19 Shvat 5759 February 5, 1999 Issue number 203
Ehud Barak, cried foul over the boos and other abuse heaped on him on Monday night by a live TV talk-show audience made up largely of PM Benjamin Netanyahu supporters. Earlier they cheered an appearance by the Israeli leader. Barak, head of the Labour party, said that what happened in the studio was unsuitable in a democracy. The chief of the state broadcast authority halted public participation in live programmes until after the May 17 general election. "This nation must choose a leader who will stand up to the Palestinians and the Arab world in order to bring true peace -- or choose a leader who whines when he cannot stand on his own in a television studio," PM Netanyahu told Israel Radio. On Monday, a new campaign slogan for Netanyahu portraying him as "a strong leader for a strong people" drew comparisons to Nazi propaganda from foes. "What do they want us to say -- a weak Israel needs a weak leader? This nation is strong, it has overcome the greatest obstacles in history," Netanyahu, the rightist Likud party leader, said on Tuesday. (CNN/Reuters Feb 2)
Beilin: Arafat Is "Unique and Special"
Middle East Media and Research Institute (MEMRI) has translated an interview given by Labor MK Yossi Beilin to reporter Muhammad Hamza, printed in the Palestinian daily Al-Ayyam on Jan. 23, 1999. Following are excerpts from the interview:
Question: You spoke of the price of peace that the [Israeli] right is incapable of paying but that you are willing to accept. To what price are you referring?
Beilin: I believe that the price of peace is a Palestinian state on the lion's share of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. I do not see it only as a price, but as something that will enable us to fulfill the Israeli, and even Jewish, national interest... A very Zionist person, like myself, who believes in the right of the Jewish people to a state of its own needs to say in the same breathe that the Palestinian people have a right to establish their state. I admit, therefore, that for me there is no price to be paid at all.
In response to another question, Beilin said: ... I view Abu-Mazen as a full partner... I see this man as a pioneer inside the Palestinian camp along with people such as Abu 'Ala, Saeb Erekat and everyone with whom I had relations with in the last few years, and first and foremost Abu 'Amar [Arafat]. This is a unique and special person who I view as the supreme expression of the Palestinian national interest, and the human [interest] as well... Regarding the settlements, I believe that most settlements will remain in the Palestinian state. Settlers who want to receive recompense and leave Israel should pay them. (Arutz 7 Feb 3)
Ministry Claims Mixed Service Is a Violation
The Ministry of Religious Affairs is planning to file a complaint against the police for allowing Reform representatives to hold a mixed men-and-women prayer service at the Western Wall plaza Monday. The event developed into a shouting match between the Reform members and worshippers at the Wall. Oded Viener, the director of the National Center for the Development of the Holy Sites, explained the background for the complaint: "The 'Holy Sites and their Regulations' Law states clearly that the prayers must be held there according to the accepted custom. At the Wall, this clearly means that men and women must worship separately. The police therefore violated the law when they facilitated a mixed prayer service. In response, the Jerusalem Police said that prayer service was held in an area that was not part of the Western Wall plaza. But this is not true, since the entire area there is clearly delineated as the Western Wall area. This was not a prayer service, it was a provocation of the first degree; of the three million Jews who come to the Kotel (Western Wall) each year, only this group has to call the press beforehand, as well as the police, and make an entire to-do about it..." (Arutz 7 Feb 2)
Hamas Stages Incitement
Students at An-Najah University in Shechem Sunday staged re-enactments of suicide bombings and the kidnappings and killings of IDF soldiers. The mass rally was held in honor of the Hamas organization's 12th anniversary: It began with the presentation of the first Hamas leaflet, from December 1987, promising, "Hamas shall ignite the ground under the feet of the Zionists who occupy our land." The audience then saw two Hamas sympathizers dressed in military uniforms and black masks force an "Israeli soldier" onto a chair and hold mock rifles to his head. A blown-up photo of an Israeli soldier lying dead on the ground near an Israeli jeep was then shown. Finally, five students dressed as suicide bombers, in white death shrouds and black masks, held cardboard name-plates of Hamas bombers, such as Salah Nazal, who killed 22 Israelis when he suicide-bombed a bus in Tel Aviv in 1994. Two murdered Israelis were mentioned by name during the skit: Nissim Toledano, a border policeman abducted and murdered in 1992, and Nachshon Wachsman, an Israeli soldier abducted and murdered in 1994. Chief PA negotiator Saeb Erekat said on television last night that the PA has carried out its commitments to stop incitement against Israel under the Wye accord. (Arutz 7 Feb 1)
