Michael Jansen
The Jordan Times
June 24, 2010 - 12:00am

The Israeli liberal daily Haaretz carried a very illuminating article this week, written by Ari Shavit, who argued that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Ehud Barak are regarded by many Israelis as "twins", dependent on one another.

Shavit reveals that while the atmosphere between Netanyahu and the White House is frosty, Vice President Joe Biden gets along just fine with Barak. For this reason and others, Netanyahu treats Barak with "respect".

Shavit wrote: "Netanyahu knows that without Barak his government will become a repulsive right-wing government that wouldn't survive for long.?Without Barak, Netanyahu knows that Israel will become a pariah state, ostracised from the community of nations.? The prime minister also knows that without Barak nobody will stand beside him when he makes a decision about Iran.?Politics, policy and strategy all make Barak the central pillar of Netanyahu's government."

Barak also knows that without Netanyahu he is sunk as a politician.

Shavit also points out that the two men have different, incompatible agendas and suggests that unless Netanyahu - who believes concessions are suicide - gives in to Barak, who believes the status quo is suicidal, the twins could precipitate a major crisis.

Shavit's analysis is illuminating but faulty. He does not take into account Barak's career and make-up as a politician.

Jeff Halper, founder of the Israeli committee against [Palestinian] home demolitions, agrees with Shavit that Barak gives Netanyahu "legitimacy" and keeps him in power.?But Barak himself poses real dangers.

"The defence establishment is Barak's fiefdom," stated Halper.?

"He does not think politically.?While he was prime minister he dismantled the political process.? He has tunnel vision. He applies only military logic and sees things in terms of military action."

In Halper's view, Barak belongs to a group of leaders characterised as “crackpot realists”, defined in the 1960s by left-wing sociologist C. Wright Mills in his book, “The Causes of World War Three". Mills drew a distinction between ordinary back-slapping, baby-kissing politicians who do not really understand how to wield power and the equally ignorant "serious people" who lead their countries into needless wars. Mills believed the latter are "fools" or "crackpot realists".

Halper said that "crackpot realist" Barak is "a wild card" who can make war "out of the blue? he is just waiting for a trigger."

Furthermore, Halper argued that Netanyahu will not "stop Barak.... No one can possibly predict [what Barak will do]. He has to have some military action.?Military action justifies his position. He controls an army with no oversight [on the part of civilian politicians]. The higher levels of the [Israeli] military have been filled with right-wing and religious officers.?The professional corps of [formerly dominant] kibbutz people has been overtaken.

"The Israeli military has no relation to the political process? the 2006 war in Lebanon called into question Israel's deterrent power [because Israel's regular army was bested by Hizbollah's irregulars].Israel did not do well in Gaza [the 2008-09 war]."

Israel's response to the Free Gaza Flotilla was decided largely by Barak and military logic, said Halper. Nine Turkish activists were killed and 40 wounded when Israeli commandos stormed a cruise ship carrying 600 passengers. This created an international outcry against Israel's blockade of Gaza and heightened pressure on Israel to lift its punitive measures, seen as violations of international law and collective punishment of Gaza's 1.5 million people.

Halper was particularly concerned over the possibility that Barak might launch a new war against Lebanon in coming months.

"There is a formidable military build-up in the north [which makes it difficult] to resist war. People living in the north favour war, do not argue against war [in spite of the possibility that their communities could be targeted by Hizbollah rockets and missiles]. They justify a war as a means of averting a later disaster.

"Israel doesn't care [about the change in attitudes towards Israel]. Israel doesn't care about anything but [the US] Congress. In the fight between [US President Barack Obama] and Netanyahu, Netanyahu has the backing of 330 members of Congress.? Barak never takes into account civil society or is not held back due to concern over Israel's image. He takes the view that 'everyone is against us' and what we need is better hasbara [public relations]."

These two Israeli commentators see Israel's present mood and situation as both bleak and frightening. But Israel has always sought to solve its problems through warfare, even if warfare was not the appropriate option.?

Menachem Begin, a particularly aggressive Israeli premier, once said: “We fight, therefore we exist.”

But the time for fighting is long past.?It is time to make peace. The only consolation is that the storm of protest which blew up in the international community following Israel's attack on the Gaza-bound flotilla might cause Barak - and his twin Netanyahu - to pause before going to war, once again, against Lebanon.


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