27 Sivan 5759 June 11, 1999 Issue number 221
Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert announced his candidacy for the leadership of the Likud party - and therefore for Prime Minister in the next elections - Tuesday morning. Internal party elections are scheduled to be held in three months' time, "and I hope that they will not be pushed off later than that," Olmert said. "I am confident that I can restore the Likud to its former glory following the party's failure in the recent elections." When asked if he did not contribute to the loss by his criticism of Netanyahu during the election, he responded, "If one sentence by me can cause 400,000 voters to switch their vote, then I am truly worthy of leading the Likud." Olmert said that he has recommended that the Likud join the coalition. Likud Minister Limor Livnat said that she would support Ariel Sharon in his bid to lead the Likud, "although he is not necessarily my choice for Prime Minister." She said that she may declare her own candidacy for the latter position. (Arutz 7 June 8)
Abu Mazen Admires Hizbullah
Abu Mazen, who has been mentioned as a possible successor to Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat, says that Hizbullah has the right to defend its land "using all means." He said, "We admire their efforts." Regarding Jerusalem, Abu Mazen said that the PA position regarding the city is the same as it is regarding Shechem, the Galilee, and Hevron. Abu Mazen, who is the Palestinian architect of the Oslo accords, is the author of claims that the Nazis may have killed less than one million Jews. (Arutz 7 June 8)
Firebomb in Bet El
A Molotov cocktail was thrown at a home in Bet El Monday night. The resulting fire, which was quickly put out, caused minor damage in the building, on the edge of the Sh'khunat David neighborhood in western Bet El. Army forces arrived quickly on the scene, and searched for the attackers. The night before, shots were fired on a soldier guarding Bet El's closest Jewish neighbor, Psagot. MK Benny Elon, a resident of Bet El, said, "This is part of the general strategy of the terrorists - to declare war on the Yesha communities, with the help, I'm sorry to say, by certain actions of some of our politicians. With G-d's help, Ketzele will build another neighborhood in the place from which the firebomb was thrown." (Arutz 7 June 8)
Divine Intervention Saves Tefillin
Some 50 Yesha residents were waiting for rides home Tuesday afternoon when they unwittingly played a role in what could be called a clear case of Divine intervention. It began when a soldier stationed at the "trempiada" (bus stop and hitch-hiking station) on the Ma'aleh Adumim road adjacent to the Jerusalem neighborhood of French Hill noticed a large, unattended, rose-colored backpack. Arutz-7 correspondent Ron Meir - on his way home to Bet El from Jerusalem at the time - described the incident: "After asking around and discovering that it did not belong to anyone there, the soldier followed army protocol and summoned the police bomb-disposal unit. Police vans quickly arrived, and over the megaphone, they instructed us to move hundreds of feet away from the feared blast. Within a few minutes, they blew up the backpack - so that it would not blow up by itself - and that was that. A few minutes later, I entered a car with Bet El resident Yosef Abramson, who said that he talked to the bomb disposal expert after the blast. 'And do you want to hear something interesting?' he asked us. 'It wasn't a bomb at all. The bag belonged to a teenager who contacted the police when he realized that he'd left it behind. I was there when the sapper went to inspect the backpack, after it was blown up. Everything in it was either burnt or torn to shreds, except for two items: the boy's tallit and tefillin. The tallit bag was only slightly singed, and the tefillin bag was untouched. But the sapper told me that he wasn't particularly surprised. He said that in his six years on the job, he's blown up many similar 'suspicious packages' - and not once had the tefillin inside been damaged!'" (Arutz 7 June 8)
Lubotsky: Barak's Liaison With Yesha
Outgoing MK Alex Lubotsky - a resident of the Judea community of Alon Shevut and a member of Meimad - has been asked by Ehud Barak to be his liaison to the settlement communities. Lubotsky told Arutz-7 that Barak would like to transmit the message that he is interested in a dialogue with the Yesha leadership and representatives. "It is clear to me," said Lubotsky, "that no one in the Yesha leadership wants to repeat the mistake of '92-'96 when there was no dialogue between the two sides. Admittedly, there is no guarantee that there won't be disagreements, but these can be had without rancor. In the final analysis, both the government and the settlers want to get the best deal possible for Israel. Barak recently said that he was not elected in order to start a wave of settlement activity on the hilltops near Shechem - but from this we can understand that there are places in Yesha about which he does not feel this way. Barak wants to know what are the specific issues that are most problematic for the Yesha residents, not because he promises to satisfy them on every point, but in order to work together." (Arutz 7 June 7)
15th Knesset on its Way
