No Peripheral Vision

For some years now, most Israeli politicians have become like horses with blinders: They can only look straight ahead. They seem to have lost their peripheral vision.


By Moshe Arens

(A version of this column appeared in Haaretz on August 12, 2008.)

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is not as stupid as he looks. His almost daily bombastic threats against Israel, accompanied by his insistence that Iran has every right to continue enriching uranium – the raw material for a nuclear bomb – has succeeded in totally focusing most Israeli leaders on the Iranian threat, to the disregard of more immediate threats that are under our very nose. For some years now, most Israeli politicians have become like horses with blinders: They can only look straight ahead. They seem to have lost their peripheral vision.

In the meantime, Hezbollah and Hamas are doing Iran’s work. In the north and the south they continue to erode Israel’s deterrent capability. Tehran must be saying, we don’t need a nuclear bomb to wipe Israel off the map – so long as we keep Israel hypnotized by the Iranian nuclear threat, Hezbollah and Hamas rockets will do the job much more cheaply. As far as they are concerned, Jabotinsky’s “iron wall,” which Ben-Gurion adoped as the basis for Israel’s defense strategy, has in recent years become no more than a wall of paper, easily pierced.

Last week our defense minister uttered another vacuous threat. “If Israel is provoked, the IDF is ready to attack Iran and succeed uncompromisingly,” he told an Italian newspaper. This is the man who sent Israel’s deterrent capability downhill eight years ago, when as prime minister and defense minister he ordered the unilateral withdrawal of the IDF from the south Lebanon security zone.

His threats at the time – that any Hezbollah provocation after the withdrawal would be met by an extreme Israeli response – turned out to be nothing more than empty words. The years that followed not only brought a number of Hezbollah provocations, but were years of Hezbollah fortifying itself in south Lebanon and being armed by Iran with thousands of rockets, many of which came down on Israel during the Second Lebanon War.

Ariel Sharon, who followed Barak as prime minister, and Benjamin Ben-Eliezer and Shaul Mofaz as his defense ministers, watched as Hezbollah’s capabilities grew to a point where they were beginning to deter Israel from taking pre-emptive action to halt them. It was not long before Israel’s civilian population ended up paying the price for the torpor that had seized our leadership in the face of this threat.

The repeated declarations by Ehud Olmert that we had won the Second Lebanon War, and that one of its great achievements was UN Security Council Resolution 1701, have turned out to be just so much nonsense. Not only is Hezbollah much stronger now than it was before the war and the threat to Israel that much greater, but Hezbollah – in the wake of its victory over the IDF and the government’s foolish approval to exchange Samir Kuntar for the bodies of two Israeli soldiers – has just about taken over Lebanon. It is receiving praise from Lebanon’s new president, Michel Suleiman, and its right to take military action against Israel has now been endorsed by the new Lebanese government. So much for the “restraining effect” of the UNIFIL forces and the Lebanese army in southern Lebanon, which was heralded by the Olmert government as one of Israel’s great achievements in the war.

In the south, the government, with Ehud Barak as defense minister, has followed the same policy as in the north, and can expect the very same results. Israel may have to pay very dearly for this policy, based on the assumption that doing nothing is the best of all alternatives.

Now along come two new contenders for the leadership of Israel: Shaul Mofaz and Tzipi Livni. Both were senior partners in the mistakes made by the Olmert government. What have they got to offer?

Mofaz, like Olmert and Barak, is hypnotized by Ahmadinejad. All he can talk about is the nuclear threat from Iran. In Tehran they must be laughing up their sleeves, as they notice that this aspirant for the leadership of Israel also has the same blinkers, and seems to pay little attention to what is going on in Lebanon and in Gaza.

And Tzipi Livni? She has only one thing in her head: establishing a Palestinian state, which she seem to think is the solution to all of Israel’s problems.

These politicians better take the blinkers off and take a good look in all directions. Danger may be lurking in what are to them unexpected places.

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