Syria is not lost. Assad is Western educated and is not a religious man. He can still join a moderate grouping - Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, Haaretz, November 13, 2009
I fear that the appalling brutality we are witnessing in Homs, with heavy weapons firing into civilian neighborhoods, is a grim harbinger of things to come – UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, February 9, 2012
None so blind
Askhenazi is not the only senior Israeli leader to articulate an appallingly inaccurate assessment of Israel’s adversaries, but in many ways his is a particularly interesting and instructive example. After all, before his appointment as chief of staff, much of his 40-year military career was spent in the IDF’s Northern Command, including as its commander. One must, therefore, presume that a large portion of his time was devoted to evaluating the Syrian threat, and to familiarizing himself with nature of the Syrian military dictatorship.
It is alarming to learn that despite the opportunity he had to gauge the true characteristics of the Syrian leader, his appraisal was so erroneous. The fact that Bashar Assad has a “Western education” – two years of medical specialization in the UK — and “is not a religious man” was somehow taken to indicate that he “can still join a moderate grouping” is at best disturbingly shallow.
As mentioned, Ashkenazi is not alone is espousing this sort of unsubstantiated nonsense.
Ever since Assad Jr. inherited the reins of power from his tyrannical father in 2000, every Israeli government has, in one form or another, explored the possibility of surrendering the Golan to the “Western educated” despot in Damascus — studiously ignoring the abundance of evidence attesting to the ruthless brutality of the regime, readily available to anyone willing to see it.
Typical of the moronic myopia displayed by many in the Israeli leadership was a pronouncement, made barely a year before revolt erupted across Syria, by Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, who held the position of minister of defense in the Sharon government.
While serving as minister of trade and industry in the current Netanyahu government, Ben-Eliezer declared: “Syria is the key to regional change for us. If I was prime minister, I would put all my hopes on Syria.”
No kidding! This from the former defense minister who, one would have hoped, would have had a more informed and sober view of reality.
There but for the grace of God
Fortunately for the nation, the Israeli leadership has not been able to act on any misplaced optimism – as it did on other fronts – regarding the possibility of reaching a settlement with the Syrian regime in exchange of the total evacuation of the Golan Heights – the sine qua non for any such agreement.
One can only imagine what consternation would reign today, had such a deal been struck. For even under the highly implausible assumption that adequate security arrangements and demilitarization deep into Syrian territory had been agreed upon with Damascus, the events raging today would have clearly imperiled any such understandings. After all, in the likely event that, sooner or later, the Assad regime is toppled, it is more than plausible that any successor would not see itself bound by such an agreement.
Indeed, it is difficult to keep a straight face while reading some of the suggestions put forward by prominent Israelis regarding the nature of the relations between the countries.
Take, for example, the proposal by the Israel-Syria Peace Society, founded and chaired by the former director-general of the Foreign Ministry, Dr. Alon Liel, and whose website claims that its board includes “senior academicians, ex-diplomats, former security officials and prominent Israeli business people.” (Try as I might, I couldn’t access the list by clicking on the “Members” button.) In its “Nirvana-Now” formula for an Israeli-Syrian peace, the “star-studded” organization envisions that “the two countries will sign a peace agreement [and] a Peace Park will be established on the Golan Heights for the use of both sides. Israelis will be able to enter the park, for tourism or work purposes, without visas.”
Wow! Imagine! A Peace Park! How could any tyrannical butcher possibly resist that? Isn’t it comforting to know that those who have been charged with the design of the nation’s diplomacy have such a firm grasp on reality and can come up with such innovative ideas to ensure lasting peace?
An ongoing malaise
In many respects, the savagery in Syria should serve as a much needed wake-up call for the Israeli establishment that will dispel any delusions about setting up “normal” relations with Damascus. Given the merciless manner in which Assad has broken the social contract with his own citizens, one can only imagine how little compunction he would have in violating any other contract he might have concluded with the hated Zionists.
With the true “nature of the beast” so dramatically exposed, it is becoming painfully obvious how preposterous any idea of establishing “normal” relations with the Assad regime was.
However, given the precedents, there is scant hope that this timely warning will be heeded by Israeli decision-makers.
Time and time again they have led the nation down perilous paths, despite clear signs that the chances of success were slim and the cost of failure great. Time and time again they have fallen prey to the illusion that that they could bend the nature of our enemies to fit the chummy make-believe image conjured up by the fertile imaginations of influential intellectuals – if only Israel would acquiesce to our enemies’ demands.
One of the best examples of how detached from reality such assessments have been was provided by celebrated author Amos Oz, the guru of the bon-ton Left.
