From Egypt to Turkey to Iran to the international Left to the Obama administration, Israel faces a mix of military and political challenges that threaten its very existence on multiple levels. To meet these challenges, it is vital for the government and people of Israel to stand strong, unified and determined. The approaching storm will test our resilience as we have never been tested before.
Unfortunately, even if the government is competent, and even if the nation stands strong, there is reason to fear that Israel will fail to successfully withstand the dangers gathering against it. Unelected, unrepresentative and irresponsible senior government officials are liable to take actions that undermine the government’s ability to protect the country and weaken the public’s morale and unity of purpose.
Over the past week, we received two reminders of how dire the situation is. The first reminder relates to institutional impediments to the government’s freedom of action in preventing Iran from fielding a nuclear arsenal.
Since the beginning of his first term as prime minister 15 years ago, Binyamin Netanyahu has consistently warned that the greatest dangers Israel faces stem from the forces of global jihad generally and the Iranian regime and its nuclear program specifically. After taking office for the second time in 2009, Netanyahu made blocking Iran’s rise to nuclear power his top priority. He ordered the heads of the Mossad and the IDF to prepare plans to attack Iran’s nuclear installations.
Last Friday, Haaretz reported that former Mossad chief Meir Dagan and former IDF chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi refused to obey his order. Rather than prepare strike plans, Dagan and Ashkenazi warned that such a strike would foment a regional war. That is, rather than do their jobs, they made excuses for failing to fulfill their duty to obey Israel’s elected leadership.
Not wanting to take them on directly, Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak decided to wait them out. Dagan and Ashkenazi were both set to finish their terms at the beginning of the year, and Netanyahu and Barak figured they could replace them with commanders who would abide by the government’s wishes. Specifically, Barak and Netanyahu believed that by replacing Ashkenazi with his deputy Maj.-Gen. Yoav Galant, they would have a military leader willing and able to take on the central challenge of preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear power.
Barak announced last August that Galant would replace Ashkenazi as IDF chief in January. Galant’s appointment was approved by the government and by the Senior Appointments Commission. But in late January, the government was forced to cancel it. And this week we received new indications that Galant’s appointment fell victim to what has been likened to a palace coup. That is, the government was denied its right to choose its military leader by a group of senior officials who deliberately usurped that power from the government.
In January, we learned that Ashkenazi’s close associate Lt.-Col. (ret.) Boaz Harpaz had forged a document that was transferred by Ashkenazi’s office to Channel 2. The forgery purported to be a memo written for Galant by the public relations firm owned by Eyal Arad – Kadima’s public relations guru. The forged memo detailed a public relations campaign that would discredit Galant’s rivals and Ashkenazi, and so pave the way for Galant’s appointment as chief of General Staff. Channel 2’s broadcast of the memo seriously harmed Galant’s public image.
The police opened an investigation, and Harpaz admitted to forging the document. Despite revelations that Harpaz was in intensive, continuous contact with Ashkenazi’s wife Ronit and had a longstanding close friendship with Ashkenazi himself, the Military Advocate- General decided not to investigate Ashkenazi or any other officer about their ties to Harpaz and his forged document.
Over the weekend, Yediot Aharonot reported that last week Harpaz underwent two lengthy interrogations by State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss. Harpaz is reportedly divulging information about his connections to Ashkenazi.
Despite Harpaz’s own admission that he forged the document, Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein has abstained, to date, from indicting him. Although jarring, Weinstein’s actions are not surprising. It was Weinstein who personally overturned Galant’s appointment in January.
Harpaz’s defamatory memo wasn’t the only thing working against Galant’s appointment. A previously unknown environmental group called the Green Movement filed a petition with the Supreme Court calling for the cancellation of Galant’s appointment because in the past he had used the state lands around his family homestead in Moshav Amikam without permission. Since his actions were administrative infractions rather than criminal acts, the Senior Appointments Commission concluded that he was fit to serve as chief of staff.
Weinstein felt differently. Claiming that he had ethical problems with Galant’s behavior, Weinstein refused to defend the appointment to the Supreme Court. Weinstein’s announcement forced the government to cancel Galant’s appointment.
Ashkenazi’s chosen successor,Maj.-Gen. Benny Gantz, whom Barak had previously eliminated from the running, was appointed instead.
Perhaps due to fear that Gantz might not stand up to Netanyahu and Barak as he and Ashkenazi did, Dagan shocked the country last month by launching an unprecedented public attack against Netanyahu and Barak. His clear aim was to discredit the option of an Israeli military strike against Iran.
According to Haaretz, Dagan was motivated by his desire to cover up his failure to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Also according to Haaretz, Ashkenazi, together with recently retired IDF intelligence chief Maj.-Gen. Amos Yadlin, supported Dagan’s attacks through off-record briefings.
