Forward Thinking

New Israeli Defense Chief: Tough-talking Hardliner

By J.J. Goldberg

Ynet.co.il, the news site associated with Yediot Ahronot, has a profile of incoming Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon (known since his youth by the nickname “Boogy”). It’s important reading, so I’ve translated it below.

Here’s the background that’s not in the profile: Born Moshe Smilansky in 1950, raised in suburban Haifa, he was active in the Noar Oved ve-Lomed youth movement and was in a garin (settlement group) named Garin Yaalon (from which he took his name), which joined with a sister garin from American Habonim to rebuild Kibbutz Grofit near Eilat. He returned to the army after the Yom Kippur War in 1973 and rose through the ranks. Commanded the elite Sayeret Matkal commando unit, became chief of Military Intelligence in 1995 and chief of Central Command, in charge of the West Bank, in 1998. During this period he underwent a famous conversion from left- to right-wing, claiming publicly that he now realized the Palestinians had no intention of making peace. In 2002 he became chief of staff, serving three years after Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz denied him the customary fourth-year extension due to his outspoken opposition to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s Gaza disengagement plan. It’s worth noting that of the 18 living ex-chiefs of the IDF, Mossad and Shin Bet, he is the only one who opposes a two-state solution. - JJG

Political Hawk and Loose Tongue

Moshe “Boogy” Yaalon called his General Staff colleagues “snakes” and the organizations on the left “a virus.” He believes that evacuating settlements is “perverse” and that the IDF can attack any nuclear installation in Iran. Over the years Yaalon’s statements have reflected a determined, activist security philosophy. In his gunsights: leftists, Turks and of course Ehud Barak.

By Roy Mandel, Ynet 3/18/13

In April 2012 Moshe “Boogy” Yaalon absorbed criticism at home when he dared to declare that he was Benjamin Netanyahu’s heir and would one day run for the leadership of the Likud and the country. The prime minister, as we learned from the negotiations with Yair Lapid, does not like politicians who openly declare that the house on Balfour Street is the object of their dreams. But ever so quietly, under the radar and almost without opposition, the former chief of staff has found himself in an excellent launching pad for the fulfillment of his vision, now that he has been named defense minister in Israel’s 33rd government. The man who declared on the day he was demobilized from the IDF that he was careful to keep his boots on at General Staff headquarters because of all the snakes will soon enter much taller shoes and march in them to his new office, which is located in the same General Staff compound, the Kiryah.

Moshe Yaalon, ID no. 2057989, is a kibbutznik who returned to active duty after the 1973 Yom Kippur War, a retired chief of staff, the commander of the IDF during the second half of the second intifada and a person who ended his military service in grating tones when his tenure was not extended on the eve of the Gaza disengagement. Now, after a term as minister for strategic affairs, he is returning to run the entire system.

The man who led a hawkish line at the General Staff and in the government, who believed that Yasser Arafat had never deviated from his goal of destroying the state of Israel, who insisted that the paradigm of two states for two peoples was unworkable—will now navigate the security establishment, effectively oversee millions of Palestinians and deal with Israel’s security and strategic challenges. Many on the dovish side of the political and military map fear that his line will drag Israel into diplomatic and security complications.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Yom Kippur War, Yisrael Hasson, Yasser Arafat, Turkey, Turkel Commission, Shin Bet, Shaul Mofaz, Second Lebanon War, Second Intifada, Sayeret Matkal, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Plessner Committee, Palestinians, Palestinian Authority, Noar Oved ve-Lomed, Mossad, Moshe Yaalon, Moshe Smilansky, Moshe Feiglin, Mavi Marmara, Likud, Lebanon, Kibbutz Grofit, Kadima, Jewish Leadership, Iran, Hezbollah, Harpaz Report, Gaza Disengagement, Ehud Barak, Dana Weiss, Dan Shomron, Ariel Sharon, Benjamin Netanyahu

Ex-Mossad Chief: Time for a New Obama Peace Bid

By J.J. Goldberg

Just about everybody who follows Israeli affairs with any seriousness these days agrees that the peace process is dead, that the two sides are too far apart for any deal and besides there’s nobody to talk to. The one big exception is the Israeli intelligence and defense establishment, which remains a stronghold of optimism that a deal can be reached in the near term. Which is weird, because they’re the ones who presumably know the inner workings and thinking of the two sides better than anyone.

