Ari Shavit: Apocalypse now, apocalypse forever

Ari Shavit, one of Haaret’z most renowned columnists, has been warning Israelis of the coming apocalypse from time immemorial. But whether he is talking about the Iranian nuclear program or a future Palestinian state, not one of Shavit’s nightmare scenario’s come true. Perhaps it is time we stop taking him seriously.

By False Prophet Blog (translated by Jordan Michaeli)

Ari Shavit on the Charlie Rose Show (photo: YouTube screenshot)
Ari Shavit on the Charlie Rose Show (photo: YouTube screenshot)

Should Ari Shavit be taken seriously? We are, after all, talking about a senior commentator from Haaretz here. When a significant event takes place, the newspaper’s editors almost always decide to publish his commentary. Apparently, serious people see Shavit as an authority.

And yet, the answer to the question above is clearly “no.” Shavit should not be taken seriously, a conclusion based on something called “past experience.”

Studying Shavit’s columns (from 2006 until today) reveals that he is a hysterical fellow who thinks that every year is one in which a pivotal decision must be made, that every moment is crucial like no other. Every leader “must immediately understand” the things Shavit is saying, or a terrible disaster shall occur. A review of Shavit’s columns reveal him to be a false prophet par excellence, some sort of reverse version of Cassandra – the Greek mythological figure who was sentenced to tell true prophecies which no one would believe, while Ari Shavit tells false prophecies and everybody listens to him.

One could argue that “one day Shavit will be right. The Iranian threat will manifest itself upon us.” That is very plausible. But Shavit doesn’t say that this will happen, he says it has already happened, that it is already here and requires an immediate decision. This year. Otherwise, the State of Israel will come to an end. And he’s been saying it for many years (it’s both sad and funny to see how often he uses the term “last opportunity”). Since I already used the Cassandra image, I’ll squeeze out a few other metaphors and say that Shavit is like a broken clock that cries wolf. He may one day be correct, but it doesn’t mean that he is right.

One could also argue that “other commentators also make mistakes, why care so much about Shavit?” That’s also very possible. I haven’t checked other commentators in the same manner. My feelings are that there’s no other commentator who is so consistently, massively mistaken, who is still taken so seriously by serious people. But this is no competition – if someone would like to offer other commentators suffering from those problems, be my guest. The following is a selection of snippets from relevant past columns, upon which my claims are based.

1. This Passover is indeed different from any other Passover which was celebrated here since the first settlers came in 1968 to make the Passover sacrifice and celebrate the Seder in Park hotel in Hebron. This Passover, Israel can decide to put an end to the enslavement of the occupation. (April 2006)

2. The timetable is also more or less known. At the diplomatic level, the crisis may peak as early as this summer. From a military standpoint, the crisis may reach its zenith in the winter, after the U.S. congressional elections. Either way, 2007 will be a critical year. It poses a challenge to the West of a kind that it has not faced since the Cold War. For Israel, it is a date with destiny. (May 2006)

3. Only the immediate convening of a special emergency cabinet that includes Ehud Barak, Moshe Ya’alon, Benjamin Netanyahu and Yossi Beilin can give Olmert the boost he needs to infuse the nation and the army with new fighting spirit and create a strategic turnabout. Israel in the summer of 2006 faces a state of emergency no less grave than the state of emergency in the summer of 1967. An emergency government is the need of the hour. (July 2006)

4. But there is no doubt about the main issue: This year is a critical one.

When it comes to Iran, this year is a year of decision. If Iran is not stopped this year, then in the summer of 2008 it will be on its way to nuclear hegemony, which means a different Middle East. It also means a different State of Israel. It means a different era. […] But only Barak is capable of leading Israel when it confronts the most important decision in its history. The decision of its life. (May 2007)

5. On the Syrian issue, we are the eleventh hour. (January 2008)

6. The annual intelligence estimate of the state research bodies was submitted to the cabinet early this week. Below is an alternative intelligence estimate. […] If John McCain does not make it to the White House, Israel is likely to be faced with a cruel decision at the end of the decade: to attack a nuclearizing Iran or accept a nuclear-capable Iran. Either option will pose a test to Israel unlike any it has faced since 1948. (March 2008)

7. This is a time of trial. Israel is facing unprecedented challenges. Iran is on the verge of nuclearization, Syria and Hezbollah are growing stronger, Hamas is heading toward conflagration. The Israel Defense Forces is doing everything to prepare for the developments, but this is not enough. Israeli society must muster all its inner strength both to prevent war and to endure a war. (April 2008)