The 15th Knesset convened Monday afternoon for its first session. Its 120 members, including 38 new ones, were sworn in by the acting speaker, the eldest MK - Shimon Peres. Knesset secretary Aryeh Hahn told Arutz-7 earlier today about the preparations for today's ceremony. "At exactly 4 PM, I will officially invite the President to take his seat on the podium, followed by Shimon Peres. Psalm 122 will be read aloud, as well as parts of the Declaration of Independence. Peres will read aloud the text of the 'pledge of allegiance' to the State of Israel and to the laws of the Knesset. I will call each MK by name, who will then say, 'I undertake the obligation.' "What if he refuses to do so, or makes some unclear statement, as MK Azmi Bishara indicated he might do?" asked News Editor Haggai Segal. [Bishara, during a trip to Damascus in August 1997, said that Israel has no right to exist.] "The law is clear," Hahn replied. "Paragraph 16 of the basic laws of the Knesset states that the failure to make such a pledge prevents the person from receiving the rights and privileges of a member of Knesset." (In the end, Bishara uttered the required formula, and MK Michael Kleiner (National Union) called out, "Are you sure you mean it?") Hahn said that Knesset committee assignments have not yet been delegated, although it could be that a temporary Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee will be organized. "One problem we will have to face today is that the offices for the MKs have not yet been assigned. Luckily, I will not have to be the one giving out the rooms, because some of them are in caravans... This will be the job of the Knesset factions themselves, which usually delegate the rooms according to ranking on the party's Knesset list. By Wednesday, everything should be worked out." (Arutz 7 June 7)
Even "Moderate Leftist" Positions Rejected by Arabs
IMRA provides the following excerpts from an exchange of columns in a recent issue of Egypt's Al-Ahram Weekly. In an article entitled "Good Will Measures," Henry Siegman, Senior Fellow on the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations, writes that even the relatively-dovish positions of newly-elected Ehud Barak will lead to a dangerous situation in which it "will become evident that the gaps in [the Israeli and Palestinian] current positions are not easily bridgeable." Siegman recommends creating "the preconditions for an eventual agreement," such as an immediate "visit by Egypt's Hosni Mubarak to Israel to meet with Ehud Barak, something he refused to do with his predecessors..." For Israel's part, Siegman proposes that Barak "reinforce immediately the principle that a viable Palestinian state... is a vital Israeli interest." However, even Siegman's moderate demand for a visit by Mubarak to Israel is too much for Al-Ahram columnist Ibrahim Nafie, who responds: "[Siegman] says Barak's victory has given rise to high hopes for the peace process. Yet he also admits that Barak's views are not substantially different from those of Netanyahu ... [He] recognizes that there are still enormous gaps in the positions of both sides... Among the symbolic gestures Siegman suggests the Arabs could make is a visit by President Mubarak to Israel. It would appear that Siegman has put the cart before the horse. It would seem more fitting that an expert in foreign relations, who readily admits that the Israeli leadership was responsible for bleeding the peace process dry, should suggest that Israel take the initiative in generating the necessary 'preconditions.' The steps the Israelis should take towards this end would entail compensating the Palestinians for the hardship they endured under the previous Israeli government..." (Arutz 7 June 7)
The Case of the Stolen Ambulance
An ambulance was stolen Saturday night in Tsfat. Thieves broke into the apartment of the driver of Ziv Hospital's new modern ambulance, stole the keys, and made off with the vehicle. The police, with the help of an electronic locating service, found the ambulance - minus its cellular phone and some other equipment - in an Arab village in Wadi Ara. The police assume that the robbers planned to take the ambulance into PA autonomous area in the Shomron. (Arutz 7 June 7)
Problems for Yesha in Draft Coalition Guidelines
Arutz-7 correspondent Haggai Huberman explained to Arutz-7 listeners additional negative aspects of the government guidelines - as currently formulated - for Yesha settlement interests: "The guidelines state that a ministerial committee will be established for two purposes: 1) to review the previous government's recent settlement decisions, and 2) to decide fundamental guidelines for new Yesha construction initiatives. Basically, this is a committee that will engage in thwarting initiatives, as a similar one did under the Rabin government. Any issue brought before it will immediately be leaked to the press, causing a general uproar, and nothing will get built. When a top Labor party official pointed this out to Barak, he changed the wording such that the committee would 'review fundamental guidelines' - but would not have authority to decide on each individual initiative. We will have to see how Barak utilizes this committee. Regarding the most recent [Likud government] decision to connect Ma'aleh Adumim with Jerusalem, for instance, we have not yet heard Barak's opinion on the matter - although we know that Meretz is quite opposed."
