July 30, 2014

Middle East Media Sampler for May 9, 2012


1) Who doesn't get mentioned

A Former Spy Chief Questions the Judgment of Israeli Leaders – June 3, 2011:

The former intelligence chief, Meir Dagan, who stepped down after eight years in the post, has made several unusual public appearances and statements in recent weeks. He made headlines a few weeks ago when he asserted at a Hebrew University conference that a military attack on Iran would be “a stupid idea.”

This week Mr. Dagan, speaking at Tel Aviv University, said that attacking Iran “would mean regional war, and in that case you would have given Iran the best possible reason to continue the nuclear program.” He added, “The regional challenge that Israel would face would be impossible.”

On Thursday he got more specific, naming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, but this time through a leaked statement to journalists. The statement had to do with his belief that his retirement and the retirement of other top security chiefs had taken away a necessary alternative voice in decision making.

Remarks by Former Official Fuel Israeli Discord on Iran – April 28, 2012:

Yuval Diskin, who retired last year as the director of Shin Bet, the Israeli equivalent of the F.B.I., said at a public forum on Friday night that he had “no faith” in the ability of the current leadership to handle the Iranian nuclear threat.

“I don’t believe in a leadership that makes decisions based on messianic feelings,” he told a gathering in Kfar Saba, a central Israeli city of 80,000. “I have observed them from up close,” he added, broadening his critique to include the handling of the Palestinian conflict as well. “I fear very much that these are not the people I’d want at the wheel.”

Analysts here say there has long been a rift between the elected leaders and the defense and intelligence professionals over the urgency of the Iran threat, the efficacy of an independent Israeli strike and its likely repercussions. But while the substance of Mr. Diskin’s case echoed that made in recent months by Meir Dagan, the former chief of the Mossad spy agency, the tone was far more blunt, biting and personal.

Along with Dagan who headed the Mossad and Diskin who headed Shin Bet, Gen. Amos Yadlin headed military intelligence. Gen. Yadlin wasn't treated to any such story. Though the New York Times did publish an op-ed by Gen. Yadlin, Israel's last chance to strike Iran, he has also written this week, Beware a Bad Deal with Tehran. (via Martin Kramer):

A deal with the following parameters would be considered good: significant limitations on continuing enrichment until Iran has regained the trust of the international community; removing most of the enriched uranium from Iran, both that enriched to 3.5 percent as well as that enriched to 20 percent, closing the facility dug into the mountainside near Qom; signing the IAEA "additional protocol"; and providing satisfying explanations for the questions that remain between the IAEA and Iran. Such a deal would ensure that an Iranian breakout to nuclear weapons would be a long process and thus place Iran outside the "immunity zone." It would not meet all past demands made on Iran, but it would be better than the alternative of Iran having the bomb or being bombed. However, the probability of Iran accepting such an agreement is very low.

A bad deal, one that the Iranians are likely to offer and that the international community would be tempted to accept, would include explicit legitimacy for Iran enriching uranium on its soil up to the 5 percent level but would not include removal of most of the already-enriched uranium from within Iran’s borders. The bad deal also would include not limiting the number or type of centrifuges and enrichment sites. Iran then would be able to continue securing its sites in a way that would make damaging them much harder than it is at present. With such a deal, Iran would be able to improve its chances of breaking out toward nuclear weapons in a relatively short time after making the decision to do so.

Yadlin's commentary isn't newsworthy because he didn't portray PM Netanyahu as some whacked out messianic figure when it comes to Iran.

Oh, and by the way, Ronen Bergman is rethinking his conclusion that Israel would definitely strike Iran:

“Many things happened in the last three months” to ease the fear of a looming Israel attack on Iran’s nuclear program, Bergman said, including the Obama-Netanyahu White House meeting in March, which he said left administration officials feeling “a bit more relaxed” that the two leaders held similar positions regarding Iran. Another key factor is the upcoming presidential election in November, he added. (The interview took place before this week’s Likud-Kadima deal, which also appears Iran-related, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said to be seeking to solidify his political position prior to the American elections.)

Bergman, a prominent print journalist who also has a television show in Israel, said that as recently as two weeks ago a senior Israeli official told him that “nothing has changed” in terms of the thought process of government leaders, who believe that Israel’s decision regarding a military strike will be made strictly based on its assessment of Iran’s actions.

