Just attended Likud MK, Yuval Steinitz,' address to about 70 people from the Anglo community, held in a friend's lounge, entitled
Israel's Security Posture following the War in Lebanon 2006
The Anglo community in Haifa tends to be rather elderly, but there were one or two younger people, and when one of these asked me how I was, I couldn't place him for a minute. Was he from the Latin class? The Technion choir maybe? Definitely not the synagogue. I asked him where he knew me for, and he said 'I'm your doctor'. As I've said before, looking after yourself is serious business in Israel, and if you haven't visited your doctor for three months, they want to know why. I don't think I've been round to the surgery since the tests he recommended on first arriving, so it could be one year ago. No wonder he seemed somewhat concerned!
I had promised the hosts for this event that if the place were crowded, I'd volunteer to sit out on the terrace, being newly arrived from Britain and used to the cold. So I did as promised, and it was really freezing, but I had a bird's eye view of the speaker, from behind, and could take notes without poking out anyone's eye, since - strange as it may seem - no-one else elected to sit out in the freezing cold with me!
And whatever your political views, you had to agree that he was an excellent speaker, and not at all over the top in manner! He connected with the audience immediately by stating that although he had left Haifa to be nearer Jerusalem, his son had returned to join the navy here.
He then got into his talk with bite, stating that one and a half years ago, Israel's doctrine of defense had collapsed uncessarily due to the arrogance of the security establishment in concluding that there could be no security threat that the Israeli airforce couldn't handle. For this reason, ground forces hadn't been used when they should have been.
For the first time in Israeli history, he said, the enemy had been shooting daily at one of Israel's biggest cities and Israel had failed to save them. From this, he concluded, we have learned what our weaknesses are.
He then mentioned that he left the ivory tower of the philosopy department at the university to enter the political swamp (I think he probably meant 'quagmire' - this was all in English, for once. What a change!!) At that point, a voice from the audience chipped in: 'Believe me, it's not much different at the university, with all the politics which goes on'!
Steinitz' main contention is that Israel's national security should be run not just by Mossad and the generals, but by civilians. He said that you can tell the way the generals in government think by their clipped, short sentences. He, on the other hand, comes from the realm of philosophy, which entails a different approach: the Socratic approach, and before that the Parmenidean approach, which states:
I know only that I don't know
The beginning of wisdom, he said, is knowing how little you actually do know. The Cartesian philosophy of doubt is the opposite of that of the generals. We should combine both the direct approach of the generals and the discursive approach of thoughtful civilians. This would avoid arrogance.
He then went into the history of Israel, emphasising how much various PMs and the IDF had clashed over the building of the Dimona reactor and the Israeli outer space programme.
He reiterated that, as in the USA, civilians should control the national security system.
He said that since the 2006 war, the IDF had begun exercises again and are now in good condition. The generals have also been told not to appear so much in the media, nor to favour one journalist over another. He then asked for a translation of a word from the Hebrew. Someone said 'failure', but the same guy who had called the university a 'quagmire', said that the word actually meant 'total screw-up'. I can't remember exactly what that referred to and I'd better not say, just in case I get it wrong!
Importantly, Steinitz feels that the threat to Israel is greater from Syria, which has more accurate long-range missiles which can hit military compounds than Hezbollah ('that little terrorist organisation', as he put it), who are inaccurate and therefore hit only cities and towns!
Steinitz stated that Israel possesses the best airforce in the world, but that Syria could actually paralyse it through its accurate missile system. He feels that it is vital to put as much effort into defense as into offense, and to use the eastern Mediterranean as a strategic position. He stressed the importance of a long-term strategy and feels that the IDF is not, at present, taking this into account.
In response to questions, Steinitz stated that nobody directs Israeli intelligence at present and that it needs an 'external eye' and a 'historical approach' (at least I think he said 'historical', unless it was 'hysterical').
In response to another question about the kidnapped soldiers, he said that he cannot divulge confidential information, but that in principle, Israel should not give in to blackmail, should not bargain for bodies and should not negotiate, as is being done at present, with Hezbollah for signs of life. He cited the approach of the Americans and the British in Afghanistan as examples which are worthy of emulation in these situations.
On Gazae he said that, with the help of the Egyptians, Hamas are building a fundamentalist Muslim army. From the time of Ben Gurion Israel never allowed this sort of thing to happen between the sea and the Jordan. At Oslo, it was agreed to demilitarize the Occupied Territories (interested that he used that word!). This was also the nature of the agreement with Egypt over Sinai. What is happening in Gaza is in opposition to this and would, in the past, have been a casus belli. According to Steinitz, Egypt is cooperating with Iran and Hamas against Israel. This is why Abu Mazen is losing. For this reason, the USA has cut their normal budget to Egypt by 30%.
On Iran, he said that the western world has to act on this. It is not just Israel's problem. It is reminiscent of the re-arming of Germany in the 1930s. Iran is more important even than the War on Terrorism. Saddam Hussein, Gadaffi and the North Koreans were all stopped through threats and Iran has to feel threatened in the same way.
On Annapolis, he said that it is a very illogical step and that the Americans and Blair (whom he met recently) appear to be very surprised that Israel is agreeing to it. Steinitz admitted that he had belonged to 'Peace Now' in the 1980s, but had had to face realities. The present reality is that Gaza was uprooted. and he had agreed with this. Gaza had been delivered to Abu Mazen, and not to Hamas. Yet, two years later, Hamas is in power and 2,500 Kassam rockets are landing on Sderot and area.
According to Steinitz, the Israeli government wants to strengthen Abu Mazen because he is weak. But giving him concessions is actually making him weaker. Arafat was strong and had envisaged the Palestinian parliament in Abu Dis, in the case that Jerusalem did not materialize as a reality. Abu Mazen is not in that position. He is currently talking to Hamas. Whether Annapolis succeeds or fails, he will still sit and talk to Hamas.
The Annapolis conference is therefore, according to Steinetz, the most bizaree aspect of the peace-process.
I've tried to reproduce this as well as I can. And what stands out is the idea in Israel of philosopher politicians in the style of Ancient Greece. And the idea that the IDF, the hero to Jews all over the world, are actually being accused of arrogance and no-one in the audience objected.
There is certainly food for thought in what he said. And politics apart, it's always better to have ideas people working hand in hand with the people on the ground.
Now, I'd like to hear the views of MKs from Kadima and Labour, just to give it a bit of balance. But I'm quite sure that after tonight's meeting, a few people in the audience will sign up for Likud.