Another issue that has raised the ire of the NRP and Yisrael B'Aliyah is that of the blanket removal of the Yesha communities from the list of national-priority areas: "They wouldn't have objected so much if an effort was made to pare down the list of national-priority localities; the burden of proof, so to speak, would then be on those who wished to remove a specific place. But the way it is presently formulated, all of Yesha is taken off the list, and then there has to be a fight over each individual one to put it back on." Huberman noted that Yisrael B'Aliyah has been very tough in the negotiations on settlement issues, "even more so than the NRP. They have really made these into ultimative issues, and One Israel is taking this very seriously. These matters are very important to Ministers Edelstein and Sharansky, and other top party officials." (Arutz 7 June 6)
Constitution: a Long, Arduous Process
One of the major issues in the ongoing coalition negotiations is that of a constitution for Israel. The current formulation of the new government guidelines, as presented last night to the potential coalition partners, state that the government will have the 15th Knesset formulate basic laws for eventual inclusion in a constitution for the State of Israel. This is largely the result of demands by Shinui and Meretz, who claim that a constitution is "vital for the ensuring the rule of law in the country." In an interview with Arutz-7 today, Bar Ilan University law professor Shalom Albeck said that the issue is "problematic." Albeck explained, "Generally speaking, a constitution gives expression to the way of life, common values and sense of justice of a country's citizenry. But with a society as heterogeneous as ours - with anti-religious parties on the one hand, and hareidim on the other - it will be quite difficult to find a common language necessary for a constitution." On the other hand, Albeck is ready to give those drafting the constitution a challenge: Limiting the power of the courts. "We don't yet have a constitution, but only a few of what are called 'Basic Laws.' Yet even these are being taking advantage of, as for instance with the case of Arutz-7. The Knesset passed a law licensing the station and assigning it frequencies, and the courts come along and issue a restraining order - I would call it a 'democracy-circumventing' order - to prevent the implementation of the law. The net result is an impingement on the rule of law by the courts themselves. Any constitution would have to limit the arbitrariness of our courts in a drastic way." Albeck gave an example of some of the problems to be expected in drafting such a document: "Let's say that it states, 'All citizens in the State of Israel are equal under the law.' This is a value with which most everyone would concur. The court may then come and annul the Jewish laws of marriage and divorce in the country, citing the lack of 'equality between the genders' inherent thereof. And yet, the majority of the population would oppose such a decision."
In Albeck's view, the process of establishing a constitution in Israel is not impossible, but it would be long and arduous. "It would have to be put together by a very broad committee, representative of the various sectors and views in Israeli society, and would have to specify relevant clauses in tremendous detail, so that no loopholes could be taken advantage of. It would then have to be passed on to a special 'Constitutional Court,' made up of political scientists and sociologists who will have a sense of how the proposed clauses would play themselves out in day-to-day life. This kind of process cannot be completed on one foot, but would rather involve years of deliberations, arguments and meetings." (Arutz 7 June 6)
Palestinians Envy Israeli Democracy
MEMRI Middle East Media and Research Institute reports on (and translated into English) the "envy" with which the Palestinian press looks at Israeli democracy. Hasan Al-Kashef, Director-General of the Palestinian Authority Information Ministry, described the reaction of the Palestinian public to the political change in Israel (in Al-Ayyam, May 22, 1999): "The Palestinian public followed Netanyahu's immediate recognition of his defeat and his [decision] to leave [political life] with happiness and surprise, exactly as it did [after] Aryeh Deri's departure [from heading the Shas Party] for the benefit of his party, and as was the case with the voluntary departures of Benny Begin, Rafael Eitan, Avigdor Kahalani, and others after being rejected by a decision of the majority of the electorate... There is no Palestinian who can erase from his consciousness the humiliating comparison [between democracy in Israel and the political condition of the Palestinians]... In the history of the new national Palestinian movement, no recognition of defeat by any Palestinian 'leader,' or [of the failure] of his plans, or a [recognition] of his [limited] training for his post has ever been registered. Furthermore, in this history, no natural retirement [of a person or a political current] has ever been registered..."
