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Sunday, April 30, 2006

Out of the shadows

This was the featured article in the weekend JPost Magazine, and it's a doozy. It's a lengthy interview with former Mossad chief Ephraim HaLevy. This article is very long, and you're going to have to read it yourselves, but let me whet your appetite:

Your proposal for combating Islamic terrorism in some sort of concerted international way seemed to me obviously sensible but also…

Well, unlikely to happen. If after 9/11 there wasn't any such concerted action, if after the Madrid bombings the people threw out the government rather than asserting a need for greater international cooperation, it looks pretty bleak.
Yes, [concerted military action] is not going to come about unless there are more terrorist attacks. The world doesn't react to threats. It reacts to actions. The best example of this is what happened in World War II. The Nazi threat was there. The German threat was there… Even when Europe had been overrun by the Germans, the United States did not enter the war, despite the experience it had in World War I. It was only after the Japanese hit Pearl Harbor that suddenly American public opinion was galvanized. That is the sad part of it.

International cooperation will come about [only] after there are one or two [terrorist] events which affect more than one country. Suddenly public opinion will be attuned to action of a certain kind. It will last two or three months, not more. In order for these actions to be effective, you have to plan them in advance. And once something happens you have to sit down and say, "Okay, which of all this arsenal or variety of options do we [use]?"

Is any of that advance planning taking place?
I doubt it, and I think that's a tragedy. One would have expected that the governments of the world would be sitting almost around the clock, planning how to overcome these threats. This is not the case.

What potential do you see for worse terrorism than 9/11?
I don't want to give people ideas. I can imagine all kinds of things. Maybe I know one or two things, as well, from my past - possible really diabolical acts which were on the table of those who practice international terror.

Did you encounter plans for acts of terrorism more diabolical than 9/11?
I don't think these ideas reached the stage where it was necessary to counter them. Some of them were snuffed out at a very early stage and some didn't sort of pick up and become serious. But after 9/11 you have to think the unthinkable. Who would have thought in advance that somebody would take a civilian aircraft full of passengers and turn it into a weapon? You need a really warped mind, a diabolical mind, and look at the results. They changed the face of the earth. It's very unfortunate to say, but very often those who are committing acts which are unthinkable change the course of history.


The only chance that Hamas now has of saving the Palestinian movement is to change course. If Hamas does not temper its policies, if it doesn't come to terms with reality, it will end up as a failed movement - not because Israel makes conditions, but because the balance of forces in the region is such. Israel is not going to walk away and Hamas is not going to succeed in destroying Israel, just as I don't think Iran has any chance in the world of destroying Israel.

By setting that as a goal, as a realistic goal, this Iranian regime has more or less signed its fate. Not because Israel is going to attack or not attack, or the Americans will do this or do that, but [because] ultimately the international community will never be able to digest a policy in which one country denies the other country's right to exist, and then destroys it and then life will go on. No, this is not going to happen.

The whole structure of the international community is such that this [Iranian approach] will not be stomached. It is not possible. [Stopping] it may take more time. The Nazi threat took six years to overcome in a bloody war. But ultimately sanity prevailed. Righteousness prevailed in the very basic sense of the term. And that's why in this particular case it's a foregone conclusion that Israel, the United States, the Western World, even Russia, even China - they will prevail. This kind of approach of the Iranians or Hamas will not prevail. It cannot prevail.


You had one sentence in the book on unilateralism, in which you did not really pass judgment on it. You were talking about it in the context of Hamas choosing not to emphasize victory by firing on the departing army. What is your assessment of unilateralism - both last summer and the "convergence" plan?
The catchphrase, "unilateral disengagement," was misleading. We have not left Gaza to the Gazans. We're not allowing them to build a port, we're not allowing them to build an airport, we're restricting their access. We supply the water. We supply the electricity. We withdrew the settlers from there and we withdrew our forces from there. We did not disengage.

