Monday, April 30, 2012

Who Worries About Whom?

Who Worries About Whom?

Israelis are confused. Legendary former Mossad head Meir Dagan has come out against Prime Minister’s ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu’s statements that an early strike against Iran would bring ‘a rain of missiles’ (some say 50,000) on Israel. Dagan, speaking on CBS’ ‘60-minutes’ said such a strike could lead to a war that could spread out of control and encompass at least the Middle East.

Dagan said he kept a photo of a Jewish man wrapped in a prayer shawl kneeling in front of a bevy of Nazi soldiers tormenting him on the wall of his office. The photo appeared on the TV screen. Dagan explained that the man was his grandfather, who didn’t survive the Holocaust. It was this photograph, hanging on his wall when head of the Mossad, that Dagan showed to his agents before they set off on a mission.

Dagan wasn’t alone in opposing Netanyahu and Defense Minister Barak’s take on how to deal with the Iranian threat. Yuval Diskin, former head of the Shin Bet, Israel’s version of the FBI, also came out against the ruling duo. Diskin said that he had no faith in either of these men, nor in their view of the crises.

Former Chief-of-Staff Gabi Ashkenazi is also a vocal critic of the Netanyahu-Barak plan. Lately the current Chief-of-Staff Benny Gantz has said that the Iranian leadership isn’t as hot to attack Israel as Bibi and Barak are fond of saying.

Let’s put this part in perspective, if possible. Except for Gantz, all the above-mentioned players resigned from the government or were fired by Netanyahu and/or Barak. Ashkenazi wanted a fifth year in his position but was denied by Barak, with whom he has a lousy relationship. Then came the “Harpaz” scandal with forged letters that may or may not have been instigated by Ashkenazi aimed at dislodging Barak/Netanyahu’s choice of Chief-of-Staff. And Gantz was appointed only after Barak/Netanyahu’s choice was conveniently found to have expropriated some land in his moshav without the correct permissions.

So the cast against Barak/Netanyahu seem to all be working in concert, either consciously or subconsciously. And the Israeli public asks, ‘Can all these guys be wrong and Barak/Bibi correct?

Now the Obama administration has weighed in, saying this split in opinion is harming the US efforts to curtail Iran’s nuclear ambitions. All of this comes at a time when, again coincidently, there is talk of new elections in the fall. Are these criticisms aimed at unseating the present government, motivated either by idealism or revenge?  Maybe. These sorts of machinations are well above the average Israeli’s pay scale.

And to spice up the couscous former Shas leader Aryeh Deri, who served time for corruption and other disgraceful acts while a minister in the Sharon government, is now slated number 3 in the Shas list for the new elections. That doesn’t please Deri who says either he is number one or he will look for other options. The chutzpah of a convicted felon thinking he can contribute to the country is astounding. Except that Deri says he is the “bridge” between the increasingly disgruntled secular majority and the increasingly observant ultra-Orthodox community.

But perhaps all the fuss is about power. And money. At least this is the belief of 44-year old Eldad Yaniv, another Barak ex-employee. “When Barak retired from the army he was scornful of politicians who were drawn to money and sheltered under the wing of businessmen and tycoons, and he always laughed at Arik Sharon who received his ranch from (businessman) Meshulam Riklis. It turns out that when you get to those same places, you first view them with scorn and afterward become just like them.”

According to Yaniv, who was the Ram Emanuel-type spin-meister for Barak, the goal of protecting the people and the public good are secondary to these politicians. Primary is staying in power, and making money. He tells the story of how in 2007 he was sent to Vienna to smooth over relations with one of Barak’s supporters, Martin Shlaff who had given Barak $500,000 towards a run-off election, if there was a run-off election, when Barak ran unsuccessfully for Prime Minister in 1999. Barak lost. There was no run off, and Barak had never returned the money, no matter how often he was asked.

“Of course I was angry,’ Yaniv quoted Shlaff when he told the story to Haaretz correspondent Gidi Weitz in an article published over the last weekend. “I gave half-a-million dollars to the second-round campaign. There never was a second round. No one returned my money and no one ever told me what was done with it.”

Yaniv says, “The country is run by a group of people whom no one appointed and no one elected: Lawyers, media advisers, lobbyists, businessmen, politicians all mixed together in one cocktail.” Of Foreign Minister Yvette Leiberman Yaniv said, “He is motivated by an urge for power, authority, money and influence- by everything apart from public service.” (Israel TV’s channel 2 news reported on April 30,2012 that Leiberman would be indicted for fraud and embezzlement within two weeks. However, the Israeli public has been hearing about the impending indictment for the last twelve years.)

Bottom line? Who knows? The famous “Tzav 8” campaign Barak ran in his bid for the Prime Minister’s office was based on getting the Israeli public so worried about an Intifada spreading out into Tel Aviv, that the average man-in-the-street started getting nervous. Now the Iranian nuclear threat and the existential threat to Israel, another Holocaust, is on the table. At the same time the focus is off the exorbitant price of food, gasoline and housing. The fact is that tycoons lend themselves money from their own banks and then default, sending the stock down. The man-in-the-street tries that trick and he winds up losing his house. 

And then there’s the Phalanx missile system, and the Iron Dome. The latter was to protect Israel, while the former could have shot down mortars and short-range missiles flying into Sderot at a fraction of the price. If Yaniv is right, Barak, the Minister of Defense, is in with the tycoons and the guys who make the Iron Dome system. Barak recently sold his luxury apartment for nearly $8 million. Not bad for a guy who has been a government employee nearly his entire life. So who worries about whom? That’s the big question.