Columnist Ata Al-Qemari expressed envy of Israeli democracy (Al-Quds, May 24, 1999): "...I am also envious of [the Israelis]. Look at all of the Arab tigers and lions [the Arab leaders], standing on their hind feet in expectation of the verdict of the simple Israeli citizen who can, with one ballot deposited into a small wooden box, humiliate one leader and raise another, demand accountability from one government and bring to power another. I envy them and desire a similar regime in my future state. It is true that I am appalled by the culture of curses and profanities in the Israeli political arena, but I respect the democratic discussion, debate, decision, the sovereignty of law, and freedom of the press..."
Columnist Dr. Ali Al-Jirbawi (Al-Ayyam, May 22, 1999): "...among the most important things we can conclude from the elections in Israel... is that they are real elections that cause change in the political condition of the society and are not a pre-staged ornament which grants the leader eternal continuity in power... Netanyahu, who was nicknamed 'King of Israel,' fell [from power] and within half an hour relinquished leadership of his party... Such elections are the result of a democratic regime that accepts change [by means of] elections as the basis of governance... In the Arab reality, real elections do not exist, and therefore, political stagnation is the basis for political activity, the center of which is maintaining the continued [rule] of the leader until he disappears from the political arena, and then the regime is torn to pieces [already after] it passed away from the world."
Columnist Dr. Talal Al-Shareef (Al-Quds, May 27, 1999): "Israel has proved that for fifty years its real power is in its democracy, guarding the rights of its citizens, applying laws [equally] to the rich and poor, the big and the small... and in the participation of the nation in the development of institutions according to ability and efficiency and not according to closeness to [the ruler], [belonging] to a political party, and connections. On the other hand, the Palestinian parties and factions, including the ruling party, proved that they cannot bear democracy and they engage in a Byzantine debate regarding participation or lack of participation [in political life.] Moreover, for thirty years they were a fundamental impediment to Palestinian democracy... All our parties, including the ruling party, still cannot lead our people to true democracy...." (Arutz 7 June 6)
Poll Finds That Unity at Home Is Most Important
A recent Steinmetz Center Peace Index survey holds some surprising findings for those who interpreted the May 17 election results as voters' unconditional embrace of the Oslo process. Researcher Dr. Tamar Hermann told Arutz-7 today that the election results do not necessarily reflect a dramatic shift in public political opinion from right to left. While 48.6% of the respondents felt that the electorate gave Barak a mandate to continue with Oslo, 47.4% felt that this was not the case. "We did find such a shift after the 1996 elections," Hermann explained. "When Netanyahu committed himself to the Oslo agreement, even if he didn't particularly like it, this lent more legitimacy to Oslo, but the shift appears to have balanced itself out now." This time around, internal harmony is at the top of the national agenda. "We asked respondents," Hermann related, "whether they favor a narrow left-and-center coalition that will speed up the pace of the peace process with the Palestinians at the expense of increased domestic tension, or a broader coalition with the Likud and others that will impede the Oslo process but will promote peace at home. Our findings showed that a vast majority of Israeli Jews - 69% - prefer a broad coalition with right-wing and hareidi parties, even at the cost of a slowdown with the Palestinians, with all that that entails. Less than 20% support a narrow left-wing government that would cost us in societal unity... Eighteen months ago, too, two-thirds of the Israelis we asked said that the rift between religious and non-religious Jews was the country's chief problem," Hermann said. Barak's victory does not represent a radical shift leftwards on the issue of the future of the Golan Heights, either. "Only 27% of those questioned support a full withdrawal from the Golan in exchange for a full peace deal with Syria," Hermann said, "while 56% oppose this formula." (Arutz 7 June 3)
More Har Homa Apartments
Another 800 apartments in Har Homa were tendered to building contractors today. As of now, 700 out of 850 first-stage apartments have been sold in the new south-Jerusalem neighborhood. Experts say that this is a brisker sales pace than expected for a recession period. (Arutz 7 June 3)
'The Lesson of the 'Dakar' By Danny Eisen
There are many people waiting for a chance to speak with Prime Minister-elect Ehud Barak, now tied down in coalition building. But there are two individuals who did not have to wait in line. Last week, Yona and Miriam Baumel, parents of Israeli MIA Zachary Baumel, met with the new prime minister, the man they hope will finally bring their son home after a 17-year absence.