Wallerstein Explains Council's Non-Decision
Pinchas Wallerstein, head of the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea and Samaria (Yesha) , confirmed that, following two days of intensive meetings last week, the body did not arrive at any conclusion regarding which Prime Ministerial candidate to support. "Most of our time was directed towards ensuring that the events of 1992 do not repeat themselves," he said. "We concentrated on how to unite the right-wing parties, as we simply cannot afford to lose votes to parties that won't qualify for even one mandate. But we didn't feel it was urgent to make a decision about the Prime Minister at this time. Any support for Netanyahu would have to be conditional, anyway, given his decision to sign the Wye agreement, an action that inflicted serious damage upon Yesha. We'll have to see what the Likud platform is regarding the establishment of a Palestinian state and the future of Jewish settlements in the various potential scenarios. If Prime Minister Netanyahu says that he is headed towards a Palestinian state or the evacuation of settlements, or if he even sees certain settlements as remaining outside of Israeli sovereignty, we will not support him under any circumstances." Wallerstein noted that the Yesha Council had not found a way to ensure that the Prime Minister remains faithful to his promises this time around. (Arutz 7 Jan 31)
Ramon Remains in Labor Party
MK Chaim Ramon announced Sunday that he is remaining with the Labor party, after meeting with Labor leader Ehud Barak this morning. Ramon said yesterday that he would not defect to the Mordechai-Shachak "centrist" party if the harm caused to Barak would outweigh the benefit he could bring to the centrist party. It was reported today that Yitzchak Mordechai is attempting to woo Gesher leader and former Foreign Minister David Levy over to his party. (Arutz 7 Jan 31)
Forbes Protests Congressional Invitation to Arafat
Yasser Arafat was set to meet Thursday in Washington with U.S. President Bill Clinton. Arafat was expected to ask for American support for the establishment of a Palestinian state, in exchange for his agreement to delay its declaration. The PLO leader's openness to postponing the announcement stems from his concern that such a move would help Binyamin Netanyahu's re-election bid. The efforts against the Congressional invitation to Yasser Arafat, who was invited to participate in the annual National Prayer Breakfast, continue. Congressman Michael Forbes (R-NY) has announced that he refuses to attend the event in protest of the invitation. "I am deeply offended that Yasser Arafat, the architect of modern terrorism, has been invited to participate in the National Prayer Breakfast," announced Forbes. "It is simply wrong for Congress to treat this unrepentant terrorist with the respect due a legitimate world leader." Stephen Flatow, whose American-citizen daughter Alisa was murdered, along with seven other people, in an Islamic Jihad bus bombing in April 1995 in Palestinian Authority-controlled territory, wrote the following to U.S. Congressman Largent, chairman of the Breakfast: "At a time when Mr. Arafat is refusing to implement his Oslo and Wye obligations to combat terrorism, and refusing to hand over Arab terrorists involved in murders of Americans such as my daughter, an invitation to a prestigious event such as the National Prayer Breakfast will bestow upon Mr. Arafat a degree of legitimacy and credibility that he has not earned... Mr. Arafat has failed to outlaw Islamic Jihad, seize its weapons, shut down its training camps, or jailed its leaders as required by the Wye Agreement. Sadly, within the past week, Mr. Arafat set free an imprisoned Islamic Jihad leader, Abdullah Al-Shami, despite the fact that he had declared during President Clinton's recent visit to Gaza that he would be 'happy if the American President were to be killed during his visit to the Palestinian Authority areas.' Congressman Largent, I appeal to you to rescind your invitation to Yasser Arafat..." (Arutz 7 Jan 31)
National Security Council Announced
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed a major accomplishment last Thursday when he announced the establishment of a national security council. It will address all aspects of national security - Israeli and enemy forces and policy, and how they are impacted by domestic social and economic conditions - as an independent body. The formation of such a council has been discussed and recommended for many years, including by the Agranat Commission after the Yom Kippur War and the committee that investigated the bungled assassination attempt of Hamas leader Chaled Mesh'al in Jordan last year. However, some defense ministers - most recently, Yitzchak Mordechai - have been against it, for fear that it would encroach on their authorities. Mordechai, running for Prime Minister on the centrist party list, criticized Netanyahu and his decision today, saying it was unnecessary and a waste of money. Netanyahu appointed Maj.-Gen. (res.) David Ivry as the council's head. Ivry is a former director-general of the Defense Ministry, deputy IDF Chief of Staff, and Israel Air Force commander. (Arutz 7 Jan 28)
New Hareidi Direction: Computers
