An unflattering view of Shaul Mofaz…

…Israeli politician, former general, probable future PM candidate. From a 2006 article:

Hammer blows

By Akiva Eldar
Basing his strategy on two mistaken theories, outgoing defense minister Shaul Mofaz has left a trail of destruction for his successor, Amir Peretz
Given the actions of the outgoing defense minister, Lieutenant General (res.) Shaul Mofaz, citizen Amir Peretz is stepping into very small shoes. Mofaz sowed evil and is bequeathing ruins to the next government, and not only to the new defense minister. He is leaving behind him the serious damage caused by two mistaken strategic theories – theories that were wrong for Israel and for the entire Middle East. Both attributed to Arab leaders with very limited military strength the actual intention of destroying the State of Israel. Both were a product of the dogmatic views of Amos Gilad, head of the political-security division at the Defense Ministry. Mofaz, who lacks an independent political platform of his own, adopted Gilad’s views uncritically. The failure of the first theory was exposed, along with all its serious implications, by the Steinitz Committee. This theory was that Saddam Hussein would turn his weapons of mass destruction against Israel when he had “his back against the wall.” Gilad and Mofaz assessed that the American invasion of Iraq would improve Israel’s strategic situation – but instead it led to an increasingly close relationship between the Shi’ite regime in Iraq and its Iranian neighbor.

The second theory was that Yasser Arafat entered the Oslo process and began the intifada in order to bring about the establishment of “Greater Palestine,” which would include Israel and Jordan. This conspiracy theory regarding the Palestinians led the security services to adopt a one-dimensional, shortsighted, aggressive approach. In the intelligence community, a significant group that includes senior members of Military Intelligence (Amos Malka and Ephraim Lavie), the Shin Bet security services (Avi Dichter, Yuval Diskin and Mati Steinberg) and the Mossad (Yossi Ben-Ari) tore this concept to shreds. Some did so in real time, some belatedly. Mofaz and Gilad made sure that they were silenced. In this, there is no consolation for the tens of thousands of innocent victims of the military conflict, including the 1,200 Israeli dead. The children of the upcoming third intifada will not come into a better world. Carl Maria von Clausewitz, one of the fathers of modern warfare, claimed that war is “nothing but the continuation of policy by other means.” The success of a war is measured by the maneuverability that it grants the political echelon no less than by the degree of security it brings to its citizens. This maneuverability allows the military victory to be translated into a political arrangement. The chaos in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, and the terror attacks in Iraq and Israel, prove that military superiority is neither a guarantee of political achievement nor a recipe for security. The unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and the unilateral “convergence plan” in the West Bank, the separation fence, Hamas’ victory and the ensuing severance of relations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority – individually and cumulatively – are testimony to the fact that five and a half years of military conflict have reduced the political echelon’s room for maneuver to a nadir not seen since the Yom Kippur War. The Prussian military man also stated that no sensible person goes to war before clarifying his goals. The great success of chief of staff Mofaz, according to Mofaz himself, was the preliminary preparation of large forces for the confrontation with the Palestinians in the fall of 2000. This careful preparation, he claims, enabled the Israel Defense Forces to conduct an all-out war against the Palestinian rival. And what was the goal? To make the “price of losing” clear to the Palestinians. To etch in their awareness that the price of violence is far greater than the benefits. And what would happen after the “victory”? Who would fill the vacuum left by Arafat and his senior Palestinian Authority colleagues after they were eliminated? What political arrangement would replace the disorder in the territories resulting from the destruction of infrastructure? Who would replace a relatively moderate Hamas political leader who was sent to the heavens in a whirlwind by the air force?

Two years after the start of the conflict, the intelligence community placed on Mofaz’s desk a document that should have provided detailed answers to all these questions: an issue of the Hamas magazine Falastin al-Muslama devoted to a summary of the lessons of the intifada. Khaled Meshal, head of the political arm of the organization, wrote in the magazine, “The present stage is an attempt to profit from the enemy … attrition meant to cause the Zionists to have doubts about their future.” Meshal added that the Zionists and the Americans are offering the Palestinians a choice between death by submission and death in another way (i.e. – an honorable way). Therefore, he summed up, “The intifada and the opposition are an unavoidable choice.”

Magazine contributors define the next political goal based on the model of Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon. They point out that as in the case of Lebanon, their goal is to convince the Israeli public, by means of the intifada, that “Zionist security” comes with such a unilateral withdrawal. The summarizing article said that the escalation on Israel’s side could be expected to lead to escalation on the Palestinian side, and thus making it clear to everyone that only Hamas “can deliver a blow to the enemy, establish a balance of terror, exhaust its strength and sow confusion in its political considerations and influence its internal situation.”

