Why are Israeli ex-generals battling over the Iran deal? - opinion

Schism in Israel's defense establishment comes to light as soon as its brass is no longer in uniform or undercover, and therefore at liberty to voice political views.

The Iranian flag waves in front of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) headquarters, before the beginning of a board of governors meeting, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Vienna, Austria, March 1, 2021. (photo credit: REUTERS/LISI NIESNER)
The Iranian flag waves in front of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) headquarters, before the beginning of a board of governors meeting, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Vienna, Austria, March 1, 2021.
(photo credit: REUTERS/LISI NIESNER)
 Two groups of retired IDF generals, Shin Bet operatives, Mossad agents and Israel Police officers are currently engaged in combat. But the battle is not against the enemies of the Jewish state that the organizations’ members devoted much of their adult lives to protecting. 
No, the war in question is being fought between Commanders for Israel’s Security and Habithonistim-Protectors of Israel. The casus belli in this case is the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers from which former US president Donald Trump withdrew in 2018. 
Following clear indications that the new administration in Washington was eager to return to the JCPOA – both as part of its obsession with diplomacy, and to undo as many of Trump’s policies as possible – CIS announced support for US President Joe Biden’s stance.
In a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on February 22, CIS said that it “welcomes the American initiative to get Iran to again transparently follow the guidelines in the JCPOA, as long as it includes an Iranian commitment to abide by UN Security Council Resolution 2231.”
To refresh our collective memory, Resolution 2231, which constitutes an affirmation of the JCPOA, mentions an “implementation structure” for the UNSC to “review and decide on proposals by [member] states for nuclear, ballistic missile or arms-related transfers to or activities with Iran.” 
Before doing a double take, if not guffawing, at the content of the CIS letter and the resolution on which it based – since the regime in Tehran never upheld its end of the agreement – let’s note the very different message that Habithonistim sent to Biden on March 1.
Expressing “great concern” over Biden’s interest in returning to the “flawed principles” of the JCPOA, the group wrote: “From a strict security perspective, [rejoining the accord] represents an existential threat to the Jewish state. It would also work against your administration’s stated goal of stabilizing the Middle East... [as it] would push Israel and Sunni allies into a dangerous corner, and potentially ignite a massive nuclear arms race.”
The letter went on to say that the JCPOA provided the Iranian regime with a “safe path” to obtaining a large nuclear arsenal, and that the deal’s limitations (which, as pointed out above, are meaningless anyway) have expired or will be “sunsetting shortly.” 
It continued: “What is needed is not to succumb to the false brinkmanship and nuclear blackmail of Iran, and to use the maximum-pressure sanctions to demand Iran accept a more effective deal that will not include sunset clauses, and will guarantee that Iran shall never have the capability to produce nuclear weapons — a deal that dismantles the military nuclear facilities, provides for real inspections anywhere anytime, limits enrichment for a very long time or prevents it and takes care of delivery systems (ballistic missiles).”
Endorsed by 1,800 signatories, it concluded: “President Biden, your 40-year history as a public servant has clearly demonstrated that Israel’s security is something you take seriously. The Iranian regime [seems] to be expecting a deal as favorable to them as the original JCPOA. You have a unique opportunity to [disabuse] them of that fallacy by negotiating a deal that protects Israel, the Middle East and the United State of America from an empowered and nuclear-armed Iran.”
THAT NEITHER Netanyahu nor Biden will be swayed by these missives, each of which contradicts the position of its addressee, is irrelevant. What is important is the schism in the Israeli defense establishment, which comes to light as soon as its brass is no longer in uniform or undercover, and therefore at liberty to voice political views.
Unfortunately, their opinions often run counter to the very government policies that they executed during their careers. From both a legal standpoint and as a matter of free speech, this is within their rights. Nevertheless, it’s extremely damaging when the comments of security-establishment veterans are touted by Israel’s foes abroad as proof of Jerusalem’s wrongdoing.
CIS, a well-funded NGO that describes itself as “a non-partisan movement of retired senior members of the defense establishment... that promotes separation from the Palestinians into two states in a regional outline,” is one example.
Ironically, among the objectives laid out by the movement of “more than 300 retired senior officials represent[ing] more than 9,000 years of security experience” are goals that Netanyahu has been achieving at record speed. These include launching a regional peace initiative to solidify Israel’s international standing.
To be fair, CIS was established in 2014, six years before Netanyahu signed the Trump-brokered Abraham Accords with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain – followed by normalization treaties with Sudan, Morocco and Kosovo. The group’s founding even preceded the finalization of the JCPOA.
It was quick at the time, however, to criticize Netanyahu ahead of his March 3, 2015, address to a joint session of the US Congress, which had been arranged without the approval of then-US president Barack Obama. The purpose of Netanyahu’s speech was to warn American lawmakers of the “bad deal” in the works with Iran. CIS argued that the occasion would damage Israel’s relationship with the US. 
AS LONG ago as that seems, and as different as the situation was at the time, there was one constant that CIS did not acknowledge then and continues to deny to this day: that the path to peace in the Middle East doesn’t pass through Ramallah. On the contrary, the Palestinian Authority is and has always been the main roadblock to its own problems, and appeasement of Iran endangers the entire region. 
Army and secret-service officers ought to know that by now. Their continued inability to see it doesn’t reflect well on their collective “9,000 years of security experience,” that’s for sure. 
On the other hand, not much can be expected of a group – formed two months after the end of Operation Protective Edge, Israel’s war against Hamas terrorist and infrastructure in Gaza – that called on Netanyahu “to adopt the Saudi Peace Initiative as a basis for negotiations and to set in motion a peace process with the Palestinians.”
Equally banal is CIS’s conviction that a two-state solution to the conflict with the Palestinians is essential for Israel’s security and future as a democratic Jewish state. It’s as if the people who utter these platitudes, which have proved time and again to be delusional, just awakened from decades of hibernation in a cave. 
Take CIS chairman IDF Maj.-Gen. (ret.) Matan Vilnai, for instance. In an article in Maariv in September, he claimed that the then-imminent signing of the Abraham Accords made Israel’s return to the negotiating table with the Palestinians imperative. The deduction beggared belief and defied all logic.
THANKFULLY, Habithonistim – “a movement of officers, commanders and fighters from all Israeli security sectors that aim to protect Israel’s national security needs in a way that will enable its existence and prosperity for generations to come” – emerged last year to present a very different perspective. Rather than bemoaning the absence of a phony “two-state solution,” this collection of defense honchos, headed by IDF Brig.-Gen. (ret.) Amir Avivi, championed Trump’s “Peace to Prosperity” plan.
In an apparent dig to CIS, Avivi said in a statement this week that those who consider the JCPOA beneficial to Israel’s security are “out of touch” with reality. One might – and should – add that any new version of a deal with the devil will be just as perilous.
Meanwhile, the military, under orders from the Netanyahu-led government, should be saluted for striking Iranian targets on a regular basis.