On Tuesday, Peter Beinart chastised American Jews for not listening more closely to Israeli soldiers. “There’s nothing American Jews love more than Israeli soldiers, except perhaps, Israeli spies,” he wrote in a piece in the Daily Beast titled “U.S. Jews Should Heed Top Israeli Soldiers Who Oppose Bombing Iran.” “So perhaps American Jews should start noticing that an astonishing number of Israel’s top soldiers and spies are warning against bombing Iran.”
A few years ago, I witnessed a debate inside the Israeli Knesset between two former heads of Israeli military intelligence, research and assessment, General Yaakov Amidror and General Danny Rothschild. The veterans disagreed on everything — technology, threats, solutions, defensible borders, control of territory and disengagement. During my service in the military, I saw the same phenomenon among officers at every rank. In robust democracies “listening” to soldiers—or civilians—is almost never a shortcut to obvious or unanimous answers.
With that in mind, Beinart is as guilty as anyone of not listening to Israeli soldiers. Consider all the Israeli generals whose opinions he casts aside because they differ from his. On the matter of Gaza and the West Bank, he rejects the opinion of former Chief of Staff General (ret.) Moshe Ya’alon, who opposes disengagements on security grounds. He disregards the former head of Israel’s General Security Service, Avi Dichter, who warned that “the evacuation [from Gaza] is dangerous, and the retreat will give the Palestinians a sense of victory and encouragement for terrorism.” Beinart dismisses the assessments of withdrawals of former head of Israeli intelligence, General Zeevi Farkash, former Israeli Air Force Chief General Ben Eliyahu, and former military secretary to the prime minister, General Gadi Shamni. He also rejects the advice of current National Security Advisor General Amidror, who believes control of territory is essential to defeating terrorism.
On the Iranian threat, he casts aside the warnings of former Mossad chief Shabtai Shavit, that a preemptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities is the best way to keep Israel safe.
Beinart has every right to favor withdrawals from territories and oppose a strike on Iran, but this has little to do with his listening to Israeli soldiers.
The heart of the Iran question is complex. What to do when a brutal theocracy regularly threatens to destroy a member state of the UN and is on the verge of acquiring the most deadly weapons known to man?
Instead of addressing the issue on that basis, Beinart prefers tendentious guilt-by-association. He writes, “Netanyahu’s taste for the apocalyptic flows less from his Jewishness than from his conservatism—a conservatism learned during his close association with the Republican right while he served as a diplomat in Washington and New York in the 1980s.”
Iran does not stand in violation of the Genocide Convention because Netanyahu was hanging out with Republicans in the 1980s. Former Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani said triumphantly, “an atomic bomb would leave nothing in Israel.” Does his actual “taste for the apocalyptic” flow from his time spent secretly cavorting with Republicans in the 1980s?
Seventy percent of Israel’s population and 80 percent of its industrial capacity resides on a tiny strip of coastal territory, which two nuclear bombs could obliterate. Israeli military officials who work day and night to thwart this scenario aren’t fear-mongering right-wingers. They despise war, but many of them have come to the conclusion after painstaking deliberation that only Israeli jets can stop Iranian nukes. It was Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, after all, who described his nuclear program as a train without brakes.
Beinart writes that “shifting power balances and increased threat levels” coming from Iran are “a far cry from Netanyahu’s language of existential destruction.” Others believe when a country threatens genocide, it should be taken seriously. Iranian euphemisms for Israel’s destruction such as “erased from the pages of history” don’t placate Israeli fears much. Nor does the Iranian leader’s reference to Israel as a “black and dirty microbe” and the subsequent parading of Shihab-3 missiles covered in banners reading, “Israel must be uprooted and erased from history.”
No one outside of a tiny circle of theocratic, apocalyptic, terrorist fanatics knows if Iran will actually use nuclear bombs. But would you bet the lives of millions of civilians on the guess that the Iranian regime’s stated goal is no more than a rhetorical ruse?
By all means, Americans should listen to Israeli soldiers—those who agree with them and those who don’t. But let no one slander those dedicated to stopping the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism from attaining the most deadly weapons on the planet as right-wing warmongers unwilling to listen to Israeli soldiers.