Girls' hareidi high schools in Bnei Brak are headed in a new direction: computer training. Until now, the seminaries have concentrated almost exclusively on teacher training, but the supply of teachers has now surpassed the demand. A new school specializing in training young women as computer programmers has just opened in the city. In a similar vein, the Jerusalem College of Technology officially kicked off its new hi-tech program for hareidi men Wednesday. The program's initiators are building towards a full-fledged college designed for main-streaming hareidi citizens into Israel's hi-tech business sector. (Arutz 7 Feb 3)
Israeli Aid to Colombia
Israel sent a shipment of humanitarian aid to earthquake-stricken Colombia this afternoon. The supplies include 5.5 tons of food, medical equipment, and baby supplies. (Arutz 7 Feb 2)
GPO Report on PA Compliance
The Israel Government Press Office has released a "brief assessment of the Palestinian Authority's record on compliance with its commitments under the Wye River Memorandum". Its main points are as follows:
1) Fighting Terrorism
The PA has refused to wage a comprehensive campaign against terror groups and their infrastructure: No steps have been taken to disarm and disband terror groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad. PA senior negotiator Dr. Nabil Shaath recently acknowledged, "There are no provisions for dismembering Hamas or the Islamic resistance or their offices." The PA submitted only a partial and not detailed security work plan for November, and none at all for December. Terrorists detained by the Palestinian police are rarely interrogated on matters relating to Israel, and little effort is made to glean information from them. In recent weeks, some 60 terrorists have been released from prison by the PA, including senior members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, as well as terrorists who have been involved in attacks in which Israelis and Americans were killed. The PA has re-instituted its "revolving door" policy: it detains terrorists for brief periods, only to release them quietly shortly thereafter.
2) Confiscation of Illegal Weapons
The Wye agreement obligates the PA to collect illegal weapons held by civilians, as well as weapons used by its own security forces which are prohibited by the Oslo Accords. The PA did issue a decree on the subject of weapons possession, but did not carry it out. Tens of thousands of unlicensed arms and munitions are circulating freely in PA-controlled areas, and uncontrolled smuggling and illicit manufacturing have added to the numbers. The Palestinian security forces possess various weapons prohibited by the accords such as mortars, land-mines and grenade launchers, as well as higher-than-permitted quantities of weapons, and the PA has refused to dispose of them.
3) Reducing the Size of the Palestinian Police
The Wye agreement requires the PA to reduce the size of its police force to the number permitted under the Oslo Accords a - 30,000 - and to transfer to Israel a list of recruits. The PA has refused to transfer the list of its police recruits to Israel, and it continues to employ dozens of Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists as policemen. At least 12 wanted fugitives, including several who have killed American and Israeli citizens, are known to be serving in the Palestinian Police. By its own admission, the PA has some 40,000 policemen on its payroll, which is 10,000 over the limit under the accords.
4) Inciting Violence and Organizing Riots
The Wye agreement requires the PA to "take all measures necessary in order to prevent acts of terrorism, crime and hostilities directed against the Israeli side and to prevent incitement." In November and December 1998, Arafat's PLO Fatah faction planned and organized mass riots in Yesha to pressure Israel to release Palestinian terrorists from prison. Rioters clashed with Israeli security forces, attacked Israeli civilians, and almost lynched an Israeli soldier. Senior Palestinian leaders have openly called for the use of violence against Israel. One example: On December 1, 1998, Abu Ala, the speaker of the Palestinian parliament, told a rally of Palestinians: "The leadership that threw stones is ready to return and use stones to free the people and the land." (NY Times, Dec. 3) The next day, a Palestinian lynch mob attacked an Israeli vehicle near Ramallah, stoning the car and nearly killing its passengers.
5) General Incitement and Hostile Propaganda
The Wye agreement obligates the PA to act against "all expressions or threats of violence or terror." On November 19, 1998, the PA published a decree against incitement - with inconsistencies and with no reference to terrorism - but it has not implemented it. Senior Palestinian officials and the Palestinian media continue to engage in anti-Semitic and anti-Israel incitement
6) Bilateral Security Cooperation with Israel
The PA has refused to allow its security services to cooperate more than spottily with Israel. The PA responds to Israeli tips on planned terrorist actions, but it refrains from volunteering intelligence, sharing information, taking the initiative against the terror infrastructure and interrogating detainees.