Chief of staff and defense minister Mofaz regularly supplied Meshal with proof that Hamas can in fact achieve by military means what the PA did not succeed in getting from Israel by political means. “The high point was the decision to harm Jibril Rajoub,” says Dr. Mati Steinberg, who was at the time a special adviser to the Shin Bet head of Palestinian affairs. “His security establishment did not fire at us, did not operate against us, and did not use the revolving door method,” says Steinberg. A senior officer who was in on the plans described the attack as “operative intoxication – a chain of events without any rationale.”

Steinberg blames Mofaz for the grave outcome of the policy that did not differentiate between the Palestinian forces and punished the population indiscriminately. “The policy of ‘the price of losing’ was what gave legitimacy to the suicide attacks even among circles that do not believe there are virgins waiting in Paradise [as a reward for suicide bombers]. This is the unavoidable price of the only choice the aggressive policy left them – the choice between unconditional surrender and an uprising until death.”

Shlomo Ben-Ami was the foreign minister and a member of the security cabinet at the start of the intifada. In his book “A Front Without a Rearguard,” Ben-Ami wrote that minister Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, who coordinated the efforts to achieve calm, expressed to him his anger and frustration at the behavior of Mofaz and at the spirit with which he inspired the forces in the field. “Goods that were supposed to reach the population were stuck at checkpoints – bulldozers uprooted hothouses, nurseries and other crops, ostensibly for security reasons, in a manner that raised the level of Palestinian fury to unprecedented heights. The policy of collective punishment and inflicting economic hardship, which clearly did not serve the intentions of the political leadership to try to achieve calm, was an agenda led by the military leadership, which turned its back on the instructions and intentions of the political leadership and ignored them.”

The vision of Mofaz, who wanted to be the Likud prime ministerial candidate, never exceeded that expected of a mediocre brigade commander (Mofaz failed the officers’ tests three times). In the IDF they customary call that the “shoemaker’s syndrome” – every problem can be solved with a hammer. If a half-ton hammer does not solve it, use a one-ton hammer. At the end of 2000, when the Barak government wanted to adopt Clinton’s proposals in the hope of returning to a channel of rapprochement, chief of staff Mofaz claimed that the political leadership was endangering the country’s security.

Ben-Ami writes that Mofaz ignored the fact that the alternative to an agreement, even an agreement that did not fulfill all of Israel’s security wishes, was a rebellious Palestinian nation, raging terror, a return to occupation, international ostracism and a conflagration in the Arab and Muslim world. He did not know how right he was. Hamas control of the territories has acted as a bridge between the Iranian Shi’ites and the Sunnis of the Muslim Brotherhood, bringing the conflict to a more fundamentalist and global level.

The suit and tie did not change Mofaz’s way of thinking. Before he understood that prime minister Ariel Sharon would not tolerate a wayward defense minister, Mofaz vehemently opposed the disengagement plan. This time as well, the only alternative he has proposed is more assassinations, closures and checkpoints. Since the withdrawal, he has done everything in his power to prevent the PA under the leadership of chairman Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) from presenting the disengagement as part of a bilateral political step. This time, Gilad served as the foreman for the demolition contractor. With security excuses, some of which turned out to be dubious, they closed the crossings between Israel and the Gaza Strip and cut it off completely from the West Bank. And this time, too, Hamas celebrated the failure of those championing agreements, and its people laughed all the way to the polls.

A warning to Peretz

A former senior member of MI suggests to Peretz that he beware of the habit that has become common at MI in recent years – overestimating the rival’s strength. He says that in light of the general staff’s damaging dominance in national-level decision making, this tendency has become one of the great obstacles to that process. It is also liable to lead to another escalation in the Palestinian arena, and perhaps even to wars in other sectors, he says. Among the intelligence community there are those who warn of a conceptual freeze and are recommending that the new defense minister conduct a thorough investigation of the mistaken theory that dictated policy toward the Palestinians under Mofaz, and that he rehabilitate the professional monitoring systems.

A general in the reserves warns Peretz of the toy store syndrome: a citizen who enters the office of the defense minister is liable to behave like a child who enters Toys ‘R’ Us and cannot withstand the temptation to press all the buttons. In order to understand how great the danger is, he suggests imagining a senior officer entering the office and telling the new minister that he has the power to tell him what his wife thinks of him at that moment.

“Since we enjoy absolute military superiority,” says Steinberg, illustrating the general’s words, “the new minister must be careful not to be tempted into thinking that we also have the power to conquer the minds of the Palestinians in expecting them to accept our interpretation of the road map or the Clinton proposals.

Steinberg says the Iranian threat, the increased power of the Muslim Brotherhood and the global jihad movement provide convenient circumstances for consolidating a pragmatic axis in the region. “Our conflict has become a black hole in the core of the Islamic world. Only a political agreement, even a partial one, and a proper balance between security considerations and broader needs, can rescue the Palestinians from Hamas and us from a war of religions.”

From conversations with Peretz and from things he said to Abu Mazen and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, among others, we can understand that he considers security coordination preferable to shelling, and negotiations for a final status solution to unilateral withdrawal. All this, as we said, is true before he enters the toy store.


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