When you bring this up to people who care about Israel, the usual response begins something like, “But don’t they realize that Israel’s minimum security needs require…” or “… that the Palestinians are dedicated to…” And you’re left wondering: What does this person know that Israeli intelligence doesn’t? And: Can’t you hear what you sound like?

Still, it’s understandable that the concerned observer would wonder how a peace process is supposed to square with Hamas’s refusal to accept Israel and the growing turmoil in the broader Arab world. Conveniently enough, former Mossad director Efraim Halevy (appointed by Bibi Netanyahu, 1998; succeeded by Meir Dagan, 2002) answers those questions and sketches the broad contours of a possible peace process in an important piece posted today at The New Republic, “The (Very) Quiet Peace Talks Between Israel and Hamas: The Middle East’s storm clouds have a silver lining.” His bottom line: Given enough pragmatism on both sides, the confluence of Hamas’s interest in stability, Egypt’s quiet mediation and the still-alive Saudi/Arab Peace Initiative make for “a very promising moment to forge durable agreements between Israel and Palestine.” Not a permanent end of conflict, but a viable modus vivendi.

“As Obama prepares to travel to the region,” Halevy writes, “one can fairly hope that he recognizes the value of the cards in his possession. He may not have any aces up his sleeve, but kings and queens should suffice for the moment.”

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Saudi Plan, Mossad, Meir Dagan, Hamas, Egypt, Efraim Halevy, Bibi Netanyahu, Arab Peace Initiative

'Bibi Can't OK Iran Strike As Defense Chiefs Demur'

By J.J. Goldberg

Ynet’s Atilla Shomfalvi quotes unnamed government insiders who say Prime Minister Netanyahu can’t order a military strike against Iran, even though it’s his decision to make, because the security establishment is unanimously opposed and the cabinet won’t approve an action over the defense chiefs’ opposition.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared last night [Tuesday] that he is responsible for deciding on military action in Iran, but senior political figures involved in the discussions reckon that in light of the determined opposition at this point of the heads of the security establishment—the chief of staff, the director of the Mossad, the chief of military intelligence, the IDF chief of operations and the heads of Mossad directorates—it is unlikely that ministers asked to vote for an attack will do so.

Shomfalvi writes that although Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak strongly favor an attack, Netanyahu has permitted his ministers to debate the issue freely behind closed doors. The eight-minister security cabinet reportedly is evenly split between advocates and opponents of a strike, as it has been for months.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Mossad, Iran, IDF, Ehud Barak, Benjamin Netanyahu, Atilla Shomfalvi, Security Cabinet, Ynet

Israel and Iran: What '60 Minutes' Didn't Tell You

By J.J. Goldberg

Leslie Stahl’s “60 Minutes” interview Sunday night with former Mossad chief Meir Dagan (transcript) gave important exposure to his views on the folly of attacking Iran. However, she got two things very wrong, both of which weakened the strength of his case against a military strike. The bottom line is, she let you think Dagan is a lone voice. In fact, it’s Bibi Netanyahu who’s nearly alone on this. The trouble is, Bibi’s the one who gets to make the decision. That’s why Dagan and nearly every other military or intelligence chief is speaking out against him: They’re scared of him.

Stahl suggested as though it were credible that Dagan was pushed out of the Mossad, supposedly because of the messy assassination of Hamas arms procurer Mahmoud Mabhouh in Dubai in January 2010 — and hence that his campaign against the Netanyahu-Barak war talk is a petty act of revenge. In fact, Dagan was supposed to retire in late 2009 at the mandatory age of 65, but Netanyahu asked him to stay on for another year and he ended up retiring on schedule in January 2011.

