It is true that Halutz is definitely against “red lines.” It is not, however, because he thinks it will interfere with continued diplomacy and will make a war with Iran more likely, as J Street president Jeremy Ben-Ami, who attended the Wednesday night event, wrote.
Instead, Halutz doesn’t like red lines because he thinks they interfere with effective military strategies. He said, “you want to keep some uncertainty to confuse the other side.” In addition, red lines, if not strictly observed, can signal weakness. When Israel withdrew from Lebanon in 2000 and from Gaza in 2005, red lines were announced: not one shot across the border. Well, many shots were fired, Israel did not respond, and that failure hurt Israel’s military credibility. In addition, red lines are not helpful because circumstances change, and international crises are fluid situations. Creating artificial and immovable lines only hamper military decision-making.
The clearest illustration of Halutz’s opposition to red lines is what he said near the end of his talk at Brookings, when he quoted Clint Eastwood, whom he referred to as “the famous actor at the Republican National Convention, when you have to shoot, shoot. Don’t talk. Do not say it, do it.”
In other words, if you have red lines, there is no need to announce it, just take the planned action when those lines are crossed.
Timing of Military Action
A major point of contention for those engaged in the discussion about Iran is the timing of when military action must be taken in order to prevent Iran from acquiring the means to create nuclear weapons. While few suggest that military action should be taken before all other strategies have been attempted, there is still a cavernous gap in understanding when such action should be taken.
Most people agree that Israel’s military action clock is ticking at a faster pace than is the US administration’s military action clock. That is understandable, as Halutz explained, “the risk Israel is taking is higher, Israel is directly threatened.”
What’s more, Halutz offered what could be described as a gun-shy tendency on the part of the US. “I assume, as a human being, that once an organization gave information that led to an operation and the information was found not to be the most accurate, it creates a kind of hesitation for the next time.”
In other words, Halutz suggested that the Obama administration is leery of getting the kind of historic black eye the Bush administration received. “In the US, you have the memory of Saddam with the unconventional weapon, so I assume that they will come and say, there is a green light, the only way the will be sure, is 100 percent, but there is no such thing as 100 percent.” “And in Israel, 100 percent is not needed.”
Military Force as Last, last, last, last option
Still, Halutz has repeatedly stated that “military force is the last, last, last option.” But what does that mean? And can one ever know that something was the last option until one is already past that point?
The tweet sent out from the speech Wednesday night by J Street Local’s national advisory chair and Philadelphia resident Steve Masters, was “Israeli General Danny Halutz: there is still time to confront Iran’s nuclear development – there is no rush.”
But his full statement, which came in response to a question asked at the suburban Philadelphia synagogue was: “I think there is no rush to do it tomorrow, but we are taking a risk, we know what we know, but we don’t know what we don’t know.” He later was more specific: “There is time, it shouldn’t be tomorrow, not next week, maybe not in the next coming months,” but when asked about the announced Iranian elections in June, his response indicated that waiting until that point was not realistic.
So what does Halutz mean when he says that taking military action must be the last option?
That question was put to Halutz by Ken Pollack, Senior Fellow of the Brookings Institution. Halutz explained: “Last, last, last has nothing to do with a timetable.” He continued, “it represents the efforts made in each area.” “If, within a week, we finish all the diplomacy efforts successfully, then the sanctions are effective but nothing is achieved, maybe in two weeks we’ll come to the decision.”