7) Refraining from Unilateral Measures
Contrary to the Wye reaffirmation of the Oslo commitment to refrain from steps that would alter the status of Judea, Samaria and Gaza, Palestinian leaders have repeatedly stated their intention to unilaterally declare a Palestinian state on May 4, 1999, when the Interim Period ends. Addressing a rally in Nablus on November 14, 1998, Yasser Arafat said, "We will declare our independent state on May 4, 1999 with Jerusalem as its capital, the eternal capital of our state, whether they like it or not."
8) Amending the Palestinian Charter
On December 14, 1998, in the presence of President Clinton, the PNC and other bodies reaffirmed Chairman Arafat's letter by a show of hands.
9) Reactivating the Interim Committees
The Wye agreement provided that Israel and the PA would reactivate the standing committees established by the Oslo Accord to address various issues. Several of the committees have been meeting on a regular basis, but the PA has refused to convene the Joint Legal Committee and the Standing Cooperation Committee despite repeated Israeli requests. (Arutz 7 Feb 3)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has the opportunity to show the Israeli public something that none of his challengers can: a preview of what his team would do, if reelected. And there's no better vehicle for this than the final-status talks with the Palestinians. True, the Palestinian Authority has not fulfilled its obligations. Not even the short lists of obligations they were to complete by now according to the Wye River Memorandum "time line." And the Clinton administration's reluctance to recognize or act on these Palestinian violations, as the administration committed in writing to Israel to do, is both disappointing and disturbing. But this should not prevent Netanyahu from pressing to enter final-status talks today. The Palestinian violations and the Clinton administration's gross failure as honest broker/observer can't be ignored. They should be duly reflected in Israel's negotiating position.
In this respect, Moshe Arens is a welcome replacement for Yitzhak Mordechai. Mordechai acted to undermine Israel's position and not just by his frequent flip-flops on compliance. As Akiva Eldar noted this week in Ha'aretz, at a critical stage in the Wye negotiations Mordechai had the hutzpa to reveal Netanyahu's hand by telling US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright that the suitcases Netanyahu ordered put outside to signal an imminent departure were empty. Arens's presence in the cabinet will also help to reassure those concerned by Mordechai's charge that "inaccurate reports" were being presented there. For while Mordechai says he opted "many times" to leave the meetings to avoid hearing these reports, Arens can be counted on to stay and insure that the cabinet can make informed decisions. That's what's needed and that's what the public wants. An IMRA-commissioned Gallup Poll of adult Israeli Jews last Thursday found Israelis opposed Mordechai's walkouts almost five to one.
The major advantage of final-status talks now is the possibility that, once and for all, the various theories regarding Palestinian positions can be put to the test. Many Israeli politicians have longed enjoyed a free ride by assuming that at the negotiating table, Arafat's three "nos" - no settlements, no state without Jerusalem and no deal without the refugees' right to return - would melt away. But if Arafat does not budge from his three nos, Netanyahu's opponents will have little to offer the public on this score. Of course Mordechai and Barak may have different nuances regarding how they see the final settlement, but these differences have no meaning if such basic issues cannot be resolved. Final-status talks now would also put Arafat under pressure to compromise on his three nos, since refusing to back down could very well provide the push that would get Netanyahu in for another term.
And if Arafat bends? Then Netanyahu can move forward and reap the benefits of bringing the Israeli public an agreement for their approval, turning the elections into essentially a referendum - exactly what he warned the nationalist camp he would do over Wye.
Would it be wise to take such a risk? "The best thing to do before an election is to avoid mistakes," an experienced lobbyist told me. I don't deny that there is a certain sense to that. It seems at times that the Israeli media has adopted the American attitude towards election campaigns, judging candidates as if they were performing in the compulsory round of an ice-skating competition: Don't do anything original - that won't help your score - just do your best to stay within the predetermined lines. Because even the slightest departure costs points. Yes, negotiating certainly has its political risks, but with Ehud Barak declaring this week that "Alfei Menashe, the Etzion Bloc, Ariel, Nirit, the corridor, Jordan Valley settlements, and many other places are also part of the State of Israel in the final settlement," Netanyahu has to seriously consider how his standing may erode among many who until now could be confidently marked in his column.
