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January 16, 2014 12:10 pm

Moshe Ya’alon and the Dangers of Truth-Telling

avatar by Jerold Auerbach

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Moshe Ya'alon. Photo: Jini/Haaretz.

As former Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and current Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon have recently been reminded, honesty in politics can be costly. Gates’s memoir, Duty, recounts the resistance of President Obama to winning wars, especially in Afghanistan. The former Secretary concluded, in a memorable passage: “the president doesn’t trust his commander, . . . doesn’t believe in his own strategy and doesn’t consider the war to be his. For him, it’s all about getting out.” That is not the way to win friends from Obama administration lackeys in Washington or the liberal media.

Defense Minister Ya’alon detonated a minefield with his sharp criticism of Secretary of State John Kerry’s frenetic shuttle diplomacy in an effort to wangle even the “framework” of a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Israel’s former Chief of Staff was quoted in Yedioth Ahronoth as dismissing the American security plan as “not worth the paper it’s written on. It contains no peace and no security.” He castigated Kerry’s “misplaced obsession and messianic fervor” to wrap up a peace agreement, urging the Secretary to “take his Nobel Prize and leave us alone.”

Howls of outrage were heard in Washington. A State Department spokeswoman condemned Ya’alon’s comments as “offensive and inappropriate,” adding, “To question [Kerry’s] motives and distort his proposals is not something we would expect from the defense minister of a close ally.” Apologies from Jerusalem followed. Prime Minister Netanyahu, evidently pressed to criticize Ya’alon for his truth-telling indiscretion, tried to make amends: “We stand up for our national interests and one of those is continuing to cultivate our connection with our ally, the United States.” Israeli President Shimon Peres, always eager to please, thanked President Obama “for his full responsiveness to our security and intelligence needs” and Secretary Kerry for his “determined efforts to make peace.” A release from the Israeli Defense Ministry followed: “The defense minister had no intention to cause any offense to the secretary, and he apologizes if the secretary was offended by words attributed to the minister.”

Ya’alon’s indiscretion, or calculated time-bomb, might best be understood as the warning of an experienced military commander that even the current talk of a limited Israeli, or international, presence in the Jordan Valley, which Palestinian Authority President Abbas has dismissively rejected, falls far short of Israel’s security needs. To say nothing of Palestinian insistence upon the restoration of pre-1967 borders, the re-division of Jerusalem, and the return of Palestinian refugees – to Israel, not to a Palestinian state.

As Jonathan S. Tobin writes on the Commentary blog (January 14): “The question facing both Israel and the United States is not so much what to do about Ya’alon or other members of Netanyahu’s Cabinet who can’t keep their mouths shut, but at what point it will behoove the two governments to acknowledge the futility of Kerry’s endeavor.”

Whether or not Ya’alon should have gone public with his criticism of Kerry – the decorum question – is far less consequential than whether what he said is true. It may rile the faithful, as former Secretary Gates has also discovered, to reveal what lies behind the mask (and what lies can be found there). But those who yearn for even a morsel of truth- telling in the political arena, in Israel no less than in the United States, have reason to appreciate Defense Minister Ya’alon’s blunt candor.

To be sure, that is not the emerging wisdom among Israeli pundits. Even Times of Israel editor David Horovitz released a plague on both houses, writing (January 15): “if Kerry has been arrogant and willfully blind, Ya’alon for his part shows precious little political vision.” But Ya’alon, to his credit as a truth-teller, issued a necessary reminder that it will take more than a whirling American diplomatic dervish, determined to set frequent-flying records, to wean Palestinians and their allies from their unrelenting hostility to a Jewish state in their midst.

Jerold S. Auerbach is author of the forthcoming Jewish State/Pariah Nation: Israel and the Dilemmas of Legitimacy, to be published next month by Quid Pro Books.

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