J.J. Goldberg

Taliban, Qaeda Flee Afghan in Panic. Plus: More Israeli Defense Bigs Rip Bibi, Welcome P.A. Unity

By J.J. Goldberg

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Taliban and Al Qaeda members are fleeing northern Afghanistan in disarray, amid a “collapse of morale” following the death of bin Laden, Juan Cole reports on his “Informed Comment blog.

It appears that the Taliban were still linked to, and perhaps taking direction from, al-Qaeda, more than most analysts had suspected. It also appears that Bin Laden had more of an operational, strategizing role than we had thought.

If it is true that radicals are fleeing Qunduz, and indeed other provinces as well, and heading for safe havens in places like North Waziristan in Pakistan’s lawless tribal belt, it is likely primarily because they had direct contact with Usama Bin Laden and now fear that information about them is in American hands, since the SEALS captured his hard drives and thumb drives.

Speaking of disarray, there are more and more signs of alarm within Israel’s defense and intelligence establishment regarding the cliff toward which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is resolutely leading the country.

Meir Dagan, the long-serving former Mossad director who was a close ally of Ariel Sharon, told a conference at Hebrew University on Friday that a military attack on Iran’s nuclear project, an option cherished by Netanyahu and his defense minister Ehud Barak, is “the stupidest idea I ever heard.”

Dagan was immediately lambasted by Barak and finance minister Yuval Steinitz, a frequent Netanyahu surrogate. Both said he should have kept his mouth shut. But a string of top security honchos sprang to his defense, including former Mossad directors Danny Yatom and Ephraim Halevy. So did Knesset foreign affairs and defense committee chairman Shaul Mofaz, a former IDF chief of staff and Ariel Sharon’s defense minister.

Dagan has been in this movie before. The day after he stepped down as Mossad chief in January, he testified before the Knesset foreign affairs and defense committee and said Iran could not acquire a nuclear bomb before 2015 at the earliest. He said that Western sanctions and various accidents plaguing the Iranian project were continually pushing the date further and further into the future. (Here is the latest Iranian public acknowledgment of the serious threat that last year’s Stuxnet virus posed to the computer guidance of their centrifuges. They say it’s mostly under control, but it’s not. Here’s the head of the Iranian miltary’s cyber-defense unit in the Iranian army describing yet another virus they found in their nuke computers just two weeks ago.)

That drove Bibi ballistic, according to numerous press reports (including this piece by Ari Shavit in Haaretz, who agreed with Bibi that Dagan was irresponsible.

Dagan sheepishly backpedaled a week later, allowing as how maybe Iran could have a bomb sooner than 2015. It seemed clear at the time that he had been bludgeoned into recanting. Now it’s obvious.

He thinks it would be disastrous to attack Iran given the abysmally low odds of success and the inevitable military, diplomatic, economic and security blowback. He also believes it’s irresponsible to keep telling doomsday stories that aren’t true, keep the Israeli public terrified and anger Western leaders whose support Israeli desperately needs in order to address dangers that actually do exist.

Dagan’s view is shared was shared by the immediate past heads of the IDF (Gabi Ashkenazi), the Shin Bet (Yuval Diskin) and IDF military intelligence (Amos Yadlin), all of whom have been replaced in the past six months by figures Bibi and Barak find either more compatible or more pliable. That’s scary.

Incidentally, Mofaz came out with his own peace plan the other day, which he described to Nahum Barnea in Friday’s Yediot weekend supplement. I’ll write more about it soon, but here’s the gist: Mofaz would welcome the Fatah-Hamas unity pact (that’s right—welcome it), mostly in order to smother it with love, and propose immediate recognition of a Palestinian state on condition that the new Palestinian government, including Hamas, recognize Israel. Palestine would have provisional borders while the two states negotiate the exact lines as well as water, security and so on. He joins the growing number of former chiefs of IDF staff, Mossad and Shin Bet who are publicly calling Bibi’s inability or unwillingness to come out with a clear, plausible diplomatic initiative a clear and present danger to Israel’s short and long range security.

Mofaz, Iranian-born, was first appointed chief of staff by Bibi in 1998 in what was regarded as a hawkish snub to the presumed favorite, the dovish Matan Vilnai. Mofaz joined Sharon’s government as defense minister in 2002, even before his mandatory post-army cooling off period had ended. He joined the Likud a year later and was elected to the Knesset. When Sharon left the Likud to form Kadima in 2005 Mofaz refused to follow, started a campaign for head of Likud but at the last minute dropped the bid and joined Kadima as the symbol of its right flank. He’s now considered the right-wing threat to Tzipi Livni’s party leadership. Yup, that’s who’s welcoming the Fatah-Hamas unity pact.


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