On June 19, 1996, Netanyahu began his first full day in office by establishing the National Security Council (NSC), a council first proposed by the Agranat Commission that investigated the foul-ups that preceded the Yom Kippur War. This was to be the start of his hundred days. Unfortunately, Netanyahu dropped the plan because then-defense minister Mordechai feared that the NSC would encroach on his turf. But with Mordechai gone, the NSC - which can make a valuable contribution to the negotiations - could be formed, and that's exactly what happened on Defense Minister Arens's first full day at work.
The Netanyahu-Sharon-Arens team has a golden opportunity to show the Israeli public just what they can do without prima donnas like David Levy and Yitzhak Mordechai holding them back.If they do their jobs right in the remaining hundred days , maybe they'll convince the Israeli public to vote for four more years of just the same. (Jerusalem Post Feb 3)
No-one in the intelligence services, political echelon or the media noted the scale of the schism between Hussein and Hassan.
Over a week ago, I watched the arrival of King Hussein to Jordan. The television anchors told me that the King had recovered from his fatal illness and emotionally prepared me to see a healthy man returning to his homeland. And then the kings disembarks from his plane, the cameras close in and my wife cries out, "Look, the Angel of Death is on his face." I looked, and I too saw that when he knelt in prayer, it was very hard for him to stand up again without help. I expected headlines the next day, or even that same evening, that the King was not well and that he apparently had run back to Jordan while he still had a breath in his body in order to sort out the most important thing to him -- his heir -- but nothing. Near total silence!
What has happened in Jordan has been a complete surprise, and we had better be aware of it. For years, we in the State of Israel, in policy making, in intelligence, in academe and in the media had become used to the condition of Prince Hassan as King Hussein's heir. Every situational analysis was based on this starting point, and their conclusions were that Hassan would continue the stability. Only on the periphery would the question sometimes be raised whether Hussein would actually transfer the succession to one of his sons, and the name of Abdullah was rejected since his mother had been Christian and not Muslim when she married Hussein. And suddenly, Abdullah is the heir!
Only now is it clear to us that for a long time there has been severe tension between King Hussein and his brother Hassan, which has peaked over the past six months while the King was on his sick bed in an American hospital. I did not read about this tension and I did not hear about it. It received no mention in the media. We have always laughed at the Americans for being surprised by what was really happening in various Third World countries, despite all their embassies, representatives and agents. It seems that we are no different. It now becomes clear from Hussein's letter to his disposed brother Hassan that there were many signs bearing witness to the growing schism between King Hussein and his brother, but no-one paid attention to them. Thus we learn that after Hassan intended to dispose the chief of staff and heads of the security services, the entire Jordanian security leadership hastened to the King's sick bed in the United States in order to swear allegiance to him again. They did not travel in secret, in the dead of night or in disguise.
Was this correctly interpreted anywhere? In other words, that we are witness to a struggle between the King and Hassan, witness to a schism that will have obvious consequences on the succession and post- Hussein Jordan? The answer is negative, and the reason is clear: Hussein and Hassan were as one in our intellectual concept, King and Heir, a dream team. In accordance with the concept, rather in accordance with reality, we judged the information that came to us, and we fell into the trap.
In practice, we are in a post-Hussein era in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. What can be said about the future? We must be aware that if we can be surprised regarding the successor in Jordan, we will certainly be surprised regarding the successor to Assad. On the face of it, Assad's son Bashir is expected to "succeed" his father, but what is the reality? The main thing is that it is less important to spend time memorializing Hussein now, and more important to carefully learn about Abdullah, know him deeply and to develop relations with him.
The Hashemite regime is Jordan. In contrast to almost any other Arab state, if the regime falls in Jordan, a clear threat would exist to the existence of Jordan as a sovereign state within its present borders. The regime's stability is thus a vital national interest for Israel, even more so when the negotiations on a permanent settlement with the Palestinians begin in the near future. (Ma'ariv Jan 31)
Shahak And Mordechai Are A Danger To Democracy by Yuval Steinitz
One of the central tests of any democratic polity is the manner in which the military and leaders of the defense establishment react to each and every decision made by the public of voters, particularly in reaction to those decisions that it does not approve of. Do they invoke the name of security in order to undermine the elected government to any given degree, as is often the case in the weak democracies of Asia and South America? Or rather, do they bow their heads in utter submission without batting an eye, as is the norm in the successful democracies of western Europe and the U.S. And where, then, ought we to place our Israeli democracy?
