On March 23, 2006, five days before the Israeli elections, I accompanied my second son, Elchanon, to the Israeli army recruitment center in Jerusalem, from where he was to begin his service in the Israeli army for the next three years. En route to the base, we encountered a minibus of candidates for the Israeli Labor Party led by newly elected party leader Amir Peretz, who descended onto Jaffa Road in Jerusalem to shake hands.
When Peretz greeted us, we asked him about the security situation. His response was quick and honest: “David, I know nothing about security. Ask the generals in my party. That is for them to worry about.” Pressing the issue, this reporter asked Peretz how he, as a party leader, would deal with the current security threat to Israel.
Peretz reiterated once again that the only threat he could perceive was the internal socioeconomic threat, which, in his words, was “the only security threat that could possibly pose a danger to Israel.”
Four TV crews caught Peretz in his passion – a former union leader speaking only on the socioeconomic issues facing the country, with no interest whatsoever in security matters.
Yet, only six weeks later, a man who declared that he knew nothing about security was appointed by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert as Israel’s Minister of Defense, while Olmert left the labor-social welfare portfolio unmanned for the next 10 months.
Less than four months later, Olmert and his unusual appointee at the Ministry of Defense went to war with Hezbollah.
At a time when almost all press attention focuses on the Investigation Commission’s conclusions about Prime Minister Olmert, it might be most instructive to pay attention to what the commission states about the functioning of Israeli Defense Minister Peretz:
“The Minister of Defense did not have knowledge or experience in military, political or governmental matters. He also did not have good knowledge of the basic principles of using military force to achieve political goals. Despite these serious gaps, he made his decisions during this period without systematic consultations with experienced political and professional experts, including outside the security establishment. In addition, he did not give adequate weight to reservations expressed in the meetings he attended … .
“The Minister of Defense did not act within a strategic conception of the systems he oversaw. He did not ask for the IDF’s operational plans and did not examine them; he did not check the preparedness and fitness of IDF; and did not examine the fit between the goals set and the modes of action presented and authorized for achieving them. His influence on the decisions made was mainly [limited to small details] and operational. He did not put on the table – and did not demand presentation – of serious strategic options for discussion with the Prime Minister and the IDF … .
“The Minister of Defense failed in fulfilling his functions. Therefore, his serving as Minister of Defense during the war impaired Israel’s ability to respond well to its challenges.”
No investigation commission was needed to prove the point that Ehud Olmert picked the wrong man to head the Israeli Ministry of Defense.
The question remains: Where is the protest of the rank and file of Israel’s Labor party and the public-at-large against a Defense Minister who acknowledged during his election campaign last year that, “I know nothing about security”?
Since assuming the office of Defense Minister, Peretz has spent countless hours learning about American politics, to improve his ability to negotiate with the top brass of the American defense establishment. It would do well for Peretz to internalize the adage of the great American Commander in Chief Abraham Lincoln, who once said: “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.”
David Bedein can be reached at Media@actcom.co.il. His Web site is www.IsraelBehindTheNews.com
©The Bulletin 2007