His pronouncements on matters political are eagerly received by the mainstream media, which always gives them great prominence, and invariably portrays his prescriptions of how Israel should conduct itself in dealing with its Arab foes as the epitome of “sagacious sanity.”
The wise wizard Oz?
Several months before the unilateral retreat from Lebanon in 2000, Haaretz’s Ari Shavit conducted an interview with Oz on the importance of “emotional sensitivity in politics.”
In the interview, bizarrely entitled “Try a little tenderness,” Oz was introduced by Shavit as “a concerned Israeli author who worries that he may be seeing something that others, blinded by office, do not see; that he may be hearing things on a frequency that others, deafened by the noise of government, do not hear. For that reason he cannot remain silent, and seeks to make his voice heard on the eve of fateful decisions.
He asks for the right to speak.”
And what did Oz’s finely tuned ear discern that others could not? The message conveyed on the rare frequencies to which Oz allegedly had exclusive access was reassuringly unequivocal. He informed Haaretz readers with total confidence that “The minute we leave South Lebanon we will have to erase the word Hezbollah from our vocabulary, because the whole idea of the State of Israel versus Hezbollah was sheer folly from the outset. It most certainly no longer will be relevant when Israel returns to its internationally recognized northern border.”
It is difficult to conceive of a prognosis that proved much more fallacious than this, as events – including the Second Lebanon War of 2006 – later proved.
However, this massive error in judgment has done nothing to undermine the status of the man or to diminish the influence of the kind of message he conveys.
The failure of foresight
Ever since the late 1970s – but particularly since the 1990s – Israeli strategic decision-making has been disastrously misguided.
Spectacular tactical and technological successes cannot mask huge strategic failures.
It makes no difference whether one looks at the 1993 “peace process” with the Palestinians, the 2000 retreat from Lebanon, the 2005 “disengagement” from Gaza or even the 1979 peace treaty with Egypt that now appears to be hanging by a thread, with its abrogation – in one form or another – appearing more likely than not.
All of the assumptions on which Israeli policies were founded have proved groundless.
All the concessions and withdrawal have proved useless – worse, detrimental.
- Hezbollah effectively controls Lebanon.
- Hamas rules Gaza and now, united with Fatah in the “West Bank,” is well poised to take power there as well.
- Sinai is descending into a pit of anarchy and unspeakable cruelty and has become a cauldron of crime and terrorism that cannot but spill over into southern Israel.
- The noble dreams of regional peace and prosperity, of mutual understanding and good neighborliness lie in ruins.
There is not a single mainstream institution or major think-tank across the nation that can say in good faith, “We told you so. We foretold the debacle. We warned not to concede, to withdraw, to retreat.”
To varying degrees, they were all complicit, either fully endorsing government policy or voicing only faint-hearted, partial reservations.
But none – not one – voiced full-blooded and persistent opposition. None dared to challenge the basic tenet that by relinquishing land Israel could buy lasting peace. None warned that concessions would not satiate Arab appetites but merely whet them.
Something to worry about
There were, of course, more sober dissenting voices, but they were dismissed and disregarded.
They were excluded from the mainstream discourse, from the universities, from major conferences. They were passed over for appointments and deprived of resources.
No matter how accurate their assessment proved, no matter how unequivocally they were vindicated, their counsel was not sought, their advice not heeded, their warnings sidelined.
It is difficult to overstate the damage that this has wrought. The reasons are clear. By adopting unrealistic assessments of the enemies ranged against the country, policy-makers have precluded any possibility of convincingly conveying to the world Israel’s security concerns and of gaining any understanding for measures needed to address them.
After all, it matter hugely if you are facing “a Western educated” ruler capable of “joining a moderate grouping,” or a homicidal despot who has no qualms about butchering his own citizens.
It matters hugely if once Israel withdraws to some internationally agreed upon line, its enemies will be placated; or whether they will merely use any withdrawal as a platform to continue to relentlessly harass it when the opportunity arises.
Every Israeli must ask: Can our leaders really be so out of touch with reality regarding the nature of our enemies? Or are they merely hobbled by the dictates of political correctness that prohibit them from articulating, and acting on, an accurate assessment of Israel’s Arab adversaries? And in the final analysis, are they more concerned about incurring international disapproval than about adopting measures that endanger the lives and limbs of Israeli citizens? That is something to worry about.Seen against the backdrop of the carnage being perpetrated across Syria by the Assad regime, the magnitude of the misjudgment made by Gabi Ashkenazi, then the IDF’s chief of staff, is enough to make any self-respecting Israeli cringe with embarrassment.