The Baumels are no strangers to the Prime Minister's Office. They have met with all of Barak's predecessors since their son's disappearance. On Friday, the Baumels will mark the seventeenth anniversary of the battle of Sultan Yakoub, in which their son Zachary and two other soldiers, Tzvi Feldman and Yehuda Katz, went missing during a battle with Palestinian and Syrian forces.
Over the last 17 years, the families of the Sultan Yakoub MIAs have watched a vast array of other Middle Eastern hostages and prisoners return home; American hostages in Lebanon, thousands of Palestinian and Lebanese prisoners in Israeli jails, and Iraqi prisoners in Iran have all been released. The Baumels are praying that under Barak, their turn will finally come, and that the former army chief will find a way to get the Old Middle East to finally cough up their son and his comrades.
The Baumels' meeting with Barak came at an auspicious time. While the prime minister-elect was speaking with the Baumels, the Israeli media was still buzzing over the discovery of the Dakar, an Israeli submarine which mysteriously disappeared with all 69 crew members in 1968. The Dakar episode has once again highlighted the extraordinary relationship of Israelis to their soldiers - even to those who have been missing for over 30 years and who were known to have perished in the line of duty.
The immense public interest in the Dakar, a sub that went down long before most of Israel's present soldier population was born, should not go unnoticed by Barak and his colleagues, as they begin to formulate their policies for moving the peace process forward. Labor's election campaign vaunted Barak's ability to bring both unity and hope to a despairing public. It will be a daunting task to find consensus issues and positions which can rally the support of most, let alone all Israelis.
But, as the Dakar discovery clearly demonstrates, there is perhaps only one issue which can rise above the noisy fray of Israeli divisiveness - the successful return of missing or imprisoned soldiers.
Barak's mentor, the late Yitzhak Rabin appreciated this point, and sought to integrate the MIA issue into his plans for peace. In 1993, Rabin forced Yasser Arafat to return half of Baumel's army ID tag as a goodwill gesture. Arafat promised at that time that more information would be forthcoming about Israel's missing men.
But despite the promises, no such information has been forthcoming.
BARAK must finish the job that Rabin began. As opposed to the larger and more complex issues in the peace process still to be resolved, resolution of MIA problem is readily attainable - with some goodwill on both sides.
Gallup polls have shown that Barak would have the support of virtually all Israelis for making this matter a precondition in future talks with the PA and the Syrians. A Barak breakthrough on this issue at the beginning of his tenure would afford him a rare opportunity to strengthen Israeli support for Oslo, and boost his own credibility.
This new government not only has the best opportunity to negotiate a deal for the MIAs, but actually may have a greater responsibility than any previous Israeli government to do so. Many of the expected members of the incoming coalition have some degree of personal relationship to the issue of the Sultan Yakoub MIAs: Ehud Barak was an officer at the battle of Sultan Yakoub; Rabbi Yehuda Amital, the leader of Meimad, the moderate religious faction inside One Israel, was Zachary Baumel's teacher at Yeshivat Har Etzion; Natan Sharansky, the head of Yisrael Ba'aliya, should be at the forefront of this issue given his history as a Prisoner of Zion; and the National Religious Party, the religious Zionist party, sponsored the hesder army-yeshiva program, in which both Baumel and Katz were serving at the time of their capture.
The MIA families are right to expect and to demand that this new grouping of Israeli leaders, more than any other, ensure that when Barak's promised pullout from Lebanon is achieved, that all Israeli soldiers are brought home - including the MIAs from Sultan Yakoub.
The writer, a former Torontonian, is chairman of the International Coalition for Missing Israeli Soldiers. (Jerusalem Post June 8)
Time for Ehud Barak to draw some very clear red lines for Arafat.
Who said last week that "settlement [in the West Bank] is an organized, criminal act of terrorism... a massacre against all human beings and land?"
