Israeli ‘Experienced Optimist’ explains Middle East Reality

“In the Middle East, a pessimist is an experienced optimist.”

With these words, former Israeli General and Defense Minister Moshe “Bogie” Ya’alon opened his recent presentation at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. During his lecture, he explained why Israelis examining the Middle East have to “look at the situation in a very realistic and sober, responsible way.”

To introduce Ya’alon, Washington Institute Executive Director Robert Satloff recounted his first interaction with the man in 1995 – before the signing of the Oslo II Accords – and referred to him as a “general who was willing to speak truth to power – a hallmark of Bogie Ya’alon ever since.” He added that before Ya’alon briefed him and other visiting Americans in Jerusalem’s King David Hotel, there “was a moment of hope and optimism [that] maybe – just maybe – the Palestinian-Israeli conflict was approaching the finish line.” He added:

Boy, was he sober. Boy, was he a doubter. He just rained on that parade, and he did it with the facts. He did it with knowledge. He explained why the Israeli-Palestinian conflict regrettably was not ending any time soon. And then, of course, the facts proved him right.

The failure of the Oslo peace process (initiated in 1993) exemplified what Ya’alon rejected as “wishful thinking,” given that the “Middle East is a tough neighborhood.” He said that the slogan “Land for peace” no longer appeals in Israeli politics, following a “move from what they call left to right; I call it right or wrong.” After all, he asked, what did the late Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon get for his 2005 Israeli Gaza Strip withdrawal – “peace and stability, or a rocket launch pad?”

Although he initially supported the Oslo peace process, by 1995, Ya’alon had reversed course through a simple examination of Palestinian media and education, which were filled with violent hatred against Israel. “The conflict is not just about the 1967 lines. It is about Tel Aviv,” he said, as he discussed Israel’s lack of a peace partner among Palestinians. “It is about the reluctance to recognize our right to exist as the nation-state of the Jewish people” anywhere in the Holy Land, he added.

Even Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, a key Oslo peace process leader, viewed the peace process conservatively. Shortly before Rabin was assassinated on Nov. 4, 1995, he said during a Knesset address that a future Palestinian entity would be less than a state. Israel, in turn, would make no complete withdrawal to the indefensible pre-1967 Six-Day War lines and would maintain sovereignty over a united Jerusalem, the Jordan Valley heights and the large-scale Israeli settlements. “Today, [Rabin] probably would be considered a right-wing extremist,” Ya’alon said.

Ya’alon opposed evicting Jews who had settled in the disputed territories, and noted the “very bad precedent” of the evictions that took place during Israel’s Gaza withdrawal. “I don’t want to uproot any Arab from the land of Israel, and I am not ready to uproot any Jew. Both Arabs and Jews have the right to live there,” he said, questioning how evicting people from their homes facilitated reconciliation. “I don’t agree with those who say that settlements are illegal,” he added. “I believe that Jews have the right to live anywhere in the land of Israel.” He clarified that statement by adding that political agreements could modify such rights.

As a resolution for the foreseeable future, Ya’alon advocated for management of the conflict and improvement of the situation from the bottom up, but he rejected the push for an instant solution. Palestinian society is heavily dependent upon Israel’s economy for jobs and trade, and the Palestinian Authority needs assistance from Israeli security to combat threats like Hamas. Concerning the Gaza Strip (“Hamastan”), Ya’alon said that a “responsible, reasonable, realistic policy” means the “communities around the Gaza Strip enjoy unprecedented peace and tranquility,” as indicated by new apartment construction.

Ya’alon’s survey of the Middle East beyond Israel substantiated his description of “ridiculous” suggestions by President Barack Obama and others that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the central issue facing Israel and the surrounding region. Ya’alon noted that the “ongoing geopolitical earthquake” of the Arab Spring had created “endless hostilities in the region as a result of the collapse of what we call the nation-state system – I would say an artificial nation-state system.” Criticizing proposals for a reunified Syria, he joked that “I know how to make an omelet from an egg. I do not know how to make an egg from an omelet, and this is an Israeli shakshuka.” As tribal and sectarian conflicts ravage countries like Iraq, Libya and Yemen, the “Middle East is going to suffer from chronic instability for a very, very long period of time.”

Calling Iran the biggest threat in the Middle East, Ya’alon added, “Iran is still the main generator and instigator for instability in the region.” He noted the Islamic Republic’s retention of a nuclear proliferation capability under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action and rejected agreement proponents’ hopes of increasing Iranian moderation. Those who support the nuclear plan often tout Iran’s fight against the Islamic State and “perceive this regime as part of the solution” in defeating ISIS jihadists. “Of course they are ready to fight Daesh – Shias versus Sunnis,” Ya’alon said. “It is all about gaining dominance and hegemony in the region.”

When discussing Iranian support for Israel’s jihadist enemies like Hamas, Ya’alon noted that through Lebanese terrorist proxy Hezbollah, “Lebanon has been abducted by the Iranian regime. While Israel will almost certainly have another conflict round with Hezbollah in the coming years, if we will go to hostilities in Lebanon, the decisions will be taken in Teheran – not in Beirut. The government of Lebanon has nothing to do with any decision to go to war with Israel. It will be up to [Iran Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei.”

In a unique bright spot in his strategic tour d’horizon, Ya’alon pointed out that “Israel and the Sunni Arab camp today are in the same boat because – first of all – we share common enemies.” In particular, Israelis “enjoy a strategic relationship with Jordan and Egypt – unprecedented, based on common interests.” He pragmatically concluded, “So far, so good. We have found a way to manage the situation.”

This article originally appeared on Philos Project and is reposted with permission.

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Andrew Harrod
Andrew E. Harrod is a freelance researcher and writer who holds a PhD from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and a JD from George Washington University Law School. He is admitted to the Virginia State Bar. He has published over 200 articles concerning various political and religious topics at the American Thinker, Breitbart, Daily Caller, FrontPage Magazine, Gatestone Institute, Institute on Religion and Democracy, Investigative Project on Terrorism, Mercatornet, Religious Freedom Coalition, and World, among others. He is a fellow with the Lawfare Project, an organization combating the misuse of human rights law against Western societies. He can be followed on twitter @AEHarrod.