Academic and political leaders concluded at the Jerusalem Conference on Monday that Israelâ€™s greatest threat is the weakness that has overcome its own leadership.
Likud MK Yuval Steinitz, former chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee (currently a member), chaired the session entitled “Strategic Threats to the State of Israel.”
Steinitz said that Israel’s actions vis-Ã -vis the Palestinian Authority (PA) send a message of weakness to the entire world: “When the State of Israel calls upon the world to boycott the PA government as a terrorist state, but the State of Israel does not boycott the person who established that government â€“ Abu Mazen — this is weakness. How does Israel expect the USA and Europe to refrain from transferring funds to [PA Finance Minister] Salam Fayad when Israel itself transferred $100 million just a few months ago as the PA paid government salaries?”
Steinitz said that if Israel pursues its enemies as “terrorists and blood-thirsty tyrants,” the world will listen. However, if Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni declare to the world that its enemies are terrorists, but in fact allow them to establish an army in Gaza, Israelâ€™s foreign policy statements will fall on deaf ears.
If Israel halts targeted killings against the terrorist leadership, allows PA terrorists to establish a government and move about freely in and out of Israel, all of Israel’s “scholarly” declarations will mean nothing, he added.
Before Middle East expert Dr. Guy Bechor addressed the Iranian issue, he heartily agreed with Stienitz’s opening statement: “The strategic threat against Israel is ourselves,,â€ he said.
â€œIn the 1990’s, I would speak to Israeli audiences who were in euphoria over the promised ‘New Middle East,’ and I would tell them to lower their expectations. They felt peace was on the doorstep. But no one wanted to listen. Today, the same Israeli public is in a state of depression,” he noted.
Regarding Iran, Bechor explained that the demise of Saddam Hussein, who was a major Sunni Moslem leader, opened the way for the Shiâ€™ite Moslem leadership of Iran to launch a revolution, thus gaining influence in the Middle East and the world. The strengthening of Iranian Shi’ite influence has intensified the internal Arab Sunni/Shi’ite conflict throughout the Middle East.
Bechor maintained that the Shi’ites crossing the political lines in the sand in order to attain a nuclear bomb exacerbates the Sunni-Shi’ite conflict more than the Israeli-Arab conflict.
Labor Party member Matan Vilnai told the conference that Israel must prepare for a military conflict with Iran, but that Israel does not need to be on the front lines. Others will fight this battle, he said, and while Israel needs to prepare for any eventuality it must not rush into an extremely complicated scenario.
National Union/National Religious Party member Effie Eitam disagreed, saying that Israel must take the lead in the fight against Iran. He quoted terms that Vilnai used to describe the situation: “Complex, complicated, multi-faceted, limited use of force â€“ these terms are characteristic of Israel’s lack of preparation for the recent war in Lebanon.” Eitam countered Vilnai, saying that the threat from Iran is so total and complete that it leaves no room for Israel to ponder complexities. Israel must garner its military, diplomatic, and financial might to lead the campaign against Ahmedinejad, he warned.
Regarding Vilnai’s claim that there are others who will fight the battle in place of Israel, Eitam related a parable of a husband and wife who went touring in Alaska and were told to beware of grizzly bears who chase their prey as fast at the cars. When the wife expressed concern about being eaten by a bear, the husband said that he was less concerned for himself since he merely had to outrun his wife.
Eitam said that Israel is parallel to the wife â€“ the immediate threat in both the parable and the situation with Iran. While the Islamic State does present a threat to Europe and the US, neither continent will have a problem watching Israel fall before arriving at the conclusion that it is time to act.
Regarding Lebanon, Eitam and Vilnai, both with illustrious past IDF careers, agreed that the IDF is in fact ready for the next war, and that the Israeli people are strong. They said that the problem is on the decision-making political level, not in the military arena.
Eitam said that Israeli policy should set the removal of the Hizbullah terrorist threat as its immediate, clear and real aim in the next Lebanon war. “Crushing the enemy must not be reserved for a last resort,” he told the packed conference hall.
Eitam concluded with the statement that Israel has a “good army, a good nation, but a leadership which is confused. There never was a period in Israel’s history during which the Prime Minster and the Defense Minister were themselves a security threat to the State of Israel.”