Who threatened that "if this crime is not stopped, the situation will explode in an irreversible way and there will be an escalation in every street, village and settlement?"
Answer: Palestinian Authority Information Minister Yasser Abed-Rabbo and Fatah Secretary-General Marwan Barghouti, at a Ramallah press conference in advance of their planned "Day of Rage" last Thursday to protest Israeli settlement activity in Judea and Samaria.
Just in case any Palestinian missed the signals, a Fatah leaflet issued the same day spelled it out: "The protests will ignite the land under the settlers' feet, and they will leave forever."
So, we're back to the old game of Palestinian threats, telling us that unless Israel acts as the PA thinks it should, "the Palestinian Authority can't be held responsible for the inevitable violent outcome."
Rabbo: "Rather, it will be [the responsibility of] the Israeli government, the Israeli security forces, and the settlers."
It was, of course, predictable that the Palestinians would revert to this perilous game of threatening, and then instigating, violence the minute they smelled an Israeli government of compromise.
It surprises no-one that settlements ("acts of terrorism," "crimes," and "massacres," according to our peace partner) are the next front-line issue in the diplomatic process.
And it is very clear, that if only allowed to, the PA intends to make the situation in the territories exceedingly intolerable. (Believe them when they talk of massacres: Remember the Jewish settlers of Hebron in 1929; of Kfar Etzion in 1948, etc.).
The question is: What will be Ehud Barak's response? Why is Washington silent? Is the PA's inflammatory language and violent modus operandi acceptable? Will someone lay down clear red lines for Yasser Arafat?
All this connects to directly to Barak's coalition negotiations with the NRP and Meretz on settlement policy, and to the PA's frenzied activity at the United Nations regarding UN Resolution 181.
A truly centrist or broad Israeli government - the type that Barak is talking about - cannot ignore the Palestinian attempt to wholly delegitimize Israeli life and settlement across the Green Line. Especially a government that is suing for peace and readying itself to negotiate a Palestinian state into existence.
A centrist Barak government is going to have to defend the big blocs of settlement as historically and morally legitimate and work to permanently include them in our borders. It is going to have to fight for the right of many other, smaller towns to abide in the Jewish people's historic homeland, in peace and relative security, under some form of Israeli rule. It is going to have to forcefully combat Palestinian talk of settlements as "crimes."
A broad Israeli government has to show Arafat that terrorism and bullying are going to set him back eons; that he will pay a price every time he attempts to disrupt the completely peaceful, rightful, everyday life of Israelis who live in Ofra, Karnei Shomron and Gush Etzion. For they shall not be forsaken.
A "consensus" Israeli government under Barak ought to vigorously defend the plans to connect Ma'aleh Adumim with Jerusalem - a plan that was hatched during Rabin's administration, continued under Peres, and brought to fruition under Netanyahu.
The same applies to the plan to build thousands more homes in Ma'aleh Adumim, Betar, Kiryat Sefer, Givat Ze'ev and Gush Etzion; or the expectation of settlers everywhere that they be allowed to "naturally" expand their living rooms, bedrooms, bathrooms and neighborhoods as necessary.
Barak will have to get Washington on board, too. Its opposition to such plans - natural expansion of Israeli settlement in non-heavily Arab-populated areas of Judea and Samaria - seriously undermines American credibility as a mediator in my eyes.
In addition, Barak's One Israel government and Clinton's disconcertingly jaundiced Mideast peace team will have to respond to the PA's current diplomatic blitzkrieg aimed at pushing us back to the 1947 (!) lines.
At every international forum, Arafat's representatives are hawking the long-forgotten, Arab-rejected, historically passe UN partition resolution (181) as a new basis for talks with Israel.
Gaining control over 90 percent of the Palestinian population in the territories (they've got that) isn't good enough, you see. Rolling us back to the precarious 1967 lines with independent statehood is no longer good enough for Arafat, either. It is all the way back to the pre-state days, as if nothing has happened since then. With Jerusalem detached from Israel altogether.
So, just as it was in the pre-state days, the sands of settlement are the front-line in the battle for security, legitimacy and peace in this land. An early challenge for the prime minister of all Israel, Ehud Barak, is drawing red lines in that sand for the ravenous Yasser Arafat. (Jerusalem Post June 6)
Many are calling upon the Prime Minister-elect Ehud Barak to deal with the peace process immediately after he forms his government. Yet, this is neither the most urgent nor the most important challenge facing Israel.
