He despises the Chief of the General Staff, doesn’t appreciate the head of the Israeli Security Agency and his comments about the Head of Intelligence Directorate are not fit for print.
- While the heads of the defense establishment were discussing the disengagement plan, he was already settling things in Washington.
- How Dov Weisglass was transformed from an attorney specializing in shady deals into one of the people with the most influence on the history of the Middle East.
- Last Friday, the Chief of the General Staff Lt. Gen. Moshe Ya’alon called a meeting of his think tank. Members of the forum include selected generals from the General Staff and other experts. Every week they focus on a relevant issue, attempt to re-analyze it and develop creative concepts or solutions. This time, Ya’alon asked the participants to leave everything else aside and focus on the million-dollar question: the disengagement plan, an outline of its character and plans for implementing it in the field.
While they were still discussing the issue, Brigadier General Mike Herzog, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz’s military attaché, took the role of the small child, who sees “the emperor’s new clothes” and said, “Here you are discussing disengagement but you are out of touch. Duby Weisglass has already laid out all the details in Washington, you’re spinning your wheels”.
The Chief of the General Staff and many of his top brass went berserk. It wasn’t the first time that they received a report on the adventures of the Weisglass and Condoleezza in the big city. Last week Mofaz hosted two meetings to work on operational plans for the evacuation of the Gaza Strip. Members of the defense establishment are trying to build professional work plans, learn the lessons of the escape from Lebanon, weigh the data, synthesize all of the intelligence and information with the demands of the government when along comes Weisglass and settles everything in America. They are thinking, weighing, considering – and he is doing.
The real tension that has developed during the last few months between the upper echelons of the military and the political leadership focuses, more and more, on the Prime Minister’s Bureau Chief, Dov Weisglass, who is known in some security forums as “consiglieri”. Many things could and are being said about Weisglass but he is not Chief of the General Staff, yet. However, according to information circulating around military headquarters in Tel Aviv, he in fact is. He unrolls maps, draws lines, explains movements, moves military forces, uproots settlements and grinds them against each other.
Ya’alon and more than a few other generals see what there is to see, hear what there is to hear and are furious. For now, they are relatively quiet. When Sharon reprimanded Ya’alon on television this week, it was just the trailer. The full-length, dramatic action film is yet to come.
To Weisglass’s credit, let it be said immediately, that he is [only] fulfilling his boss’s desires. At every opportunity, Sharon makes it clear that he is not being lead, not being convinced and not being deceived. He, Sharon, and no one else, is making the decisions. Weisglass has also made it clear that Maj. Gen. Giora Eiland is the person describing the operational, military aspects to the Americans. However, from a semi-historical perspective, there is no doubt that the presence of Dov Weisglass in the Prime Minister’s bureau during this critical period has given Sharon a significant thrust forward and converted desires into plans on the ground and given a turbo-charged boost to his cranky engine.
Not everyone close to Sharon supports the format that the disengagement plan has taken. Many of them, inside and outside of the bureau, thought about evacuating Netzarim and maybe one or two more settlements in the Gaza Strip and nothing more, before returning in peace to [Sharon’s] Sycamore Ranch. Just enough to prove that it can be done, to hear the cheers, receive the compensation and collect the rewards while still preserving the coalition.
But Weisglass took it full speed ahead. One of his chief allies, by the way, is Gilad Sharon. Of all the people in the world, Gilad Sharon is the one his father relies on the most, in these fateful days when the destiny of the disengagement plan will be determined. The process could turn disengagement into entanglement. The situation is very delicate. Every voice counts. Every move is influential.
During the last year, without any advance planning, Dov Weisglass has become one of the people with the most influence on the history of the region. Many credit him with this achievement. Others (fewer in number), consider it the improper, disaster-prone take-over of an elite attorney, a specialist in shady deals from smoky rooms, who is leading an entire country to an undefined destination. To his credit, Weisglass supplies the goods for everyone. Unlike members of the General Staff, he has a sense of humor, a very good sense of humor. He despises the Chief of the General Staff (the feeling is mutual), doesn’t appreciate the head of the Israeli Security Agency (in the bureau Dichter is called “the watchmaker” and gets good grades for preventing attacks but very low ones for strategic thinking and perception). His comments about the Head of Intelligence Directorate are not fit for print.
