Those optimists who are holding out hope that Hamas may eventually come around and decide to give up the part of its charter that calls for the destruction of Israel and start to work towards a diplomatic peace with the Jewish state may want to avoid speaking with Moshe Ya’alon.
When The Jewish Standard asked him before a Jewish National Fund fund-raiser in Closter earlier this month if there was a possibility of Hamas ever coming around, the former chief of staff of the Israeli Defense Forces and Israel’s former head of intelligence answered sharply and definitively. "No."
Moshe Ya’alon, here with JNF professional Talia Tzour, says that Israel now knows what it is dealing with in Hamas.
And if anyone has firsthand knowledge of the situation, it’s Ya’alon, who served as IDF chief from ‘000 until June ‘005, almost the entirety of the Palestinians’ second Intifada. Before that, he served as head of Aman, Israel’s military intelligence unit, from 1995 until 1998, then as commander of IDF central command until ‘000.
He was at the center of dealing militarily with the Palestinian Authority, Yasser Arafat, and the Palestinian street during a time when Israel tried to maintain a hope for peace and to foster a partner for peace in the Palestinians, often receiving mixed messages from its potential bedfellow in a two-state solution.
But Ya’alon, who now works for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a D.C.- based think tank focusing on the Middle East, delivered a less than hopeful message to the gathering of potential JNF funders at the home of Zelda and Bernard Levere. The last couple of decades, he said, he has seen a shift in the Muslim take on Israel. On the one hand, the Jewish state’s neighbors, led primarily by Iran in the post-Shah era, have taken a more religiously fundamental approach to Israel, rallying their people behind the notion that Islam has a religious claim to the land.
But they have also become more wary of Israel’s military power.
"What we faced in the last two decades was a recognition with Egypt, Jordan, and almost Syria, that they should recognize the strength of Israelis and that there is no way to wipe Israel off of the map," he said.
That recognition came after repeated failures by a semi-united Arab front to wage successful conventional war against Israel, first with its loss to the Israelis in the country’s 1948 War for Independence, then in the 1967 War, and in 1973’s Yom Kippur War.
This led the Arab world to resort to what he called "sub-" and "super-conventional" war. Sub-conventional, he said, included launching Katyusha rockets from Lebanon and other points, and super-conventional includes the use of jihad and the threat of weapons of mass destruction such as chemical agents and biological weapons.
And calling Palestinian waged-violence over the past six years during which 1,080 Israelis were casualties, and 75 percent of those were civilians an intifada is to use a misnomer, he said: An intifada is a spontaneous uprising from the street. What Israel has faced was a non-conventional war arranged by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
"There is a lot of confusion. In ‘000 Arafat instituted a war not an intifada to avoid the end of the conflict and a two-state solution and to avoid recognition of Israel. He decided to blow it and to blow the process," he said. "I saw it in ‘000, when Ehud Barak said that in 15 months we would have a final settlement . Arafat instead prepared a war."
"They believed and they still believe that the weakest link is the ability of our people to stand together not the IDF," he said.
Still, the past six years led to a lot of confusion in Israel, Washington, and the rest of the world that wanted to support Arafat because of continuing hope that the longtime terrorist was serious about peace.
This is where Ya’alon sees the victory of Hamas, a known terrorist organization bent on the eradication of the Jewish state, as sort of a bleak positive because there is no ambiguity left about what Israel is dealing with.
The Palestinian people have aligned themselves with a radical Islamist faction, including Iran and Hezbollah, that aims not just for the destruction of Israel but that sets itself up as a sworn enemy of the entirety of Western culture and will not rest until it sees Islam sitting on the throne of the world, he said.
Ya’alon, who has been accused of revealing, at a similar event, that Israel has a military option against Iran, stayed away from talking about possible specific military actions. But he did say that one way to defeat the Islamists was by building up Israeli infrastructure, specifically in the Negev through JNF initiatives, such as Blueprint Negev.
"We need to defeat this. We are strong enough, and we shouldn’t ignore it," he said.
For more information about JNF, visit www.jnf.org.