Israel’s Security Elite Line Up With Obama’s Mid East Policies

The Israeli public and perhaps even its politicians may not be big fans of President Obama, but it seems that the Jewish state’s security elites’ views line up closely with the U.S. administration’s Middle East policies.

At the Jewish Daily Forward newspaper, columnist J.J. Goldberg notes the trend of former chiefs of Israeli security institutions opposing the hard-line policies of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on issues ranging from attacking Iran to the peace process.

Israel is a young country with few living ex-heads of security agencies — between the Israel Defense Forces, the Shin Bet internal security service and Mossad intelligence agency, there are only 18 living ex-chiefs. Twelve of them are either actively opposing Netanyahu’s stances or have spoken out against them. “Two of them have openly called Netanyahu’s policies and leadership a threat to Israel’s future — just in the past few weeks,” writes Goldberg. “What do the critics want?”

Some want to dial back the rhetoric on Iran and stop the Netanyahu-led talk of military action. Some are pushing for a two-state agreement with the Palestinian Authority based on the 1967 borders and the 2002 Arab peace initiative. Some favor both.

It just so happens that, before they were overtaken by the still-unfolding events of the Arab Spring, Obama’s top two Middle East priorities were a two state-solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and avoiding the prospect of an Iranian nuclear weapon without going to war.

Scaling back the aggressive rhetoric against Iran has been key to Obama’s successes — notably absent under the George W. Bush administration — to build an international consensus around putting pressure on Iran to end its nuclear standoff with the West without resorting to a military attack.

A strike would carry enormous costs potentially ranging from Iran blocking oil shipment from the Persian Gulf to regional retaliation against the U.S. and its allies. This came to the fore in the episode that set off the recent public Israeli admonitions of Netanyahu’s policies.

Former Mossad chief Meir Dagan, a “legendary spymaster” and a “hawks’ hawk”, in Goldberg’s words, said that for Israel to attack Iran was “the stupidest thing I have ever heard.” The Israeli daily Haaretz reported:

When asked about what would happen in the aftermath of an Israeli attack Dagan said that: “It will be followed by a war with Iran. It is the kind of thing where we know how it starts, but not how it will end.”

That tracks closely with what many U.S. analysts say, including some former Iraq hawks like the Brookings Institution’s Ken Pollack, and demonstrates why Obama rightly eschews belligerent rhetoric in favor of working with the international community to put pressure on Iran. That pressure, contrary to the proclamations of many Iran hawks, is working.

That effectiveness underscores why even former officials from Netanyahu’s own country seem to be siding with Obama’s approach to Iran. The peace process, meanwhile, remains stalled. But perhaps the opposition to Netanyahu from Israel’s security elite indicates that the Israeli prime minister, whose intransigence was on display during the settlement row with the U.S., deserves a large portion of the blame.