On the one hand, it is not nice to behave this way. On the other hand, it is refreshing. For a change, a senior government official does not accept everything the top brass says as if it were divine revelation, does not automatically revere their doctrine, thinks independently and helps his boss clear the obstacles from his difficult path up the mountains against large (possibly larger) forces and all odds. Ehud Barak was the last one who did it, went he withdraw from Lebanon against the advise of the army. The results remain controversial to this day.
Over the years, Shimon Peres regularly complained about the army’s take over of diplomatic, intellectual, ideological and political life in Israel. His advisor Avi Gil disparaged this situation in meetings with Ariel Sharon, Uzi Shani and Omri Sharon, throughout his entire term of office. Behold, how strange history can be. Sharon, through Weisglass, is the one who made the radical change.
The plan is currently being developed.
The Americans were here and went home. Weisglass was there and returned home. Sharon is supposed to follow (not definite). A draft of the Security Council’s disengagement plan was published in Maariv on Thursday but we mustn’t forget that the ball is now in Sharon’s court. If he wants, he could dribble it into the opposing court. If he wants, he could kick it into the stands. The Prime Minister could get cold feet at the last moment, change direction, freeze the process or maneuver it into the depths of forgetfulness. Everything is still possible. Nothing is irreversible. Weisglass will always be there to explain everything in the best possible way.
Back to the Chief of the General Staff. His comments at the Erez checkpoint about the connection between terror and the talk of disengagement were cautious. In an ordinary situation, the Prime Minister would not take the time to call Amnon Abramowitz to the phone while Lt. Gen. Ya’alon was enjoying himself at the theater. However, the situation Monday night was not ordinary. Ya’alon’s words reached eager ears in the government and supported comments by other officers (GOC Southern Command and commander of the Gaza Division.
Girding up his loins
On Sunday and Monday, government ministers who were considered potential supporters of the disengagement plan or “soft” opponents who could be influenced, began calling and quoting officers, especially the Chief of the General Staff. The bureau began to panic. They began to count votes. The chance that the Prime Minister would be able get the disengagement plan through the Likud ministers, the government and the party were going up in smoke. The only one who could reverse the trend was Minister of Defense Shaul Mofaz. However, at that very moment Mofaz was meeting with Jacques Chirac’s tough Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie and explaining the main points of disengagement plan to her.
From there, Mofaz was scheduled to continue to Washington for meetings with Powell, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice and others so that he could explain it to them also. However, it suddenly became urgent for him to return home and explain it to us, first. Weisglass and Sharon found themselves longing for Mofaz like they had never done before. Monday afternoon, someone in the bureau toyed with the idea of having Mofaz return to Israel immediately, in order to calm Ya’alon and his generals and provide a counterweight to their buzz. With all due respect to the Americans, the house was on fire at home and it needed to be extinguished before it spread. Phones in Paris began to ring but it was finally decided not to change the Defense Minister’s schedule, to make due with the available resources at home and begin to attack.
The offensive began on the 8 o’clock news on Channel 2. Mofaz spent that night on the telephone, calling the various bureaus, calming angered spirits and cooling the atmosphere. Mofaz is well acquainted with this situation. During Sharon’s previous administration, he was Chief of the General Staff and annoyed the Prime Minister on more than one or two occasions. For now, the end came out well but all is not well. Next week, Mofaz will return home and need to gird up his loins in order to help Sharon and Weisglass, who is considered his political patron, against the mounting political criticism.
The British initiative
Now that it is clear that Maj. Gen. Eiland recommends leaving the Philadelphi Route between the Gaza Strip and Egypt in Israeli hands (and even widening it) and not evacuating the three northern most settlements in the strip, the task ahead of Weisglass and Company seems harder than ever. Silvan Shalom’s assumption that the disengagement will necessarily bring about early elections is taking shape before our eyes. Shimon Peres would gladly join Sharon’s Likud government but it isn’t clear that the Likud would stay.
Meanwhile, the earth continues to shake. News about the disengagement plan startled the region, especially Egypt. Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, who has been investing great effort in the Egyptian project, went to Cairo for the first visit of an Israeli Foreign Minister in Egypt during Sharon’s administration. The role of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip could and should be critical. A change in Egyptian policy towards Israel, that began hesitantly a few months ago, is becoming more stable as time passes. Mubarak asked for a discrete meeting with American Jewish leaders when he visits George W. Bush in Houston, Texas next month. The Egyptian are willing to invest in the retraining the Palestinian forces and are making a tremendous investment in the effort to ensure that the Gaza Strip does not fall into the hands of Hamas when Israel leaves. In private conversations, the Egyptians, especially General Omar Suleiman. They have no intention of letting the Hamas flourish in their backyard. The question is, what is the Hamas planning.
