a new initiative; Moscow has often fought (diplomatically) for the same. The Quartet might sound like some kind of harmonious musical ensemble, but in this context it is trying to orchestrate a peace effort on behalf of the US, the UN, the European Union and Russia.
Even Turkey, when Ehud Olmert was on his way out as prime minister at the end of 2008, desperately wanted to mediate an agreement between Israel and Syria. Of course, since then it’s become clear where the sympathies of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan really lie, and the inability of Syria to treat even its own citizens civilly.
So many initiatives; so many voices.
We’ve heard them at Camp David, Sharm e- Sheikh, Taba, and in talks that put Annapolis on the international map.
I have fond memories of Jerusalem Post staff – from advertising agents to printers – gathering around a battered television in the reporters’ work area to raptly watch history in the making at the start of the 1991 Madrid Peace Conference, co-hosted by the US and what was still the Soviet Union.
Madrid resulted in bilateral and multilateral talks on issues such as trade and natural resources. The Palestinians were part of the Jordanian delegation, and most discussion of animosity focused on the evident rivalry between foreign minister David Levy and then rapidly rising star Netanyahu.
The Madrid process, however, was replaced in 1993 by the Oslo Accords, which were signed after secret negotiations behind Rabin’s back. Even Israel’s Left admits that those agreements literally blew up in our faces.
Political rivalry is natural, and having a strong opposition is a sign of a healthy democracy. But evidently that’s not the case here. There are so many private initiatives being promoted as alternatives to anything the democratically elected government might, finally, decide to adopt that it’s not only foreign leaders who are confused.
Too many different voices can drive you crazy.
The writer is editor of The International Jerusalem Post. [email protected]