It is impossible for the public to know what is going on behind closed doors. We cannot know whether a worthy general’s rivals’ successful campaign to discredit him has doomed the country to another three years of defeatist, incompetent stewardship of the IDF – and what’s worse, to a nuclear-armed Iran. What we do know is that a handful of unelected civil servants took it upon themselves to undermine the government’s ability to lead the country.
The government is not the only target on the runaway clerks’ target list. Members of the nationalist camp are also subject to systematic campaigns of criminalization and demoralization.
This week we were witness to the troubling spectacle of senior rabbis being dragged into police stations for questioning. Their purported crime involves writing blurbs praising a religious book written by another rabbi.
The book in question is reportedly a highly controversial tome that sets out the religious precepts governing the killing of enemies of Israel in times of war and peace. It was authored by Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira from Yitzhar.
Several leftist organizations filed a complaint against the book, claiming that it incites murder of non-Jews. Shapira was arrested and brought before the district court for arraignment in leg shackles and handcuffs last year.
And over the past several days, Rabbis Dov Lior and Ya’acov Yosef have been arrested and questioned by police for the blurbs they authored that were published in the book.
It is hard to know the basis for the complaint. Generally Israeli law stipulates that there has to be a tangible connection between incendiary words and the likely commission of the crime they incite. No such connection seems to exist in the case of Shapira’s book.
In the wake of Lior’s arrest, his students staged raucous, enraged protests against the State Attorney’s Office and the Supreme Court. For their part, senior prosecutors announced that no one in Israel is above the law. And this is true enough.
Unfortunately they do not practice what they preach. In arresting the rabbis, the police were acting in accordance with their instructions from Assistant Attorney-General for Special Projects Shai Nitzan.
The bulk of Nitzan’s duties revolve around applying the law in a discriminatory manner against the Israeli Right.
Following Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination in 1995, then-attorney-general Michael Ben-Yair established Nitzan’s position. The position was specifically geared toward criminalizing Israelis who live beyond the 1949 armistice lines.
Among other things, the assistant attorneygeneral for special projects oversees the operation of an inter-agency group called the Task Force for Law Enforcement against Israelis in Judea and Samaria.
The task force was officially canceled in 1998 by the government, acting on the advice of then-attorney-general Elyakim Rubenstein. Rubenstein argued that the task force’s mission of enforcing specific laws against a specific population group was inherently discriminatory.
In breach of the government decision, the task force has continued to meet regularly. Nitzan has overseen its activities since he was promoted to his position in 2005.
In 2009, MK Ze’ev Elkin convened a special Knesset hearing on the activities of Nitzan’s task force. According to an Arutz 7 report of the proceedings, he subpoenaed protocols from the meetings and found that its activities were deeply prejudicial and politically motivated. Among other things, the protocols disclosed that the task force members were required to file a minimum monthly quota of five criminal complaints against Israelis in Judea and Samaria suspected of building violations.
The quota system is doubly prejudicial. First, by making investigations an institutional requirement rather than a function of the suspected commission of specific illegal acts, it is an invitation for frivolous prosecutions and official harassment.
Second, inside the 1949 armistice lines, the general practice is to treat building violations as administrative rather than criminal offenses. By using a different practice for Israelis living outside the armistice lines, Nitzan and his team members enacted a separate legal regime for a select group of citizens, thus undermining the foundations of the rule of law.
Elkin’s 2009 hearing made no difference. And after Lior’s arrest last week, Elkin again demanded its disbanding in accordance with the government decision and the rule of law. And no doubt, the legal fraternity will continue to ignore his calls.
Through their behavior, the legal fraternity is not merely making a mockery of the rule of law. They are undermining the social fabric of the country.
As for the government, the senior civil service’s erosion of the governing authority of the political leadership has risen to critical levels. As Galant’s scuttled appointment and Dagan’s and Ashkenazi’s behavior regarding Iran’s nuclear program make clear, we have reached the point where due to the subversion of senior officials, our elected leaders are denied the ability to perform their primary function of defending the country.
This state of affairs has simply got to end. The government and the Knesset need to put a stop to it. At the end of the day, the ayatollahs, the sheikhs, the UN and the anarchists are not our greatest challenge. Our leaders and our people can stand up to them. Our greatest challenge is to stand up to unelected officials who have taken it upon themselves to discredit the cause of victory, embrace weakness, and destroy our sense of national purpose. email@example.com
Caroline B. Glick is the senior Middle East fellow at the Center for Security Policy in Washington, D.C., and the deputy managing editor of The Jerusalem Post, where this article first appeared.
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