8. Contemplate, if you will, this wild scenario: In November, after Senator Barack Obama becomes president-elect of the United States, outgoing president George W. Bush inflicts a severe blow on Iran. That could take the form of a naval siege, the flexing of American military muscle, or even an all-out air strike targeting Iran’s nuclear program. Under ordinary circumstances, people would reject out of hand such a wild scenario. […] But these are not ordinary times, and the protagonists involved are not ordinary people. […] There is a real possibility that Bush will end his woeful second and final term of office with a bang, not a whimper. (June 2008)

9. Anyone who thought that the West’s most pressing issue is Islam should think again. Radical Islam poses a long-term threat, but the new Russia is a problem now. (August 2008)

10. Regardless of their worldview, strategic observers all concur on Israel’s strategic situation: There are dark clouds on the horizon. […] The Israel Defense Forces has a reasonable response to most of these threats, but military might does not alter the basic fact: There is a high probability that in 2009 or 2010, Israel will face a national test. (September 2008)

11.  Obama had no chance in the snows of Iowa in 2012. So with Oprah Winfrey wiping a tear at his side, the most promising president ever announced he would not run for a second term.What went wrong? Where did Obama go astray? In retrospect, the answer is clear and simple. In the summer of 2009, the president had to make the most courageous decision of his life: to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. […] Obama had no doubts: Had he known at the beginning of his term what he knows now, he would have made a different strategic decision about Iran’s nuclear program. If only it were possible to go back, the pensive president told his humbled chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel. If only he could have made a different decision in the summer of 2009. (April 2009)

12. It isn’t every day a journalist writes an open letter to the prime minister. But today is no ordinary day. Nor is this an ordinary hour. This is the hour when the clock is about to strike midnight. A rare confluence of circumstances has created a situation in which on Israel’s 62nd Independence Day, the state of the Jews is facing a challenge the likes of which it has not known since May 14, 1948. The year between this Independence Day and the next will be a crucial one. […] The challenge of 2010 is a monumental challenge. On one level, it resembles Chaim Weizmann’s challenge in securing the Balfour declaration: As in 1917, today, too, Zionism must mobilize widespread, solid international support for the Jewish state’s right to exist. On another level, it resembles David Ben-Gurion’s challenge at the inception of the state: As in 1947, today, too, the leadership must prepare the nation for almost inconceivably difficult scenarios. On a third level, it resembles the Dimona challenge faced by Ben-Gurion, Levi Eshkol and Shimon Peres. (April 2010)

13.  The main war scenario is that of a conflict with Iran. If next year the United States or Israel uses force against Iran, Iran will strike back. […] The second war scenario is that of a reconciliation with Iran. If next year U.S. President Barack Obama acts toward Iran the way George W. Bush acted toward North Korea, Iran will go nuclear. […] The volcano that erupted last week in Iceland will be nothing compared to the volcano that could erupt in the near future in the Middle East. But the volcano here is a human one. People are stoking it and people can also cool it down. The lives of hundreds of millions now depend on the wisdom and careful consideration of one man: Barack Obama. (April 2010)

14. But because the state conducts itself as it does, Netanyahu, Barak and Yishai will have to go in the end. The tsumani country cannot wait for the next tidal wave. It needs to set things right now. (December 2010)

15. Say farewell to a quiet environment. Even those who enjoy the quiet cannot close their eyes to what is happening. The great Arab revolt has yet to reach the occupied territories  […] ut the tide can’t be held off forever. Sooner or later, the Arab revolt will reach the territories. When the expectation of a Palestinian state blows up in September, economic prosperity will not stave off a political tsunami. […] A torrent of rebellion will strike Israel. (March 2011)

16.  The opportunity of the summer of 2011 differs from all previous ones. […] It must be made clear that Israel will not rule over another people, and that under the right conditions and at the right time, Israel will withdraw to adjusted 1967 borders. The payment required is costly and painful. For Prime Minister Netanyahu, the chance of the summer of 2011 is the last chance. (April 2011)

17. For Netanyahu, May 24, 2011, will be a day of to be or not to be. If he does not make a clear and decisive statement on the Palestinian issue, no one will listen to anything else he has to say. If he does not restore to himself the diplomatic credit he has lost, he will not be able to act like a leader in any area. Nor will he survive. Time is up. (April 2011)

18. Barak and Meridor must make it clear to the prime minister this week that if an Israeli initiative doesn’t materialize pronto, they will quit. They must put a pistol to his temple. (June 2011)

