"We're living in a historical period, and it's still not clear what name will be given to it. Hopefully, it will be called the Arab Spring, but it could turn out to be the Arab Winter. Whatever the name, the earthquakes that are rocking the region are rearranging many things: alliances, interests, priorities—everything is changing.”
In an exclusive interview with IsraelDefense, Moshe “Bogie” Yaalon, the Minister of Strategic Affairs and member of Prime Minister Netanyahu's inner political-security cabinet spoke about a broad perspective of events in the Middle East. Twenty years ago, when Israel experienced a wave of brutal terrorist attacks following the Oslo Agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, Yaalon was head of the Directorate of Military Intelligence. At the time, he accused the Iranians of complicity. In the beginning of the last decade, at the height of the Al Aqsa Intifada, when Israel again suffered a wave of suicide bombings, Yaalon was Chief of Staff.
Today, as the Minister of Strategic Affairs, he is responsible for drafting a new national security doctrine and preparing for strategic challenges, like the Iranian nuclear threat. It was Yaalon who Netanyahu sent to meet with the Turks following the events on the flotilla vessel Mavi Marmara in May 2010. Yaalon was tasked with trying to reach a compromise with Turkey's disproportionate demands for an Israeli apology, monetary compensation, and the end of the Gaza blockade.
“The earthquake that rocked the Middle East in recent months has nothing to do with Israel's moves,” asserts Yaalon. “It's an earthquake with generally positive sources, because it stems from the awakening of the young generation exposed to Western ideas: freedom, human rights, and women's rights. It's a new phenomenon that could never have happened when there was only one communications network in a state dominated by a dictator.
“Although the TV channels and social networks aided in disseminating the revolutions in Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt, and to a degree, in Syria, what really united the masses was the desire to get rid of the ruling leader. Each state had its own background, but the overriding desire to oust the dictator was what united all the camps, and as I see it, the same will happen in Syria.”
Eyes on Egypt
According to Yaalon, the revolution Israel is most interested in following is taking place in the giant country to our south—Egypt. “The current military regime in post-Mubarak Egypt is only a transitional government, before the anticipated parliamentary and presidential elections. If elections are held in the coming weeks—though I believe they'll be postponed—then we could say, that the revolution was hijacked by the Muslim Brotherhood.
"Even though the Muslim Brotherhood didn’t initiate the revolution, it is the best organized force in Egypt right now and could lead the country toward an Islamic state where Sharia [Islamic religious law] becomes the law of the land. On the other hand, those opposed to a Sharia-based state—the liberal and pragmatic groups—are still without power.
“In the meantime, while the elections are repeatedly delayed, anarchy is growing. This was apparent [on September 9th] when thousands of Egyptians stormed our embassy in Cairo. Still, we should note that they also attacked government facilities and looted the homes of the rich. With anarchy rife, the current military government reinstated the emergency regulations. How far they went in upholding those regulations, I don’t know. However, it is clear that the government took great precaution not to fire on the protestors, especially as the world watches Hosni Mubarak lie in a cage. The main question in his trial is: who gave the order to open fire during the revolution?
“If the chaos continues, the demand for a strong government capable of restoring law and order will probably increase, which will likely not result in a democracy. In the best of circumstances, it could be a long-term military dictatorship; if elections are held, it could be an Islamic dictatorship. “Under these circumstances, we have to have an updated situational assessment on an almost daily basis—not weekly or monthly. The situation is in constant flux.”
Syria’s Change of Tide
Another one of our neighbors, the people of Syria, continue to revolt against their leader. “In Syria, change can be for the best,” Yaalon declares. “Right now, we don’t know where the country is headed, but the strongest opponents to Bashar al-Assad's regime seem to be Sunni Muslims who are not members of the Muslim Brotherhood.
“As time passes, the legitimacy of Bashar al-Assad's government continues to decline. It is slaughtering its own people—killing thousands of them. Assad represents the Alawi minority in Syria, and this detracts from his legitimacy as well. “If a non-Muslim Brotherhood Sunni regime replaces Assad, then the Iran-Hezbollah-Hamas axis of evil could be broken, but there are other players in the field too, such as Turkey, that can influence events in an undesirable direction. Iran would also back the Muslim Brotherhood.”
Iran and the Bomb
Let's discuss Iran. Do you see any way of preventing them from attaining a nuclear bomb?
“Our position is clear: under no circumstances can the radical, messianic regime that believes in Iranian hegemony over the entire globe, be allowed to reach nuclear capability. “But, we don’t want to take the first step. This is a threat that affects the whole world. We prefer that the Western powers, led by the United States, adopt a policy that precludes Iran from gaining hold of a bomb; on the other hand, we have to prepare for the eventuality that we may have to rely on ourselves.
“So how can we prevent a nuclear Iran? Based on past experience, we believe that this is achievable without resorting to military force. Fact is, in 2003, Iran's religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, decided to freeze the nuclear project for two years because he saw that the United States was embarking on a preemptive campaign against the ‘Axis of Evil’ in the wake of 9/11. The Iranians saw that the first stage of the campaign was directed against Afghanistan, the second against Iraq, and the big question was, who would be the third country to be attacked? This is why Libya's leader, Muammar Gaddafi, nixed his country's military nuclear program as well.
“I believe that halting the project is still possible, only if the Iranian regime is faced with a non-negotiable choice: a nuclear bomb or survival. In the meantime, the regime not only continues to pursue the project, but it is also actively engaged in killing coalition forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, and actively assisting Hezbollah in Lebanon. It supports the Palestinian terror organizations with money, weapons, and knowledge; and does the same in Bahrain, Yemen, and South America. The Iranian regime is active all over the globe. The Western world must be made aware of the need to take active measures—starting with political isolation and tough economic sanctions. There are sanctions against Iran today, but they're not tough enough. Keep in mind, an opposition exists in Iran. Seventy percent of the nation does not want the regime, but the voice of opposition is suppressed. The regime executes its opponents at the rate of two people a day. I ask, where are all the international human rights organizations when the political opposition in Iran is being brutally crushed?
“In addition to these steps, an effective military option is also needed. The Iranians know that the West is capable of attacking them, but are almost certain that it lacks the determination or will to meet them head-on. This could change. We are doing our part to convince the Western powers of Iran's danger, and let the 'sacred' task be done by them. On the other hand, an ancient Jewish saying says: ‘If I am not for myself—who will be for me?’”
You're also a member of the ministerial committee for force building. Is the IDF adapting its structure to the regional reality? Why was the next multi-year plan postponed from 2012 to 2013?
“The ministerial committee keeps close tabs on the five-year plan. The defense establishment, along with the IDF, presents intelligence assessments, reference scenarios, and afterwards, it answers to them by way of force-building programs. This is a long process that requires an entire year. It is now being revised in light of the changes in the region and the desire to submit a balanced budget that takes into account all the parameters that constitute national strength, such as education and welfare.
“The defense establishment has its homework cut out for it. There are major transactions on the agenda that have to be studied. For example, the F-35 combat aircraft of the future, and the Merkava APC (armored personnel carrier) deal are plans that call for building hundreds of APCs in the United States for IDF ground forces. “Some of these subjects are key topics in our discussions, and are also undergoing a change of plans. Without going into detail, I can assure you that the ministerial committee is not a rubberstamp".
The full article appeared on the 5th issue of IsraelDefense