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General Moshe Ya'alon, Chief of Staff of the Israel Defense Forces (2002-2005)
Lieutenant-General Moshe Ya'alon, 17th Chief of Staff of the Israel Defense Force
News and Op/Ed

Moshe Ya'alon 

Aid must be predicated on educational reform

Moshe Ya'alon of the Washington Institute on Mideast Policy and former Chief of Staff to various Israel governments, both Labor and Likud, spoke to an audience that filled the main meeting room of the Urban League of Philadelphia early in March. His talk was sponsored by the conservative Middle East Forum and brought to the public by the Israel Task Force of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia. Following an introduction by Daniel Pipes of the MEF Ya'alon, looking very much a young saba (grandfather) presented his personal background and political credentials. As Israel's Chief of Staff under both Barak and Sharon Ya'alon was at the heart of the country's military decision making. Now he is involved in none of that; now his interchanges are with representatives of the U.S. and other governments. 

His personal history reads like an ethnographic portrayal of Israeli society. He was born in 1950 to a mother who immigrated in 1946 as an "illegal" to Palestine from Poland after the Shoah and a father whose family immigrated to Palestine in 1925 from the Ukraine after a son had been killed in a pogrom and another was arrested by the authorities for Zionist activities. Ya'alon's wife's family left Spain in the 15th Century's Inquisition and settled in Tsefat, the ancient Jewish city in the Galilee, or northern Palestine.

As he describes her, Israel is a regional superpower lacking natural resources but having a strong economy, state of the art medicine and science, a vibrant culture, and a strong military presence. The core issue facing Israel is the reluctance of other nations in the area to recognize her as a state.

"They think they have found our main vulnerability. They see it as our endurance, our ability to withstand hurts. After all, Israel has withstood three conventional wars: in 1948, 1967, and 1973."

Therefore, he says, these forces looked for other ways to reclaim what they consider their "lost lands": not by conventional wars, but by a combination of diplomacy and various non-conventional kinds of aggression. Since the outbreak of the Intifada their use of suicide bombings, kassam rockets in the South of Israel and katyushas in the north has resulted in 1,080 Israeli deaths, 75-80 percent of which were civilian. There is indication that they are in various stages of considering "trying to subdue us through non-conventional acts." He referred to biological and chemical agents. They --- Israel's enemies --- are using terror in an attempt to subdue and destroy Israel. Some are trying to acquire nuclear capability in order to annihilate the State of Israel. So far, he said, Israel enjoys a major deterrent to such goals: the superiority of atomic weapons. (Perhaps that is what prevented Nasser from his avowed intention of using mustard gas on Israel in 1967 as he had on Yemen earlier.)

The Israeli population wants an end to all this hostility. It wants to live like other societies, without threats and acts of destruction. Her enemies interpret this as weakness. Israel does not want a religious war. What is to be done when the other side is bent on that? 

In a sobering analysis of the region Ya'alon explained.

There are those in the Arab world wishing to impose Umma Islam, the nation of Islam, on the entire world, starting with the area we call the Middle East. They see any territorial withdrawal as a weakness. They may struggle amongst themselves --- Shiite, bin Laden, Hamas and Hezbollah, Iran - but these groups agree that Israel is to be wiped off the face of the earth as a prelude to their vision of a world without Zionism and the West. The hidden Imam will reappear to establish this world rule of Islam. To this end Iran is supporting Hamas and Hezbollah with annual subventions in the millions of dollars, and encourages their cooperation with each other and with al Qaida and Khaled Mashal of Damascus. The official reactions to cartoons (of Mohammed) recently published in Europe was a flexing of their political/propaganda muscle, and they used the destructive power of their mobs to deter the West. They propagandize that economic sanctions against Iran to deter her nuclear development will lead to the West's devastation.

Ya'alon made a strong point of disagreeing with this notion. "But," he said, "we have to wake up." He then went on to concentrate on Israel's political stance and to advise an essential approach to the issues at hand. He sees the necessity for Israel to establish and articulate clear policy, especially in regard to boundaries. Palestinian forces initiated the Intifada in October 2000 to escape the Oslo agreements for a two-state solution and the establishment of agreed upon boundaries. Arafat turned away from his previous agreement with Israel and the West. It took Israel's military leadership one and a half years to persuade the country's cabinet of Arafat's determination to evade a two state solution. The Pesah massacre of 2002 in Netanya did just that. It presented in no uncertain terms that the other side's leadership is one of no compromise. He went on to say that Iran is speaking their truth, and we should not ignore it.

While that "truth" as espoused by Iran is without any direct connection to the Israel-Palestinian conflict and is not directly aimed at Israel, its aim being to subdue all the Arab states and proclaim its hegemony over the world, still it would sweep her away with the rest of non-Islamic nations. What policies and actions should the world adopt? The world has to recognize that Iran is creating massive mischief in the area. She is funding Hezbollah with annual gifts of 150 to 180 million dollars, and through Beirut gives rewards of $25,000 to $40,000 for suicide bombing attacks. She is active in Iraq, supplying explosive devices and Iranian know-how with the aim to de-stabilize that country. They will try to undermine Arab regimes in the area in order to dominate the Persian Gulf.

Ya'alon mapped out an approach, with the caveat: "In the short run I am pessimistic. In the long run I am an optimist."

The world should aim to: politically isolate Iran, with no access to the UN General Assembly, impose economic sanctions against her, and not exclude a military option. He sees such a pre-emption as the alternative to a nuclear war.

It is not enough for Israel to talk with the nations in the area; we have to explain and demonstrate our civilization. In a clash between civilizations there is some good news: Democratization will prevail. but it requires education first.

Perhaps in an allusion to the Palestinian Authority, but not exclusively, Ya'alon continues, any aid must be predicated on educational reform. We should try very hard to aim for a global village. It is not Islam that is being sold and promulgated by the extremists: it is a perversion of Islam; it is political Islam. We should use the internet and every means of communication and education to emphasize this, to note our shared interests and to establish connections with people of the region. Particularly we should create people-to-people projects with those Palestinians who believe in human rights, and encourage them. We should try very hard to convince our neighbors in the Middle East that cooperation in peaceful projects is in the best interests of our respective populations, that it is not worth their while to be attacking communities in Israel. 

Most in the audience seemed to applaud Ya'alon's candor and approach to the region. One individual, however, (there is always one) rose to state: "Education is something that you can talk about all you want. What we need you to do is to go in and clean out the threat in the region." Protocol and restraint made me hold my counsel. I wanted to ask this fellow: "And how many of your family and circle of friends have you lost in wars and\ terror attacks, big shot? Move to Israel and then give your advice!" 

Moshe Ya'alon was nonplussed. He held to his articulated aims.

Adena Potok, editor-in-chief, Philadelphia Jewish Voice