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Ex-Israeli Officials in Uproar Over Iran Plans

They may smell imminent attack; they may also smell imminent elecitons

Marc Tracy
April 30, 2012
Yuval Diskin, while Shin Bet head, in 2009.(Moshe Milner/GPO via Getty Images)
Yuval Diskin, while Shin Bet head, in 2009.(Moshe Milner/GPO via Getty Images)

Several former and even current Israeli military and intelligence men (plus former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert) have come forward to caution against and even denounce what some allege is Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Barak’s inexorable march toward striking Iran’s nuclear facilities. Presumed opponents now include the former and current Mossad heads, the former head of domestic intelligence, and even, arguably, Benny Gantz, the IDF chief-of-staff, to the point that (outside Bibi and Barak) flat-out consensus against an attack can be reported. But there has always been a necessary caveat: as in the United States, in Israel, civilians control the military, and the officers will execute the government’s orders. Yet this qualification begs its own question: if it’s the civilians who make the decisions, why is the brass speaking out—and why now? After the past few days, which have seen an onrush of calls from formerly top-ranking Israelis urging against attacking Iran now and louder rumors than ever that elections are in the offing, we’re closer to an answer.

It began Friday when former Shin Bet head Yuval Diskin baldly and publicly stated, “I have no faith in the current leadership,” adding: “I don’t believe in either the prime minister or the defense minister. I don’t believe in a leadership that makes decisions based on messianic feelings.”

But how do you really feel?

Oh you weren’t finished?

Believe me, I have observed them from up close. … They are not people who I, on a personal level, trust to lead Israel to an event on that scale and carry it off. These are not people who I would want to have holding the wheel in such an event. … They are misleading the public on the Iran issue. They tell the public that if Israel acts, Iran won’t have a nuclear bomb. This is misleading. Actually, many experts say that an Israeli attack would accelerate the Iranian nuclear race.

Before you just start nodding, consider Ari Shavit’s contention that by trying to empty the threat of Israeli action—which has driven so much of the effective sanctions against Iran—Diskin, Meir Dagan, and the rest are actually making it more likely. (Shavit is furious, rightly I think, also because it’s not entirely their place: “in the new Israel,” he sighed, “the old Turkish model prevails.”) Still, it has to be telling that they all seem to agree, right?

Amos Harel argued that Diskin just upped ex-official opposition to another level. Over the weekend, in New York City, Dagan, this unofficial movement’s leader, reiterated his points and expressed support for Diskin.

But here we come to the nub. Dagan is not the political opposition—in fact, he and Diskin are legally barred from running for office for another few years. So what are they up to?

Part of it, Amir Mizroch argues, is that they are genuinely trying to influence public opinion and thereby policy in the direction they think best. “In a country where security is held above everything, and security men—generals and spymasters—are held in the highest regard and are easily electable to high office,” Mizroch notes, “many Israelis could be influenced by Dagan and Diskin’s message that Bibi and Barak are not trustworthy.”

Additionally, according to Mizroch, Dagan’s and Diskin’s nearly simultaneous departures, at Bibi’s hands, were not, as break-up parlance would have it, mutual.

But then there is the election question. Because the rumblings were louder this weekend than ever before that Netanyahu—whose father, Benzion, just died—will call for elections sooner than his term allows, and probably so that they are before the U.S. presidential elections, and even perhaps as early as August. Mizroch speculates that this, too, is a motive: that they are speaking out to try to change the government.

The notable development on this front is a change in the leader of the opposition—the actual opposition. Shaul Mofaz, of Kadima, had a coalition of one-quarter Israeli Arabs in the recent Kadima leadership elections, which is notable because they like him not only because he is Mizrahi but also because he is seen as being less hawkish on Iran. In a recent interview, he sounded unmistakably leftist notes. Either Mofaz will represent a real left-wing challenge, or that challenge will be taken up by, potentially, a Labor Party revitalized by last (and this?) summer’s tent protests and a new leader, Shelly Yachimovich.

At the last, the ex-officials might see the combination of their talk with the election season as making an attack before elections nearly politically impossible. If they can even kick the can down the road through the summer, that’s a victory.

One you view all the hawkish bluster and countervailing calls for cool through the prism of an election season, actually, it all comes to seem a lot less foreign, strange, and immoderate. Everybody campaigns.

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.