British involvement is also gathering steam. The British security initiative that was revealed here several weeks ago, became known this week during Prime Minister Tony Blair’s meeting with his Palestinian counterpart Abu Ala, in London. A high-level British source said that Blair stubbornly returned Abu Ala to the subject of security three times during their conversation. The plan currently referred to as the “Palestinian initiative” is based on the principles of British plan.
The goal is to establish situation rooms, unify the security forces, stop the bickering between the heads of the services and get to work, under British supervision, with European and American assistance. According to the British, the plan will be expanded based on results, not based on promises. Israel will act if necessary. If things actually begin to move, Israeli is supposed to remove approximately 200 members of the Al Aksa Brigade, who officially agree to lay down their arms, from the list of wanted terrorists. This would be a potential confidence-building step and the beginning of something bigger: the possible renewal of negotiations between the sides. The Palestinians are supposed to use this potential momentum in order to stop the disengagement and restart negotiations based on the road map. As of now, Israeli is watching developments with skepticism mixed with scorn, based on passed experience. As usual, time will tell.
This was not an easy week for Ariel Sharon but the previous week was much worse. The Prime Minister is still licking his wounds from the publicity of his factual, proven connection with Elhanan Tennenbaum. Sharon continues to claim that he didn’t know, didn’t hear, didn’t understand, didn’t think and didn’t imagine that the woman and two children with whom had met for the last three years (Tennenbaum’s wife and children) were the daughter and grandchildren of his former partner Shimon Cohen. All this despite, the facts, declarations, recordings and evidence the contrary, despite it all.
Sharon’s bureau was busy counting teeth this week. With assistance from Maj. Gen. Yoav Gallant’s protocol (that made its way to Yediot Ahronot) we progressed from extracting one tooth, to three teeth. Is it important that on the way we also slightly soiled the reputation of Ilan Biran who is an honest and upright officer? The goal is the main thing. How Sharon jumped from three teeth to “they have extracted all his teeth and fingernails, he is dying and losing his mind,” we may never know. Yossi Sarid said these things on October 7, 2002. He had heard the story about “three teeth” four months earlier, in June. Perhaps he heard something else in between? Who gave the information? Who takes responsibility? Maybe next week, they will manage to gather a few more teeth somewhere. Thirty more are needed to obtain a toothless mouth.
In the meantime, it has been decided that the State Comptroller will investigate. That is good. We should hope and believe that the comptroller will be able to reach all of the witnesses who are threatened, all of those who, for the last few days, are afraid to leave their homes and go to their offices. All those who shared the secrets (not so long ago) and told the truth about the connections between Sharon’s family and Simon Cohen’s family, including, Tennenbaum himself.
Sharon himself has rightfully been injured by the publicity. He earned this injury honestly. The Prime Minister’s reliability has been shattered in recent months. How could it be that the IDF Spokesman’s office called the Prime Minister’s bureau on Monday night and were told that they don’t now anything about Abramowitz’s texts, which he had received from Sharon himself? How can the Prime Minster, in his own voice, deny things that he said, in his own voice, to this writer, only three weeks earlier regarding the exchange of densely populated Arab-Israeli areas? It is impossible to not know, not recognize, deny and gaze skyward all the time. Sometimes, the cup runnet over.
Sharon is confidently making his way to the media standing that his predecessors Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak each earned for themselves in their day. We need to hope and pray that a direct connection between Sharon and Tennenbaum and the obsession that possessed him with regard to the prisoner exchange deal [can be explained?]. However, when the questions begin to pile up, we must demand, loudly and clearly, that they be investigated. It is no less important to investigate the functioning of all branches of the defense and security establishment who fell asleep on the watch and continued dose, even after the alarm was sounded. These issues cannot be left unresolved.
The comptroller’s inquiry does not exempt MK Yuval Shteinitz, Chairman of the Subcommittee for Intelligence and Secret Services, from responsibility, He is usually a fair and honest man but now, for some reason, he is silent. Quick and loudly, he initiated an investigation of the defense and intelligence establishments’ functioning with regards to the war in Iraq, which did not cause major damage. This case, which stinks to high heaven, he has buried deep in his drawer. It is the nature of cases like this to continue smelling and dirtying everyone around them, including the owner of the drawer.
This article appeared in Maariv on March 12, 2004