Very few people in Israel posses more influence and have a broader global strategic perspective than Major General (res.) Amos Gilad, director of the Defense Ministry's Diplomatic-Security bureau. Gilad enjoys so much clout and influence that last December he was depicted by Israel's leading Haaretz Daily as "the man who is running the country."
Last week, frustrated by what he argued is the erratic way in which Israeli politicians are negotiating with Hamas through Egypt over a ceasefire agreement and over the release of a kidnapped Israeli soldier, Gilad lashed out. Extensive quotes, carried by Maariv daily on February 18, indicate the Israeli security establishment's concern over Israel's alienating existing and potential regional allies.
"To insult the Egyptians?" Gilad asked, "we've already insulted them. It's madness. It's simply madness. Egypt has remained almost our last ally here. For what? After all, it's damaging to national security." He continued, referring to Israel's three key regional allies: "Look at what is happening in the region, how the lava is bubbling, how everything is in an uproar, they [the Egyptians] also have the Muslim Brotherhood. Look at Jordan, look at Turkey. Do we want to lose all that?" He went on to say: "Who is going to deliver the goods except for the Egyptians? Qatar has already gone over to the other side, to Iran. Turkey is wavering. Look at what is happening in Jordan. Don't we understand that we need our relations with these countries more than anything else? That is our national security in this region."
As a civil servant, Gilad is not supposed to voice his concerns publicly. He in fact was suspended today by outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who Gilad specifically criticized in his Maariv tirade.
Ori Nir is the spokesman of Americans for Peace Now
Gilad did not mention Benjamin Netanyahu, the chairman of the hard-line Likud party, who is now trying to form a coalition government. Neither did he mention Avigdor Lieberman, the ultra-nationalist serial provocateur who is hoping to hold a senior security portfolio in Netanyahu's cabinet - perhaps even the coveted Defense portfolio.
But for many in Israel's security establishment, a Netanyahu-Lieberman government is a nightmare scenario. Not so much because of Netanyahu as because of Lieberman.
For the Arab world, Avigdor Lieberman is a red flag. This populist politician, who capitalizes on the crudest anti-Arab sentiments among Israeli Jews, has in turn become the lightening rod of Arab anger at Israel. Understandably so. Here are a few examples of pyromanaical rhetoric:
- Last October, Lieberman caused a diplomatic incident when he said that Egypt's President Husni Mubarak "can go to hell." Israel's President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Olmert had to extend a public apology to Mubarak. Once they did, Lieberman complained that "The State of Israel is acting toward Egypt like a battered woman."
- In 2001, Lieberman told ambassadors from the former Soviet Republics that if relations with Egypt go sour, Israel should bomb Egypt's Aswan dam, a move that would flood vast areas, causing a national calamity.
- In May of 2006, Lieberman sent shockwaves across Israel's political spectrum when he called for the execution of Israeli Arab Knesset members who met with Hamas leaders. Addressing the Knesset, Lieberman said: "At the end of the Second World War, not only the criminals were executed at the Nuremberg Trials, but also those who collaborated with them. I hope that this will be the fate of the collaborators in this house."
- Lieberman has repeatedly stated his wish to expel Arab citizens of Israel, and has used hateful, provocative expressions against Arab citizens of the state. In a 2004 interview with a local Tel Aviv weekly, Lieberman stated his belief that "ninety percent of the Arabs of Israel will have to find themselves within that Arab entity that will be established, not within the state" of Israel. He continued: "All of them with no exception! They have no place here. Let them take their bags and go to hell."
- In October of 2007, Lieberman assailed Israeli peace activists and called them "Capos, like those who served the Nazis at the concentration camps." This statement prompted Israeli documenters of the Holocaust, as well as Holocaust survivors to charge Lieberman with contempt of the Holocaust.
And, if that's not enough, according to a report in the Israeli daily Haaretz on January 3rd, Lieberman was in the late 1970's a card-carrying member of Meir Kahane's racist Kach movement, which was later outlawed in Israel - and in the United States - as a terrorist organization.
With Lieberman holding a senior security portfolio in a hawkish Israeli government, Israel can expect its relations with its Arab and Muslim regional friends to further deteriorate. Its "cold peace" with Egypt is likely to reach lower temperatures. Its delicate relationship with Jordan is likely to become even shakier and its fragile yet critically important alliance with Turkey may suffer as well.