19. There is a high risk of war breaking out in the autumn. We all hope it will be merely a diplomatic war. But it is important to prepare for the possibility that sooner or later the diplomatic struggle will take on a popular or military dimension. It will be harder than in Operation Cast Lead. It could be as hard as in the first or second intifada. (June 2011)

20. My gut feeling is that Meir Dagan is mistaken about Iran. The former Mossad chief recently said it would be stupid for Israel to attack Iran. For three years there was great tension in the international community over the possibility that Israel would launch a surprise attack. But then just last year, the tension subsided. The success of the clandestine struggle against Iran and of economic sanctions against the regime have put off the moment of truth. (June 2011)

21. What is really disturbing about Iran is not what is hidden from the eye, but what is exposed. It is not clear why the West has so far failed to impose draconian sanctions on Iran that would lead to the fall of the regime. It is not clear why Israel is not preparing all its systems for a moment of truth that even if delayed, will certainly arrive. The real fault of the American, European and Israeli leadership is not related do what it is doing in secret. (June 2011)

22. So when the day comes again, we’ll be surprise again. When it next comes, we’ll once again ask what happened to us. Why we went on partying for five years on the deck of the Titanic, instead of reinforcing it and steering it away from its doomed course. (July 2011)

23. This moment is therefore a decisive one. The crisis is also an opportunity, but this opportunity is the last one. (August 2011)

24. Good morning to Benjamin Netanyahu, who will reach his moment of truth on September 20. […] decision makers in both the West and Israel are returning from their vacations to an incomparably challenging autumn. It will get interesting come September. It will also be interesting in October and November and December. The summer is over, friends. Fasten your seatbelts. (September 2011)

25. The picture is clearing up. The combination of the Arab spring with the Palestinian September could create a perfect storm. […]  The quiet is hanging by a thread. The clearer the picture, the gloomier it gets. Instead of bolstering the Jewish national home in anticipation of the hurricane, Netanyahu’s government is hacking away at its foundations. (September 2011)

26. After September comes October. Quiet. Peace on the House of Israel. […] One little problem: September isn’t a date, September is a process. And the process of September is still at its height. The danger of September has not passed. […] Thus, at the end of this Gregorian calendar year or at the beginning of the next Gregorian calendar year, a new political-legal situation might arise in Palestine. The organizing principle of the peace process will cease to organize. The 18 years of the Oslo plan will come to an end. The Israelis and the Palestinians are on course for a political and legal head-on collision. Sooner or later, the collision will echo in Tahrir Square. Perhaps it will already be spring, maybe even summer – but September will surely come. September will strike us with all its force. (October 2011)

27. For many years the big argument in the Israeli establishment was an argument about time. [….] Now comes the International Atomic Energy Agency and proves that indeed, there is no time to spare. There could still be surprises, of course. Miracles have happened before, and they could happen again. But at this point, it seems as if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak were right, while ex-Mossad head Meir Dagan was both mistaken and misleading. So the decisive year won’t be 2018 or 2015. It will be 2012. Israel is getting closer to having to decide between bombing or allowing a bomb. […] The time-illusion […] anesthetized all of us. The time-illusion dulled our senses. We didn’t want to hear the rustle of the centrifuges or accept their significance. But now we hear them. And now our time is up. “Tomorrow” has arrived. (November 2011)

28. The Netanyahu-Obama meeting in two weeks will be definitive. If the U.S. president wants to prevent a disaster, he must give Netanyahu iron-clad guarantees that the United States will stop Iran in any way necessary and at any price, after the 2012 elections. If Obama doesn’t do this, he will obligate Netanyahu to act before the 2012 elections. (February 2012)

29. It’s true, there could still be a miracle. Maybe Iran will blink at the last minute. Maybe the United States will sober up at the edge of the abyss. But in March 2012 the feeling in Jerusalem is that Israel is utterly alone. And we are getting closer to the moment of truth. (March 2012)

30. That’s why it’s totally clear that for Israel, 2012 is a critical year. It’s either now or never. (March 2012)

31. By bringing forward the elections, Netanyahu defines the ideal time window for an attack in Iran: September-October 2012 […] Very quietly Netanyahu advances an organized plan of action, according to a precise schedule, which will bring the strategic crisis to a high point before the coming winter. (May 2012)

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Everything written above raises one main concern: that the Iranian strike will arrive only after Shavit will run out of words such as “storm,” “torrent,” “tsunami,” “earthquake,” “gun to the head” and “hurricane.” Come on Iranians, now is your last chance.

This post was first published on the False Prophet blog.

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