mir Oren is one of Haaretz’s most artful journalists when he addresses sensitive security-related matters. In his current story (Hebrew, English here), if you read between the lines and put 2+2 together, you’ll understand that Oren is telling us with a wink and a nod that a few of Israel’s Wise Old Men (not all are old, and some haven’t always been wise, but in this case they were) frustrated a plan by Bibi Netanyahu to attack Iran in 2010. This accords with statements made recently by Meir Dagan in which he frets that with the removal from office of virtually the entire military and intelligence leadership over the past few months, there remains no one who will represent an honest and pragmatic voice regarding Israeli policy toward Iran.
Oren’s story is a partially imaginary account of the aftermath of Bibi Netanyahu’s 2011 attack on Iran (which he ominously calls the “first” Iran war). He imagines a national commission of inquiry appointed to examine why Bibi insisted on going to war despite the warnings of his military and intelligence echelons; and why he violated established law and precedent in doing so. Among the tidbits that reveal the outline of the real attack is Oren’s statement that Bibi got his cabinet council to approve a limited military operation, while his real intent was to commence a war against Iran.
I say the account is “partially imaginary” because Oren slips into his account events that really did happen. For example, he reveals that in 2010 Meir Dagan, Gabi Ashkenazi, Yuval Diskin, Shimon Peres and IDF senior commander Gadi Eisenkrot tried to foil a plan by Bibi to attack Iran (in reality they appear to have succeeded at least at the time, in Oren’s imaginary plot they failed).
Through liberally quoting portions of the Winograd Commission findings about the 2006 Lebanon War dealing with the responsibilities of the national military and political leadership to conduct war responsibly, Oren makes clear that in the eyes of Bibi’s opponents his actual Iran war plans would’ve caused Israel to fall into the same trap it faced in Lebanon. And that’s precisely why the Wise Men opposed Bibi. Now, these are some of the same guys I’ve railed against in the past for their various crimes of omission and commission. But if they did what Oren alludes to, then they performed precisely the role that leaders should–they stood in the way of a monomaniacal leader intent on taking Israel into a war that promised potentially disastrous consequences for Israel.
The Haaretz reporter implies that when Bibi and Barak presented their military plans to these leaders they balked and questioned their “legality.” They invoked the dramatic refusal of Gen. Yisrael Tal to accept an order from Defense Minister Moshe Dayan to resume Israel’s war against Egypt, a refusal which led to cancellation of the plans.
Oren adds a profound touch of irony when he notes that the deliberations of the fictional commission were interrupted when the din of air raid sirens and the thunderous roar of incoming Iranian Shihab missiles forced them to scramble into an air raid shelter.
In case any of you are wondering why the reporter couldn’t write the story straight, consider how many ways in which such news would violate Israeli censorship and gag orders.
Maariv fleshes out the real events (Hebrew) on which Oren bases his imaginary story, saying that Dagan’s real break with Bibi and Barak occurred a year ago during discussions among the senior ministerial committee of an attack on Iran (which the Mossad chief opposed). The report says that during these deliberations Dagan came to believe that the two leaders were intent on getting Israel into a “dangerous military adventure in Iran.” Now that those who opposed the attack have departed the scene Israel’s former top spy worries that “there is no one to stop them.”
Dagan has been attacked viciously by Bibi’s henchman as someone who is “insane” (a term apparently used by the prime minister himself to describe his formerly trusted intelligence chief) and seeking to topple the government; and that he’s destroyed whatever deterrent Israel had over Iran by opposing such a war. As a loyal servant of the State, the veteran Israeli intelligence officer would have to have weighed this possibility seriously and carefully. No one could dismiss lightly such criticism, nor would Dagan. There can only be one reason why he would take such a drastic step by criticizing Bibi so intensively (in three separate statements) and publicly: he really believes the prime minister intended and still intends to go to war against Iran. And he believes such a war would be an utter disaster should it happen.
The split we’re seeing here rarely happens in Israeli politics. Usually, at least superficially, the military, intelligence and political echelons circle the wagons when it comes to the important life or death issues. There is rarely anyone with the guts or courage to stand against the prevailing consensus. So what we’re seeing with Dagan’s cri de coeur may be historic and certainly is dramatic. The question is–can Dagan prevail? Can he derail a government plan to attack Iran? But even if he can’t, he is setting himself up as the sole sane one who resisted temptation and tried to speak truth to power. This should stand him in good stead politically if there is anything left of Israel to lead should Bibi-Barak take Israel into its next foolhardy military adventure.
This article first appeared at Tikun Olam