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Israel's Border Intifada and Mossad

Israel's Defense Minister Ehud Barak:'Israel Has No Choice But To Defend Her Borders - Syrian President Bashar Assad Is On His Way Out As Is Libya's Gadaffi & Yemen's Saleh'

IsraCast Assessment: Former Mossad Director Meir Dagan's Opposition To Israeli Military Strike On Iran Continues To Arouse Pros & Cons

 Israel has reacted firmly to Arab attempts to launch an uprising, or intifada in Arabic, along its borders. Rioters from Syria tried again and were repulsed as were Palestinians at the Kalandia check point on the West Bank and at the Gaza border. In another development, the tight-lipped former Mossad Director Meir Dagan, has set off a major controversy by launching a peace initiative to the Palestinians and not Israeli jets at Iran's nuclear weapons facilities.

 'They shall not pass!' - that was the unequivocal message the IDF sent to the rioters from Syria who came swarming again toward Israel's border on the Golan Heights. This time the IDF was better prepared and did what was required to protect Israel's sovereignty, including the opening of fire with live ammunition. Clearly, Syrian President Bashar Assad had instigated a second would-be penetration in a patent attempt to draw attention from his bloody crackdown of his own Syrian protestors. On the West Bank, Palestinian demonstrators also went on the rampage at the Kalandia check-post near East Jerusalem, but again Israel was determined to quell any attempt to spread the 'Arab Spring' to its territory. There is a broad Israeli consensus to stifle any 'border intifada' on which neither Right nor Left is willing to budge. Defense Minister Ehud Barak declared: 'We have no alternative, we must defend our borders. We have tried to keep Arab casualties to a minimum, but everyone must understand that the Israeli measures were appropriate and necessary.

Responsibility falls on whoever initiated the attempted incursion into Israeli territory by hundreds of rock throwing rioters'. Syria condemned Israel for killing some twenty-four Arabs and injuring several hundred others; Israel believed that fewer than ten were killed, possibly some while trying to cross a minefield along the border. Barak pointed to the irony of Syria's condemnation of Israel while ordering its own security forces to shoot to kill over 1200 Syrian civilians demanding their civil rights and noted that Syria actually sits on the UN's Council For Human Rights in Geneva. As for President Bashar Assad, Barak was convinced that he would fall eventually after having lost his legitimacy in the eyes of the Syrian people. It was still possible that Assad might stabilize his position within the next six months or so, but he would be severely weakened. If the Alewite regime continues the killing of Syrian civilians, cracks will open inside the Syrian army and Assad's fate will be sealed. The Defense Minister also believed the same fate awaited Gadaffi in Libya and Saleh in Yemen.

Ehud Barak (Photo: Amit Shabi)

Interviewed on Israel Radio, Barak was asked for his reaction to the controversial comments by former Mossad Director Meir Dagan that have rocked the political establishment. Speaking at Tel Aviv University Dagan said: 'I think there should be an Israeli political initiative to the Palestinians. They are here, we must reach a settlement with them and my consideration is the welfare of Israel and my wish to ensure its existence. If we wait, we may find ourselves in a reality where things will be imposed upon us and when it comes to the choice between an imposed settlement and an initiative, I prefer the initiative'. One possibility might be negotiating secretly with pragmatic states in the region that have a supreme interest in reaching an accord with Israel. In his view, Israel should have accepted the Saudi Initiative that proposed the founding of a Palestinian state on the basis of the 1967 lines in return for full recognition of Israel by the Arab countries.

As for an Israeli strike against Iran's nuclear targets Dagan stated: 'The military option should be the last option, not the preferred or possible option. Before the use of force we must examine every other means. In considering a military operation, Israel must ask what would happen a day later and what international situation would we face. We have no capability to halt Iran's nuclear project, only to delay it. If we strike, we would be giving Iran the very excuse to continue its nuclear weapons project. In all fairness, I must say neither the Prime Minister nor anyone else has decided to attack. If anyone considers this seriously he must understand he will be drawing Israel into a regional war with no way of knowing how we will exit. The security challenge will be intolerable'.

Dagan then directed his critique to Israel's political leadership:'To my regret our leadership is not coupled with responsibility. The leadership in recent times has not succeeded in presenting a vision. I'm not referring to the current government. Everyone is talking about the 'Peoples' Spring' - what people, what spring! ..... The Prime Minister and Defense Minister bear responsibility but sometimes brains and sound decision-making are not based on the fact that you were elected to office'.