More seriously misleading is her assertion early on that it’s “unheard of for someone who held such a high-classified position to speak out publicly.” That makes it sound like he’s a lone voice in the wilderness. In fact, as I’ve written before, Dagan’s views have been publicly echoed by every single ex-Mossad or Israel Defense Forces chief going back to 1996, with the single exception of super-hawk (and Netanyahu ally) Moshe Yaalon. Now, that is unheard of.

Even more astonishing, the current heads of the IDF and Mossad, Benny Gantz and Tamir Pardo, have now gone public resisting Netanyahu’s war push. Even Dagan didn’t dare to do that. That’s beyond unheard-of.

Here’s the roll-call:

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Yuval Diskin, Shaul Mofaz, Mossad, Meir Dagan, Mahmoud Mabhouh, Israel Defense Forces, Iran, Gabi Ashkenazi, Ehud Barak, Efraim Halevy, Dan Halutz, Danny Yatom, Benjamin Netanyahu, Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, "60 Minutes, " Leslie Stahl

Newsweek Gets Inside Obama's Iran Calculations

By J.J. Goldberg

The current issue of Newsweek has a must-read inside look at what drives President Obama’s Iran policy, including the ups and downs of his relations with Israel on the matter.

The article, by Newsweek writers Daniel Klaidman, Dan Ephron and Eli Lake (Lake is a former Forward correspondent), reports that Iran was the main topic of Mossad director Tamir Pardo’s secret trip to Washington two weeks ago. America is pressing Israel to give sanctions time to work before attacking Iran’s nuclear installations. Israel worries that by that time, Iran’s nuke infrastructure will be too secure for an Israeli raid to destroy, and only America will have the capacity. Among other things, Pardo wanted to know whether America is likely to attack, how advanced its preparations are, how it will react if Israel attacks and so on.

Israel has several times sought a promise from Obama to attack if sanctions fail, but hasn’t gotten one. As a result, Israel keeps its own intentions vague. This is an improvement from the total information blackout that Prime Minister Netanyahu imposed on Washington from June to October last year, in pique over Obama’s “based on the 1967 borders” speech. Today information sharing is quite extensive, though Washington keeps a certain amount of intelligence from Israel when it fears it could enable actions that violate U.S. law, like assassinations.

Obama first discussed Iran with Israeli leaders back in 2008, while he was still a candidate, and he “impressed everyone with his determination to stop Iran from going nuclear,” Newsweek reports. His conversation with then-opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, however, left Netanyahu troubled that Obama “didn’t talk specifically about Israel’s security”:

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Sanctions, Obama, Newsweek, Netanyahu, Mossad, Iran, Tamir Pardo

'Taking Out' Obama, and Our Slide Into Madness

By J.J. Goldberg

getty images
President Barack Obama

I guess we can all breathe a sigh of relief now that Andrew Adler has resigned as publisher of the Atlanta Jewish Times. His January 13 column, proposing that Israel might consider assassinating President Obama, was enormously embarrassing to Israel, its supporters and Jews everywhere.

Removing him from his visible position makes life a lot easier for the rest of us, doesn’t it?

One could argue that Adler’s outburst shouldn’t cause Jews to cringe; after all, we know that supporting Israel and loving America are not incompatible. We can’t be blamed collectively for the blathering of one fool, even if he provided fuel for the fevered imaginings of those who believe Jews are disloyal. We should have outgrown the old habit of worrying about what others think of us. Proud Jews do what they need to do, not what the world tells them to do. On the other hand, we also worry that Israel is waging a war against delegitimization and isolation, fighting for its good name and legitimacy in the eyes of the world. That is, we sneer at the opinions of the world, but we’re also worried sick about the opinions of the world. I’m sure those two thoughts fit together somehow, though I’m not sure how.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: barack obama, Shin Bet, Yuval Diskin, Prime Minister Netanyahu, President Obama, Mossad, Meir Dagan, George H.W. Bush, Gerald Ford, IDF, Gabi Ashkenazi, Dwight Eisenhower, Dan Halutz, Atlanta Jewish Times, Andrew Adler

Obama Trumpets Support From Israel

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

One day after a New York Jewish fundraising event bought in $500,000 towards President Obama’s reelection effort, the Obama campaign has released a new video touting the president’s support for Israel, and citing praise for the president from Israeli leaders.