Unfortunately, we cannot refrain from determining that the behavior of Itzik Mordechai, an IDF Major General until the last general elections, and the behavior of generals Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, Oren Shahor and others during the course of the two and a half years that have elapsed since the current government ascended to power, casts a dark shadow of doubt on the fortitude of Israel's democracy. When Netanyahu was elected prime minister and he appointed Yitzhak Mordechai his defense minister, both were perceived as perpetrators of a putsch. Newspapers in Israel brimmed with reports of the concerns felt by Chief of Staff Shahak in light of the new foreign policy approach adopted by the prime minister, and of his objection to the appointment of Itzik Mordechai as defense minister and of his inability to work as his subordinate. After a long silence, that included rumors of a possible tendering of his resignation, Amnon Lipkin- Shahak ultimately denied the veracity of the rumors. However, the "enlightened officer" voiced his denials with such a lack of conviction, and so openly longed for the security- political leadership of Yitzhak Rabin, that we all understood clearly that the Chief of Staff was not happy about the way we had voted.
A similar problem became evident in the approach adopted by the upper echelon of the police towards the appointment of Avigdor Kahalani to the post of Internal Security Minister. An endless string of rumors spread about "the harsh atmosphere prevailing at top police ranks," made it clear to the voters in Israel that the upper echelon of the police was not enamored with the decision made by the people. The atmosphere of a military putsch against the government reached an apogee in two instances: the one was when newspaper headlines enthusiastically declared that the upper echelons of the police force had "rebelled against its minister because of the appointment of the new Chief of Police Wilk;" the second -- when Maj. Gen. Oren Shahor conducted his nocturnal trysts with opposition leaders Shimon Peres, Yossi Beilin and Yossi Sarid, so as to warn the losers from the left about the "danger" posed by the new political policy that Netanyahu had implemented.
The trouble is that in the last few months we have witnessed that the problem of generals and democracy spills over at times when those generals retire from the army and immediately jump into politics. Apparently, some of these generals -- not all of them -- allow themselves the leisure of trampling the most fundamental democratic codes in the name of their "genuine concern for the security of the nation." Thus, for instance, Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai, who learned from Amnon Lipkin-Shahak how to spread rumors about one's superior minister and to deny the rumors with no conviction, discovered that the best way to grab the media's attention was to question Netanyahu's leadership. He adopted the maxim "do unto others what you would not have done unto yourself," and joined those spreading rumors against the prime minister (regarding operations in Iraq and the likes thereof).
Mordechai's decision to join Lt. Gen. Shahak's opposition while still the incumbent defense minister may not be illegal, perhaps, but it certainly emits a very bad smell democratically speaking, particularly since the people at hand were defense minister and Chief of Staff until but a few months ago. Amnon Shahak took off his uniform for the last time, and a day later defined the prime minister as a "danger to Israel." Prima facie, what could be more legitimate democratically speaking? However, the explicit message is that the army, at least until a number of months ago, objected to the elected prime minister. And the implicit message is that it is highly probable that the defense minister and the Chief of Staff who now are acting so openly together, probably acted illicitly in the style of Oren Shahor and Shimon Peres did against the elected prime minister while they were still filling their official capacities.
Another grave phenomenon is the fact that Shahak's candidacy was not prevented by the rules requiring a "cooling" period, since, among other reasons, the Israeli media broadcast the message that it was inconceivable to bar Lt. Gen. Shahak from running for the post "because of a legal formality." The fact that this legal formality, which was legislated specifically so as to block instances just like this, was suspended because of the senior rank of the person in question, the very first time that it ever had to be enforced, is another certificate of poverty as to the fortitude of Israel's democracy in the face of military ranks.
And wherefore is our critical media in all this? Is it not obliged to safeguard democracy even when the public has voted in favor of the right wing? Is it conceivable that the defense minister and Chief of Staff in America or England would manufacture a slew of rumors against the elected President or prime minister, and the media in those countries not criticize them and demand their immediate dismissal?