Regarding the tougher economic sanctions in place, Bergman said that two years ago Israeli officials would not have believed them possible and “would have been cheering” over what has been accomplished. “But is it too late” to stop Iran’s push for nuclear arms, he wondered, pointing out that Iran will not meet any of the “four or five preconditions” Israel has set regarding the upcoming negotiations between Iran and the U.S. and its Western allies.

By bringing Shaul Mofaz, a skeptic about a military strike against Iran, into his broad coalition, Netanyahu signaled that he isn't the reckless war monger that his critics portray him as. Yet they are the ones whose opinions were treated as news.

2) Leave it to Ha'aretz

Leave it to Ha'aretz (and the Forward) to put a negative spin on the recent coalition agreement struck between PM Netanyahu and Kadima head, Shaul Mofaz, Bibi Deal Driven by Power Not Public Good: Poll.

Not everyone is so cynical. The Lid writes:

In the end the political shocker announced by Bibi Netanyahu and Shaul Mofaz last night will change Israeli politics forever…in a good way. It will result in stronger coalitions with greater legitimacy to deal with the major problems of the day, and unity on security issues that will allow the Jewish State to stand up to unfair pressure should (God-forbid) Barack Obama be re-elected. Israel will still have a broad base of political parties in the Knesset, but governments will be able to move ahead unencumbered by small and sometimes single-issue parties.

David Weinberg sees the scope of the coalition's likely success to be narrower:

This brings us to Iran, which is the one issue on which far-reaching and momentous decisions are imminent. Netanyahu’s government and inner cabinet now includes three former IDF chiefs-of-staff (Barak, Yaalon, and Mofaz), something which in itself is a form of deterrence. This ought to give pause to the Iranians and the Obama administration, and to stiffen the backs of the P5+1 negotiators. It is an important counter-weight to the nasty insinuations of “irresponsibility and messianism” in government decision-making regarding Iran made by former intelligence chiefs Dagan and Diskin.

Evelyn Gordon allows for more optimism:

With Kadima on board, however, both these issues become solvable. Netanyahu now has a solid majority even without Shas, enabling him to tackle the draft exemptions issue. And the government is now stable enough to survive the remaining 18 months of its term, so passing a responsible budget becomes feasible.

The unity government is clearly a better option than new elections, which not only cost a lot of money, but would largely put the government on hold during a potentially critical period: The Knesset would be dissolved, and MKs and ministers would be devoting most of their time and energy to campaigning. It’s possible that Netanyahu was hoping for this outcome all along.

Though I think he meant it to be funny, one of the seven reasons for the forming the coalition offered by Jeffrey Goldberg is (via memeorandum):

6) Bibi wants to be able to say to President Obama: More than three-quarters of the Knesset is with me. I am Israel.

I don't know if Netanyahu needs to be to say this to President Obama or his other critics. Rather it should demonstrate to those who believe that Netanyahu is some right wing crazy, that he is the new mainstream in Israel.

Finally getting back to the cynicism, we have the release from the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism:

A reduction in opposition voices within the Knesset could have serious consequences for relations with Iran and with the Palestinians. If there is no room within the Israeli political sphere to speak out against the hawkish foreign policy of Netanyahu and his defense secretary Ehud Barak, then war with Iran may seem to be the only “pro-Israel” option. Similarly, the lack of a credible opposition within the Knesset could make a return to the negotiating table with the Palestinians unlikely because there would be less outside pressure on Netanyahu to take such action.

Who do they think they are? J-Street?

3) 40 years ago

Yesterday marked 40 years since The Raid on Sabena Flight 571. (h/t Israel Matzav)

The Sabena flight reached Tel-Aviv, landing in Lod Airport (now Ben-Gurion Airport). Captain Levy was sent out to show the waiting Israelis a sample of the explosives on the plane, to convince them of the threat. Aboard the plane, passengers were crying or hysterical.

A team of 16 elite commandos (Hebrew: Sayeret Matkal) approached the grounded aircraft in white overalls, disguised as airplane technicians. They convinced the terrorists that the aircraft was in desperate need of repairs.


Within ten minutes of boarding the plane, the squad of elite commandos managed to kill the two male terrorists, arrest the two female terrorists, and neutralize the threat to the passengers. Nearly all civilians on board were unharmed, except for three, one of whom later died from her injuries.

Pictures of the two of the commandos – currently among Israel's political leaders – are available at the link.

About Daniel Goldstein

Daniel Goldstein is a media critic and recovering blogger. He has been critiquing media bias against Israel since his first letter to the editor in 1987.