What we should be concerned with instead is the progress made by Iraq and Iran on the nuclear path. Several nuclear devices in the hands of Saddam Hussein or the Iranian mullahs constitute a potential existential threat to the Jewish state, while lack of progress (usually a euphemism for Israeli concessions) on the Palestinian and Syrian tracks does not endanger the State of Israel. We can afford to wait until the Syrians and Palestinians offer us an acceptable deal precisely because their potential to damage Israel is limited.
Moreover, the argument that peacemaking with our neighbors will prevent nuclear proliferation is conceptually faulty.
The political dynamics in the Gulf, which push Iraq and Iran toward nuclear capability, are totally unrelated to the events in the east Mediterranean region. The decision-making on the procurement of weapons of mass destruction in these countries, and their eventual use, is hardly connected to the degree of satisfaction Yasser Arafat and/or Hafez Assad may have in their negotiations with Jerusalem. Nor can peace treaties between Israel and its neighbors prevent Egypt, for example, from deciding to go nuclear.
Nuclearization of the Middle East is the strategic nightmare for Israeli defense planners. Some toy with the idea that arms control could prevent the introduction of nuclear weapons into the Middle East.
However, a concerted, comprehensive international effort to curb the progress of dangerous-weapons programs in Iran or elsewhere is not in the cards. Therefore, a strategy relying on the building of an effective and verifiable arms-control regime is an exercise in self-delusion. Such a foolproof arms-control regime cannot be devised in a Hobbesian world. Halfway measures are usually worthless in the absence of a benign political environment, whose mere existence would make arms control superfluous.
Therefore, Israel should state clearly that, as long as the political circumstances allow the possibility of a hostile regional power to engage in preparations for attacking it, its strategic goal is the nuclear status quo, which means Israeli superiority in that arena. A nuclear weapons-free zone in the near future is potentially dangerous for Israel because such an arrangement would make possible the surreptitious procurement of nuclear capabilities by an Arab state.
Moreover, the Arab demand for equality and symmetry in military capabilities is unacceptable in the conventional, as well as in the nonconventional area. Canada borders the US and does not demand the right to own nuclear bombs or the disarmament of its nuclear neighbor. A similar situation exists between Spain and France.
In addition, Israel has never threatened to use its nuclear potential. But the hostile anti-Israeli statements issued in Baghdad and Teheran jutify the Israeli attempts to block their nuclear progress.
Basically, Israel has tried for over two decades to prevent the transfer to hostile countries the sensitive technologies and fissionable material required to build a bomb. Jerusalem has tried to enlist in this quest the help of additional countries, in particular the US. Yet, in the long run, the best we can aspire to is to slow down the acquisition of critical know-how from abroad or its indigenous development.
HOWEVER, an untried approach does exist and deserves more attention:
Nuclear aspirants rely on a limited number of scientists and engineers for realizing their ambitions. This personnel is the key element in any successful program and must, therefore, be targeted.
They must be bought, or eliminated. They should be offered asylum and attractive jobs in Western countries, or face the consequences of constituting a vital threat to the West and Israel.
Such a policy has a decent chance of success as many within this group probably prefer life in the prosperous and democratic West anyway, while the patriotic scientists should be left to the mercy of the secret services. Such a policy might be easier to implement and even cheaper than other alternatives.
A common effort on the part of several Western security agencies to delay for a considerable time the fruition of nuclear programs in Mideastern rogue states could fail, however. Unfortunately, the means of carrying nuclear warheads great distances are already available.
Therefore, we should prepare ourselves for living in a nuclear crowd. Under such circumstances Israel should behave in such a manner that does not spur a conflict (for example, with Iran), while strengthening deterrence and enhancing its offensive capabilities to preempt the looming threats.
Thinking about the unthinkable requires courage, clear strategic thinking and a society prepared to pay the cost of a high-stakes conflict. It also needs long-range planning, as new weapon systems and the appropriate doctrine for their use take a long time to develop - 10 to 15 years.
Which means that starting today could already be too late.
The writer is associate professor in political studies at Bar-Ilan University, and director of its Begin-Sadat (BESA) Center for Strategic Studies. (Jerusalem Post June 7)