Indeed, the media in Israel is perhaps democracy's watch-dog, however, it forgets to bark when it is not happy with the decision made by the voting public. One conclusion that must be drawn from this is that the Israeli media has to at long last stop automatically supporting the left wing and has to begin protecting democracy irrespective of its inclinations to one side or another. The second conclusion that must be drawn is that there is an urgent need for legislation that would compel all generals to live through year or two of "cooling" after their date of retirement until their entry into politics, so as to separate the army from politics as much as possible and to neutralize the dangerous phenomenon represented by Shahak, Mordechai and Shahor. (Yediot Ahronot Jan28)
As Moshe Arens moves into the position of defense minister for the third time, Israel is certainly getting an experienced, thoughtful, and capable individual in this extremely sensitive public office. As a man recognized for his integrity, honesty, and understanding of the need for orderly staff work and cooperation, Arens also adds to the cabinet important characteristics that have unfortunately been lacking too often in some of the country's leaders in recent years. It is no surprise that he faced no real opposition from the Knesset on Wednesday, which easily approved his appointment.
Given that Arens's stint in the Defense Ministry is, at least initially, until the next government is formed after the elections in May, much of his job is likely to consist of plugging holes and maintaining continuity and stability. The Defense Ministry is large and complex, and not given to adopting major innovations in a time span as short as four months. Nor are any dramatic diplomatic initiatives to be expected during an intense election campaign.
Nevertheless, even as Arens prepares for a smooth landing at the ministry in Tel Aviv, there are a number of questions hanging in the air relating to his personal relations with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and to potentially disturbing developments in the region, that could make this short term of office less tranquil than first appearances indicate.
In his unsuccessful challenge to Netanyahu's leadership of the Likud, up until the party primary on Monday, Arens hurled a number of criticisms at Netanyahu that were so sharp it seems strange that he was able to so eagerly accept the defense portfolio and smilingly join the prime minister's inner team. It is acceptable, proper, and a common event in democracies for a losing challenger to a party leader to accept the will of the voters and loyally work with the winner as his deputy. Arens's challenge to Netanyahu, however, was not of the run-of-the-mill variety. Arens was not an up-and-coming Knesset member seeking advancement, but a Likud elder statesman with a long and distinguished political career behind him who depicted his coming out of retirement as an extraordinary step, justified only by what he perceived as an emergency situation. His criticisms were not aimed solely at the policies implemented by Netanyahu - although his principled disagreements with the Wye agreement were not slight, to say the least - but dealt with Netanyahu's style of leadership.
Arens accused Netanyahu of completely irresponsible behavior causing grave damage to his movement and the country. Since such ingrained habits are not usually known to change overnight, it would seem that Arens needs to explain how he could so readily agree to lend his hand to an administration that he regards as having failed so miserably. His sudden statements to the effect that he accepts the Wye accords and is willing to meet with Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat also represent an abrupt about-face.
Beyond personal matters, the coming four months could put the new defense minister through some tests if certain potential negative developments materialize. Of most immediate concern is the stability of Jordan. The events of the past few days, including the appointment of Prince Abdullah as Crown Prince after Prince Hassan held that title for 34 years, coupled with King Hussein's hurried return to the Mayo Clinic following a relapse of his cancer, have reportedly created a mood of apprehension and uncertainty in Amman. Accurate accounts of the king's health are well guarded by the royal court, which naturally prefers to release optimistic reports. However, the determination with which Hussein pursued the matter of his succession over the past week and the suddenness of his return to the United States may indicate the worst.
If King Hussein dies and the reigns of control do not pass smoothly and easily to his son, any instability in Jordan will reverberate throughout the region. Jordan is a keystone of stability in the Middle East, bordering Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Israel. Its role as a strategic buffer zone to the east has been a basic axiom in all of Israel's strategic plans for decades. Nor can it be forgotten that most of the population of Jordan consists of Palestinians, who have for years nursed grievances at being kept out of powerful positions in the kingdom and may be looking for an opportunity to take to the streets with demands. Any such disturbances could then quickly spread over the Jordan River to the Palestinian areas in the West Bank. IDF and Defense Ministry analysts are doubtless now working overtime keeping an eye on developments in Jordan.
Other arenas that could abruptly heat up include south Lebanon and Iraq. The likeliest scenarios regarding both the ongoing conflict in southern Lebanon and the danger posed by an Iraq undergoing US pounding involve no major escalations in the next four months, but the Defense Ministry needs to be prepared for any eventuality. All in all, given the current state of events, what is most needed in the ministry now is a team player who has had the experience of taking important decisions in the past and can place a steady hand on the wheel. Moshe Arens definitely answers to that description, and should ably fit the role at least until the elections. (Jerusalem Post Jan 28)