Titled “America and Israel: An Unbreakable Bond,” the seven-minute web video intersperses Obama’s December 2011 speech to the Union of Reform Judaism’s biennial convention with clips of Israeli leaders praising the president.

Republican presidential have painted the president’ as insufficiently supportive of Israel in recent debates. The president’s campaign has struck back in recent days, both in public remarks made at the January 19 Jewish fundraiser and in the newly released video.

Both the president’s earlier remarks and the web video emphasize American military cooperation with Israel, and to America’s commitment to sanction’s against Iran. Both also point to public praise the president has received from the Israeli political and military leadership.

Click through to see a clip of the video

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: efraim halevy, danny ayalon, campaign, benjamin netanyahu, barack obama, israel, mossad, video

Poor Bibi: New Spy Chief Downplays Iran Threat

By J.J. Goldberg

Yet another embarrassment to Israel’s prime minister in his effort to drum up support for a military attack on Iran: Haaretz reports that the newly appointed director of the Mossad intelligence agency, Tamir Pardo, downplayed the severity of the Iranian nuclear project, telling a closed gathering of senior Israeli diplomats that an Iranian nuclear weapon is not necessarily the “existential threat” it’s often described as being.

“What is the significance of the term existential threat?” the ambassadors quoted Pardo as asking. “Does Iran pose a threat to Israel? Absolutely. But if one said a nuclear bomb in Iranian hands was an existential threat, that would mean that we would have to close up shop and go home. That’s not the situation. The term existential threat is used too freely.”

Remember, Pardo was appointed a year ago to replace the legendary, long-serving Mossad chief Meir Dagan, who has since called a military attack on Iran “the stupidest idea I ever heard” and worried aloud that his successor wouldn’t be able to stand up against a trigger happy prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and defense minister Ehud Barak. Dagan has said he fought for years, together with the Shin Bet director and military chief of staff, to restrain the two from “adventurism.” All three security chiefs were replaced this year with newcomers who were supposed to be more compliant.

Nothing like good news to ruin an Israeli prime minister’s day. And that’s not the end of it:

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Mossad, Middle East Quartet. Settlement Freeze, Iran Nuclear Threat, Ehud Barak, Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestine Liberation Organization, Tamir Pardo

Like Old Times: CIA's New Fiasco in Beirut

By J.J. Goldberg

There’s a sort of grim poetry in the timing of today’s news about the burning of two major CIA intelligence networks by Iran and Hezbollah. It was almost exactly 70 years ago, with the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, that the creation of the CIA was set in motion with the birth of the wartime spy agency OSS (Office of Strategic Services), as historian Chalmers Johnson wrote in a devastating 2007 review-essay about the agency and its failures. Johnson claimed that agency “functionally came to an end” with another surprise attack on September 11, 2001. I think he called it prematurely at the time, but this time might be the real thing.

Hezbollah, it must be remembered, was responsible for one of the most devastating of the CIA’s previous counter-intelligence failures, the 1984 kidnapping and slow, horrific 15-month torture-murder of Beirut station chief William Buckley, grippingly recounted in this 2006 profile by British author Gordon Thomas.

There’s a telling hint at how a disciplined, well-run spy agency can be managed in another fresh headline, namely the Sunday night meeting where Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly patched up a ludicrous but potentially dangerous clash, apparently of his own creation, between his foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, and Mossad chief Tamir Pardo.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: William Buckley, Tamir Pardo, Reagan Administration, Pearl Harbor, OSS, Mossad, Hezbollah, Iran-Contra Affair, Gordon Thomas, CIA, Chalmers Johnson, Benjamin Netanyahu, 'Wild Bill' Donovan, Beirut, Avigdor Lieberman




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