A leading Israeli defense reporter writes that Barak and Netanyahu have decided to attack Iran before November, and only IDF chief Benny Gantz can stop them. I say even he can’t.
Channel 10 defense reporter Alon Ben David, who’s been covering the Israeli security establishment for about 20 years and is as plugged in up there as anyone alive, writes in Haaretz today that the only person who can stop an Israeli attack on Iran before the November 6 presidential election is IDF chief Benny Gantz. This is an extremely newsworthy op-ed because Ben David is not a pundit, he’s a top-drawer reporter (also writing for the “Bible” of military affairs, Jane’s Defence Weekly) and he’s saying Netanyahu and Barak have made the decision to strike between August and October. He also says the cabinet – a majority of which supports an attack, and no surprise there – “will only be convened right before the strike to prevent leaks.” Interestingly, the key leaker whom Netanyahu and Barak want to keep in the dark about the exact time of the attack is Shimon Peres, who, Ben David writes, might go so far as to alert the White House to try to stop it.
The chief of the Mossad, head of military intelligence and commander of the Air Force all oppose a war, according to Ben David – and so does Gantz, at least for now. “The State of Israel cannot go to war without the support of the chief of staff,” Ben David notes, so it’s going to be up to Gantz to face down the entire political leadership. He would be speaking on behalf of the security establishment, which opposes an attack.
Much of what Ben David has to say about Gantz is encouraging. First of all, he’s not gung ho.
Gantz is familiar with the widespread assessment that an attack will not only not scuttle the Iranian bomb project, it is liable to intensify the pace of its development. Israel will be dragged into a painful war, which will not defeat it but will paralyze it and deliver a critical blow to the home front, after which Israeli society may be irrevocably changed. It will be a war that is liable to lead many Israelis to reconsider their future in this place.
Also, in line with Gantz’s hesitancy about a war, Ben David says he has an “accurate moral compass.” All very good to hear. On the worrisome side, though, he “so dislikes personal confrontations.” Barak, who is Gantz’s direct boss, lives for them. There’s another problem – Gantz was not Barak and Netanyahu’s first choice for IDF chief; their first choice, Yoav Galant, who lost the appointment over his tricky land dealings, was said to be in favor of a war.
Ben David writes that the military/intelligence brass are “walking around like they’re carrying a heavy burden” – they don’t want to do it. With few exceptions like Galant and Amos Yadlin, director of Israel’s leading security think tank, the retired military/intelligence types are against it, too. So is a majority of the Israeli public (though a majority, like most of the military/intelligence establishment, would like the U.S., with it’s far superior capabily, to do the job instead).
It’s only the politicians who are eager to strike. A huge problem is that that the politicians include three former IDF chiefs (Barak, Shaul Mofaz and Moshe Ya’alon) as well as other ex-generals and master spies.
Ben David says that in the end, it will all come down to Gantz. If he agrees with Netanyahu, Barak and the cabinet majority, Israel will attack; if he doesn’t, Israel won’t.
I happen to disagree with Ben David, and I’m speaking strictly out of my own reading of things. Finally, the army takes orders from the elected political leadership. If the IDF chief of staff tells the prime minister and defense minister he’s against a war, that Israel cannot do enough damage to Iran’s nuclear facilities to make the consequences worth suffering, I’m sure Netanyahu and Barak will listen politely – and then tell the cabinet it’s time to vote, the vote will be for war, and Gantz and the army brass will have no choice but to launch it. Unless, of course, they resign on the spot, which is not the sort of thing these career military men would ever dream of doing. They may voice their disagreements, but in the end they will follow orders – and as Ben David reports, the people who give the orders, the political leaders, are down for war. Sometime before November 6.
Unfortunately, Netanyahu, Barak and the people they frighten into obedience, which is a lot of people, hate to hear dissent, especially on a matter as colossal and fraught as this. Anybody who speaks out, like ex-Mossad chief Meir Dagan, like ex-Shin Bet head Yuval Diskin, like Netanyahu’s long-time chief aide Uzi Arad, is discredited and turned into an outsider. With the political leadership set on war, Gantz, as head of the military, will make it his business to remain an insider. He may stick to his current opinion and even say it out loud, but he will also make it absolutely clear that if those who give the orders want to attack, he will be a 100% loyal soldier and lead the IDF toward its objective with everything he’s got.
“All the weight of this decision has been placed on the narrow shoulders of a single army officer,” Ben David concludes. I’m afraid this is much, much too big for any one officer, even the IDF chief, to stop.