And it was not unilateral. We negotiated with the United States, with the Egyptians. We indirectly negotiated with the Hamas: The whole structure of Hamas not attacking us, the tahadiyah, we never accepted it, but we benefited from it, and we knew it was happening. The Egyptians were the masters of all this. We brought the Egyptians into the act. The Egyptians are deeply involved now in the Gaza situation, in the Philadelphi access and so forth. We changed some of the provisions of the Israeli-Egyptian peace agreement.

So it was not unilateral, it was not disengagement. That's why I don't think that convergence would mean that we would disengage [from the West Bank]. I'll give you one example: You cannot maintain a reasonable regime of water preservation in the area between the sea and the Jordan River without there being a semblance of cooperation and understanding. If the Palestinians do what they like on the aquifers there, it would be a disaster. So you say, "No, water is something else." Well then, air space. Are we going to leave the air space? Access. Are we going to leave the area, and let them enter and leave at will? Or are we going to have a system of international terminals which will give us control? If we have control of entries and exits, we did not disengage.

don't want even to go into the question of the legal, international implications, whether as a result of our doing this we have divested ourselves of the responsibility internationally and legally for the wellbeing and safety of the people there. I'm just talking about the practicalities.

So it sounds good. It sounds attractive. You know: "We will take our destiny into our hands. We'll have America. America will get up and say "bravo," applaud us. And then the rest of the world will probably half applaud, half not. It doesn't matter anymore. And the problem is over." It's not over.


Coming finally to the last sentence of your book, about the simple fact of living on this planet becoming ever more complicated: My sense from you is that the international community has not internalized the gravity of the terrorist threat, and has not made concerted plans for what would need to be an immediate response to further diabolical terrorist action or actions. And that in all likelihood therefore something awful will happen again, and then there will be lots of hand wringing. And the only realistic hope is that, after that, there will then be the beginning of an effort to respond more effectively to a second series of such attacks.
It is becoming more and more difficult for responsible leaders in the world to push through decisions and legislation to support the effort against international terrorism. The greatest example of this is what happened in Britain after what we call 7/7, after the Tube and bus attacks. [The bill that would have provided for a] 90-day period in which suspects can be held more or less without access, this was shot down in the British Parliament. This is indicative of what happens when, after two or three months in which nothing happens, people say that human rights and these things are more serious considerations than giving the police another 30 or 40 days.

A month ago the president had great difficulty in getting renewed approval of the Patriot Act in the United States. More and more people are placing emphasis on how detentions are done. If nothing happens in the next year or two, the world will gradually subside into a state of apathy. You cannot maintain a degree of public awareness and public concern by simply crying wolf all the time, saying, "We have to be careful about terrorist attacks, we have to be careful about terrorist attacks." Somebody will get up and say, "Well, we've had two years without terrorist attacks. Yes, there was 9/11. That happened five, six years ago. It appears it's been taken care of because nothing has happened. Let's stop this paranoiac craze about international terrorism."

Therefore if there are no serious terrorist attacks, no successful terrorist operations in the next year or two, the world will sort of… Now this sounds terrible, as though I'm almost wishing that there should be a terrorist attack. I'm not. I'm saying this is a problem. I don't think there is a solution. If the terrorists were clever, they would now sit back for a year or two and do nothing. Then you'd see that at the airports, this enormous [security] effort will probably be curtailed. People will say, "There is enormous cost and enormous inconvenience to millions of passengers. What are we afraid of? A bomb in a plane? It's gone. Let's come back to normal."

And then you also have what I mentioned in the book, the concern of the statesman-politicians for their constituency: If you have a prime minister who is saying all the time, "beware, beware, beware," crying wolf all the time, he may be voted out of office, because people are going to say "We don't want a guy like this. We want somebody who is more reasoned and less acerbic and less playful on our nerves."

There are serious problems. I can't solve all the problems of the world, but that's the way I look at it.

And therefore the fear is that it will get worse before it gets better?
(Heavy sigh.) Yes, unfortunately.

Read the whole thing.


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