Originally published on Mediamonitors.net
It resembles a movie on the mafia. The heads of two families meet, embrace
and kiss each other. On the way home, the soldiers of one family wait in
ambush for the other one and liquidate them. This has happened now in
Israel. And not in the mafia. We heard the Palestinian version of this event
last Friday, when a Gush Shalom delegation visited Yasser Arafat in Ramallah.
He was still livid with anger. "It was an ambush!" he asserted.
This is what happened: On Wednesday the Americans pressured the Palestinians
into agreeing to take part in a meeting of high-ranking commanders for the
purpose of security coordination. The Palestinian officers did not want to
go, knowing that the Palestinian street would condemn such a meeting while
Israel was liquidating Palestinian activists, bombarding Palestinian town
with helicopters and tanks, demolishing homes and uprooting trees in large
However, Arafat ordered the Palestinian commanders to attend the meeting,
which took place (in spite of denials) at the residence of the American
ambassador in Herzlia. American embassy cars took the three security chiefs
of the Gaza strip - Amin al-Hindi, Muhammad Dahlan and Abd-al-Razek Majeidi -
from the Erez checkpoint. After the meeting, in which no agreement was
achieved, the American embassy cars brought the three and their bodyguards
back to the checkpoint.
At Erez, there is an Israeli checkpoint and a Palestinian one, at a distance
of a hundred yards from each other. Between them, one has to walk. All the
area is well lit and dominated by Israeli watch-towers armed with machine
guns. The members of the Palestinian delegation alighted from the American
cars on the Israeli side and walked along the lighted path towards the
Palestinian checkpoint. There their cars were waiting for them. Before they
could get into them, fire was opened on them from several directions. The
members of the delegation took cover while their bodyguards returned fire.
Three of them were wounded.
The firefight went on for three hours. The members of the Palestinian
delegation called Arafat in Ramallah by their mobile telephones, and he
started a frantic round of calls with King Abdallah, President Mubarrak, the
European Union and the American Secretary of State. Collin Powell immediately
called Ariel Sharon, using, so it seems, very rough language. Sharon gave
orders to stop the shooting.
The Israeli media treated the event - if at all - as a marginal incident.
After all, shooting takes place all the time. The army spokesman, a man
blessed with a highly developed imagination, reached new heights of fantasy:
He announced that the Palestinian bodyguards had opened fire on the soldiers.
This means that the bodyguards shot at the Israeli soldiers in a well-lit
area, when surrounded by Israeli watch-towers, endangering the lives of their
commanders. Even an imbecile wouldn't believe that.
Actually, there are only three possible explanations, each one worse than the
Possibility A: The soldiers opened fire just for the fun of it, knowing fully
well (for they must have known) that this was a convoy of high-ranking
Palestinians. If this were true, it would mean that in the army anarchy
reigns supreme and that the army has ceased to exist as a disciplined
Possibility B: A local commander, somewhere between lieutenant-colonel and
major-general, deliberately created the incident, knowing that it would turn
into a severe international affair. If this were true, it would mean that the
extreme right and the settlers have by now succeeded to infiltrate the higher
ranks of the army and have caused a deliberate provocation. This danger would
be more serious than even a second Yigal Amir.
Possibility C: The initiative originated at the highest level: Chief-of-Staff
Shaul Mofaz. That's what Arafat thinks. If this is so, we would all have to
be frightened as hell. Because it would mean that the Commander-in-Chief is
now directing the affairs of the state, and that he despises Sharon as he
admittedly despised Barak.
Never in the annals of the IDF has the army been commanded by a man more
political than Mofaz. In the avalanche of interviews he has given these last
few days, he has said that "the state has an army" and not the other way
round (an allusion to the famous saying of Honore Mirabeau, a leader of the
French revolution, "Prussia is not a state that has an army, but an army that
has a state." I am rather afraid that in Israel the same situation prevails.
Of course, we are no banana republic. We don't have military coups, like
Argentina or Nigeria. The situation here is far more complex. Most (if not
all) senior officers are a highly homogenous band, whose members are
ferociously loyal to each other and who have a common
rightist-securitist-settlerist outlook. It is actually a kind of supra-party,
which controls both the Likud and Labor. Because of this, there is hardly a
difference between the two, and any senior officer is looking for a job in
politics can chose between the two (as did Weizman, Sharon, Mordechai, Barak
and many many others), with the final choice being dictated merely by
expedience and opportunism.
There is hardly a democratic state that has a general in its government. In
our present government there are five (Sharon, Ben-Eliezer, Sneh, Vilnai,
Ze'evi). At the last elections for Prime Minister, all three initial
contenders were generals: Barak, Sharon and Mordechai. The great majority of
our former Chiefs-of-Staff did become cabinet ministers (Yadin, Dayan, Rabin,
Bar-Lev, Gur, Eytan, Barak), and two of them did become Prime Ministers.
Since the days of Begin, the Chief-of-Staff takes part in all cabinet
sessions - unusual in democracies even during life-and-death wars.
The ideological differences between the generals are negligible. The smooth
transition from Barak to Sharon proves that the maps of annexations of both
are practically identical. (Matti Peled, who did become a fighter for peace,
has remained an exception.)
There will be no military coup in Israel. There is just no need for it. A man
like Mofaz can prepare to displace and succeed Sharon, insinuating that
Sharon is a weakling. For that he must prepare another 'knife in the back'
story of how the politicians prevent the army from winning. This 'Dolchstoss
im Ruecken' legend was invented in Germany after World War I and has been
repeated since many times, for example in Viet-Nam and Algeria. Always the
army was just about to win the war, when the corrupt politicians stepped in
and caused a debacle.
Without a thorough investigation, we shall not know what exactly happened at
Erez checkpoint. And a real, independent investigation will not, of course,