The challenges facing Ya’alon

In this age of budget cuts, Ya’alon will also need a bit of luck, US aid, and stability on the home front.

Barak switches with Ya'alon 370 (photo credit: Ariel Hermoni, Defense Ministry spokesman )
Barak switches with Ya'alon 370
(photo credit: Ariel Hermoni, Defense Ministry spokesman )
Moshe “Bogie” Ya’alon has taken over as defense minister.
Ya’alon knows the ministry well from the many years and long hours of discussions with previous defense ministers in which he participated first as a major-general and later as IDF chief of staff.
Ya’alon will be the one to stand at the forefront and handle Israel’s greatest security threats. Of course, he will act in accordance with directives from Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, but his influence in the security establishment that he heads will be quite dramatic.
Ya’alon was not Netanyahu’s first choice for the position, but Likud primary constraints, including the pre-election deal with Yisrael Beytenu, forced him to choose the only viable option available at the time.
Ya’alon was also definitely not the first choice of many senior Likud members, especially ministers who top the list and who have set their sights on future leadership of the party. They are anxious about their future, and recognize that Ya’alon’s appointment directly threatens their chances of ever leading the Likud.
What issues will Ya’alon have to contend with as he assumes his new position?
1. The Iranian threat – World leaders are holding talks, the Americans are threatening, the Europeans are imposing sanctions, while the Iranians get closer and closer to becoming a nuclear power.
According to senior officials in the defense establishment, this is perhaps the only real threat currently facing the State of Israel.
Sanctions by Western countries have indeed slowed down Iran’s progression in becoming a nuclear power. There have also been embarrassing mishaps, strange computer viruses, and Iranian nuclear scientists who have died, all of which have contributed to the slowing of Iran’s progress, and convinced them to return to the negotiating table.
However, even in their current state, the Iranians are already operating tens of thousands of centrifuges, and have a growing stockpile of enriched uranium, which according to official estimates are enough to arm five or six bombs. They only need six more months to complete their nuclear warheads.
Yet it’s important to note that they have not yet reached this stage.
They continue to work diligently toward this goal, while at the same time they are spreading a smokescreen in the form of willingness to participate in negotiations with the West. The main question is, how do we react to this threat? Talks have gotten us nowhere, sanctions and economic hardships in Iran – such as secret warfare – have caused significant delays, but have not been able to halt their nuclear program. It is unlikely that there will be a change in Iranian leadership or government in the near future, and it is hard to imagine that Israel or Western countries would let Iran become a nuclear power. President Barack Obama has made it clear that a nuclear Iran crosses the US’s red line.
This means that in the absence of an Iranian policy change, the only available option is some type of military operation – with or without US or world support. Ya’alon made no secret of his determination in this matter when he said that he considers Iran to be the leader of the axis of evil.
The Iranians also aim to completely obliterate Israel, a mission that Syria, Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad – and until recently, Turkey – have joined.
Ya’alon has stated publicly on several occasions that he believes that the West should engage in diplomatic talks with Iran up to a certain point.
But in the absence of progress, the only realistic course of action is a military one.
The Arab Spring has turned into the Middle Eastern Winter for us Israelis. The domino effect in the series of revolutions in neighboring Arab countries has not yet come to an end. In most of these countries, radical Islamic groups have wrested control.
Syria will be the next in line to fall, and according to all indications, Bashar Assad’s days are limited. A number of militant groups are fighting against the minority Alawites over control of Syria, and there is tremendous concern that Islamic extremists might overtake the country.
While this is not an existential threat for the State of Israel, the Syrian arsenal and its impact on Hezbollah, as well as the possibility that these weapons could reach the hands of terrorists, are cause for great concern and food for thought for the incoming defense minister.
Israel continues to suffer from political isolation as the “powerful and violent occupying force over the Palestinians.”
Israel is therefore finding it quite difficult to change world opinion or to win over the West.
This threat is not the exclusive domain of the minister of defense, but its impact on Israel’s security policy is critical.
This threat is mainly the result of Israel’s security status.
The real challenge, as Ya’alon sees it, is to implement Israeli policy, while at the same time acting with determination to change Israel’s world image and making an even greater effort to present the logic of the Israeli position.
2. The Palestinian conflict – For Ya’alon, there is no real possibility of progressing in negotiations with the Palestinians.
According to Ya’alon, without the Palestinians‚ full recognition of the Jewish state’s right to exist, and the renunciation of Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine, Israel will not be able to move ahead with political negotiations with the Palestinians.
Given that neither of these acts is likely, Ya’alon understands that Israel must continue to live with this ongoing conflict. He believes that the Palestinians‚ challenge is not to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but rather to reinforce it and to maintain it for as long as possible, or at least until the Palestinians change their minds.
3. Arab Israelis – Israel’s lack of proper maintenance of Palestinians, along with years of neglect, have increased their feelings of alienation and anger. It is clear today that it is only a question of time until another outbreak occurs.
According to futurist Bar-Ilan University Prof. David Passig, along with the sharpening divide in the haredi and secular communities, this could constitute an existential threat for Israel within three decades.
Ya’alon’s solution to these challenges is the continued investment in developing Israel’s security and military strength, and relying exclusively on its own security capabilities in the air, sea and land.
In this age of budget cuts, Ya’alon will also need a bit of luck, US aid, and stability on the home front.
Will he succeed? Only time will tell.
The writer is a former brigadier-general who served as a division head in the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency). Translated by Hannah Hochner.