Meir Dagan

During his eight year tenure as Mossad Chief, Dagan had kept his personal views more or less to himself. Two weeks ago, shortly after leaving office he was quoted as saying: 'The silliest thing I've ever heard is that Israel should now attack Iran's nuclear installations!' But his latest diatribe, that targeted Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak and seemed to torpedo the possibility of unilaterally attacking Iran at this time, sparked a verbal firestorm. Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin of the Likud and a number of cabinet ministers castigated Dagan for revealing state secrets. He was also accused of having an ulterior motive - currying favor with the Center and Left before launching a future political career. (Dagan had previously declared that he had no political aspirations, he simply did not want to bear responsibility for another 'Yom Kippur War' by not speaking out.) And remember the former intelligence chief was once portrayed by the Egyptian newspaper Al Aharam as 'Israel's Superman who almost single-handedly set back Iran's nuclear program by years'. When he speaks about Iran and the Palestinians, Israelies listen up.

Defense Minister Barak responded by saying that during his lifetime, Dagan had contributed a great deal to Israel's security. However his comments were 'grave and unworthy and directly impaired Israel's deterrent capability'. Moreover, Israel has stressed that all options are on the table and this has bolstered international pressure for sanctions on Iran. By ostensibly dispelling this ambiguity about what Israel is planning, Dagan had undermined Israel's deterrence and credibility. In Barak's view, it was only natural that such discussions be conducted behind closed doors and it was the elected officials, who bore ultimate responsibility for decision-making.

What has been the reaction in Tehran to the furor over Dagan's statements? Analyst Menashe Amir told IsraCast that the regime was delighted the former Mossad director had voiced such strong opposition to a unilateral strike. Iranian officials have said it verified their assessment that Israel does not have a military option against their nuclear installations. On the other hand, Iranian intelligence experts are always looking for intrigues - for example maybe Dagan spoke out against attacking in order to deceive Iran and hide Israel's real intention to strike in the near future.

The Iranian Missile Range

It should be noted that Dagan did not rule an Israeli attack in all circumstances - what he did stress was it should only be a last resort. If Iran acquires nuclear weapons the danger of a nuclear strike on Israel would outweigh the cost incurred by Israel's launching a preemptive strike. Bear in mind the 'clear and present danger' posed by Saddam Hussein's nuclear reactor in 1981. It induced Prime Minister Menahem Begin and his cabinet to launch the air strike that eliminated what was perceived as another potential Holocaust. In this context, the classic intelligence formula or intentions and capabilities becomes preeminent. Tehran has repeatedly declared its desire to see the Jewish state 'wiped off the map' - in international parlance that passes for intention. The second aspect of capabilities is another matter.

In his final briefing to the Knesset Foreign Affairs Committee, Dagan estimated the Iranians would not be able to get their hands on a complete nuclear delivery system until 2015. As the intelligence officer who is widely reported to have thrown many monkey wrenches into Iran's nuclear works, Dagan should have a pretty good idea of what he is talking about. However, there is always the unknown factor that the Mossad and others are unaware of how far Iran may have advanced in clandestine nuclear activities. Cost effectiveness becomes meaningless when a nation is faced with possible annihilation; if it guesses wrong and if an incoming Iranian nuclear missile is not knocked out by one of Israel's Arrow interceptors. Prof. Bernard Lewis has also warned that MAD theory - mutually assured destruction - that kept the U.S. and U.S.S.R. from going to nuclear war, may not be applicable to Iran that is ruled not by pragmatic politicians but by Islamist fanatics with a divine mission of ruling the world. If these zealots acquired nuclear weapons, what might they decide if threatened by overthrow? Might they not launch a nuclear attack not only to destroy the Jewish state but to also punish their own Iranian opponents by a retaliatory Israeli strike?

From another angle, the very fact that Dagan has referred to a possible Israeli preemptive strike would seem to indicate that Israel's political leadership believes that it does have the military capability to successfully conduct such a complicated military option. A prominent Israeli expert, Maj.Gen.(res.)Yitzak Ben Yisrael has previously indicated that it could be done. In the past, foreign sources have reported that the Israel Air Force has been preparing for such a mission and has carried out simulated attacks.

David Essing

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