Published by The Freeman Center

The Maccabean Online

Political Analysis and Commentary
on Israeli and Jewish Affairs

"For Zion's sake I shall not hold my peace, And for Jerusalem's sake I shall not rest."



ISRAEL’S SECURITY: A CONVERSATION WITH Lt. Gen. MOSHE YA’ALON

By Joseph Puder

Moshe Ya’alon (55), Israel’s former Chief-of-Staff is a no-nonsense, straight talking sabra (native born Israeli) who is now in the United States advancing his studies. Prime Minister Sharon and Shaul Mofaz, his appointee as Defense Minister, did not extend Yaalon’s tenure as Chief-of Staff for another term because of his public disagreement with the government’s policy of unilateral withdrawal from Gush Katif.

Ya’alon, who was one of Israel’s best C-o-S’ and, deserves credit for Israel’s triumph against the Palestinian terrorism Israel has been subjected to since 2000, was one of the few C-o-S’ not recommended for a second term. Ya’alon openly predicted that a unilateral withdrawal would embolden Palestinian terrorists to use the Israeli-vacated territory in Gaza as a launching pad against Israeli communities in the Western Negev. The recent increase in the firing of Kassam rockets to Sderot and Ashkelon fully confirms Ya’alon’s predictions.

In a conversation with Lt. Gen. Moshe Ya’alon on December 21, 2005 regarding his outlook on Israel’s security Ya’alon concluded, “Israel is in a better security situation now than it has been for sometime. There is no organized Arab coalition against it. Iraq is no longer a threat to the region and after the Hariri Affair, and international scrutiny, Syria is less of a threat. “

Ya’alon focused on Iran as a growing security concern not just for Israel but for the west as well. “Iran is a threat in spite of the fact that it has no territorial dispute with Israel.” It’s Shia fundamentalist ideology is triumphalist and seeks to eliminate western ideas and interests in the Middle East. “The clerics leading Iran are financing and arming the Hezbollah in Lebanon and Islamic Jihad and Hamas in the Palestinian territories. Likewise it is funding the terrorist infrastructure in Iraq.” Iran, he added, also exports weapons and know-how to the Palestinians and encourages them to continue their war of terror against Israel as it tries to undermine US and European sponsored compromises.

According to Ya’alon “Iran seeks to undermine pro-western regimes in the Middle East and is challenging the US in the region.”

Appointed as Chief-of Staff in 2002, Lt. Gen. Ya’alon believes that: “Arafat initiated the Intifada in order to avoid recognizing Israel. He rejected the notion of a ‘Two State Solution.” Ya’alon does not believe that there is a chance to reach peace at this time. He pointed to how the “Palestinian textbooks speak volumes about the Palestinian Authority intentions.”

Touching on the controversial issue that caused him trouble with Sharon, Ya’alon is very clear when he says there has been “no significant change in the Palestinian Authority side after the disengagement.” He went on to say, “The PA has ‘a kind of civil society’ but its leadership is corrupt.” Ya’alon’s advice is “to be patient.” He believes that “the US must help change the education and culture among the Palestinians” as a prerequisite for a fruitful dialogue.

In conclusion, Ya’alon is “optimistic about Israel’s future” adding, “Our young generation is well educated and inspiring” and noting that Israel’s qualitative edge will continue and grow in the foreseeable future.

Asked about the difference between Israel and the US timetable regarding Iranian nuclear capability and how Israel should deal with it, Ya’alon responded, “for Israel the point of no return is Iran’s acquiring of nuclear know-how.” He added, however that “Iran is not deterred by the US and has begun the production of 37 tons of nuclear material. Iran is not afraid of political and economic sanctions since it will not impact on internal changes in Iran.”

Iran, according to Ya’alon learned from our operation against the Osirik nuclear facility near Baghdad how to defend its nuclear facilities. “There should be in addition to the military option, political and economic pressure. The West must show determination, and we should not exclude the military option.”

Regarding whether Egypt poses a military threat to Israel, Ya’alon responded, “Egypt receives $1.3 billion from the US in military aid but does not currently present a military challenge. Israel must however retain its qualitative edge.” He added: “Unfortunately, our relations with Egypt is not as good as with Jordan, moreover, Al Qeada elements are operating in Egypt, and there is a great deal of weapons smuggling from Egypt to Gaza which the Egyptian government has done little to stop.”

Are the Saudis exporting terrorism? Ya’alon: “Saudis are funding madrassas (Islamic schools) that produced several generations of mujhideens (Jihadist fighters). The Saudis are also funding Palestinian terrorism against Israel. Israel intercepted lots of Saudi money coming to the PA. In general, the Saudis play a very negative role.”

Questioned on Syria, Ya’alon pointed out that in spite of the withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon Syria is still involved in Lebanese affairs, and “Lebanese President Emil Lahood is a Syrian puppet.” He added, “Hezbollah is Syria’s only weapon in Lebanon, and Lebanese independence must be encouraged but without military operations against the Hezbollah, the problem will persist.”

Asked if Turkey is still a strategic ally of Israel? Ya’alon: “Turkey has one foot in Europe and the other in the Middle East. Turkey is however western-minded and hence still a strategic ally.”

Regarding Israel’s defensive barrier and relations with the Palestinians Ya’alon is decisive: “offense is the best strategy against terrorism, but first comes the offense then we have the guards in the form of the defensive barrier.” Ya’alon contrasts the existing people-to-people projects with Jordan that he deems essential with the lack of it with the Palestinians. “Arafat rejected the people-to-people contacts.” Ya’alon is adamant about cultural change through education and people-to-people projects. He blames the UN and Western (primarily European) money that supports Palestinian schools that train future Shahids (martyrs) or suicide bombers. He pointed out that even in Egypt the culture of “blame the West” is being inculcated in the government schools.

Finally, asked about the March 28th elections and how it will affect Israel? Ya’alon understandably responded with “no comment.” There is a “cooling off” period for Israeli generals before they are allowed to enter the political arena and Ya’alon is unwilling to commit at this stage. This outspoken and clear-minded soldier will be a great asset on anyone’s ticket. There are speculations that the Likud’s newly elected chairman Benjamin Netanyahu might ask Ya’alon to join him. Bibi Netanyahu’s best chance to win in the upcoming elections is to have Moshe Ya’alon on his ticket as the designated defense minister.

Joseph Puder is the co-founder and Executive Director of the Interfaith Taskforce for America and Israel (ITAI).