By Dow Marmur
Jerusalem (Feb. 27, 2017) – It’s understandable, even if often immature, that individuals don’t speak to those they consider to be enemies. But it’s deplorable when states behave like that. That’s how I understood Ephraim Halevy, a former high ranking Israeli intelligence chief, when he spoke in Jerusalem earlier this week. His analyses based on deep knowledge are invariably penetrating.
This was the first of probably many events organized by the Times of Israel, the online daily which is rapidly becoming a major news source in the Jewish world. To meet the needs of Jerusalem’s sizeable English-speaking population, the daily has embarked upon a series of events that would cater to that audience. The conversation between Halevy and the daily’s editor David Horovitz was the first.
Halevy knows, of course, that political leaders of countries that threaten each other can’t just decide to sit down and talk. That’s where the intelligence services come in. He reminded us that peace with Egypt and Jordan, for many years at war with Israel, was made possible by secret contacts between agents that subsequently led to clandestine meetings between political leaders and ultimately resulted in public peace agreements. He had a share in the success of the Jordan enterprise and now pointed to other instances in recent history where similar things happened.
Halevy is openly advocating this kind of approach to the regime in Iran and to the leaders of Hamas, the terrorist organization that rules Gaza. He maintains that not Iran with is proxy Hezbollah on Israel’s northern border, not Hamas in the south nor any other foe can destroy Israel, but wars are never in the interest of Israel, however inevitable they may become at times. Talking to the enemy – to start with through secret channels – is to avoid military confrontations with their concomitant loss of life and limb: jaw-jaw is almost always better than war-war.
But that requires statecraft. What we get nowadays is populism. Even though Halevy didn’t say it explicitly, I didn’t find it difficult to conclude that what we now get from the president of the United States and the prime minister of Israel is the opposite to statecraft. Infantile petulant statement may go down well with some voters, but they don’t serve the interest of the country. Instead of castigating say New Zealand or Sweden, the government of Israel should send experienced operatives into its embassies in these countries charging them with the task of helping to normalize relations.
Though Halevy didn’t speak about it, I couldn’t help thinking of the childish ways in which Trump is dealing with the media that disapprove of him. Instead of forging behind-the-scenes personal contacts between government agents and editors he’s implicitly encouraging the latter to go all out to find evidence that justifies their strictures.
And Netanyahu is following in his footsteps. Though the courts have now forced him to give up also being Israel minister of communication, he has appointed a yes-man as a front who no doubt will be his master’s voice while the serious media in Israel will continue to report embarrassing (but seemingly true) facts about the prime minister, his entourage and his family.
Hence this, alas rhetorical, question: Why do mature people mostly shun political power and why do those who speak truth to power – like Halevy – only do so when they no longer can influence events?