September 23, 2008
Tzipi and the Generals
Israel is in a tremendous state of instability and uncertainty. Olmert has tendered his resignation, but no one knows whether Livni will be able to form a coalition. If she cannot, then Israel is off to elections early in 2009. The annexationist right, organized in three major parties, the Likud led by Netanyahu, “Our Israel” led by Lieberman and the National Union led by Eitan, smells an electoral victory. The centrists, Kadima and Labor are in a state of disarray while, Meretz, Hadash and the Arab factions, unfortunately, can hardly make a difference. The bureaucracy, or more exactly, the state apparatus, continues to function. It should be appreciated that the military echelon and its “civilian” leadership has more, and not less, leverage in these conditions.
The cabinet, instead of throwing Olmert a farewell party at its last meeting, hosted a virtual oracle, who miraculously told them exactly what they wanted to hear. The oracle appeared in the form of Brig. General Yossie Baidatz, who bears the impressive title of the chief of the research department of Military Intelligence. Baidatz told the Israeli cabinet last Sunday that Iran is “galloping toward the nuclear point of no return” and that our friends in the West are just “weak” and not putting pressure on the [Iranian] regime. (Ha’aretz, September 22, 2009). Note the metaphors. This kind of info session is the Israeli version of the slam-dunk that is designed to free the Israeli government from the last remnants of rational caution.
Moreover, there are local and international developments that give renewed cause for concern. The deterioration of relations between Moscow and Washington on the backdrop of the Georgian issue serves the Bush-Cheney-Palin bloc, which rejects diplomacy, ab intio. In addition, despite conflicting reports, it is now clear that the Pentagon is sending Israel a good part of its weapons wish list.
Tzipi Won’t Fly
Some good friends have expressed a degree of cautious optimism over Livni’s potential. They are right about the fact that in the given constellation, Livni is about the best you can get. But any hopes regarding Livni are, I fear, just another case of the “wish being the father of the thought.” The Livni optimists are misled by her shrewd tactic of saying as little as possible about the issues. She is a “closet” Likudnick and this should not confuse anyone. Likudnicks are always quite ready to play the US diplomatic games, as long as they are all “process” and not real negotiations.
There is no reason to have any hopes for Livni simply because Israel cannot offer anything better. Under the pressures of endemic hatred and hostility to the Palestinians, the Israeli body politic is long on jingoism and short on sane, rational politics. Without a significant shift in international politics, Israel will continue to devote its thoughts, efforts and resources to maintaining its strategic superiority, by force if necessary. There are no serious policy differences here, at this stage, regarding this goal. The idea of a government of national unity is being bandied about as the best way to prepare for a decisive military showdown. But Netanyahu has cause to believe that he, and not Livni, will be able to form it in the not too distant future.
It is clear that Israel would like to attack Iran and will do so the minute it feels that it can get away with it. Here in the country, military logic and logistics are in charge and “normal” politics are in the back seat. The US cannot give Israel a green light, nor is it prepared for any active involvement, but the generals and their allies here argue that Washington will, as the phrase goes, refuse to second-guess Israel.