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March 29, 2015 / 9 Nisan, 5775
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Begin’

Egyptian Grand Mufti in Jerusalem

Thursday, April 19th, 2012

Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa, a top Egyptian Islamic cleric, came to Jerusalem to show support for Palestinian claims to eastern Jerusalem on Wednesday, breaking a long-standing taboo imposed by Muslim clerics, professional and private organizations against visiting Israel.

Gomaa, who prayed in the Al-Aqsa mosque situated on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, wrote on his Twitter account that he made the trip to show solidarity with the Palestinians, according to a report by the Associated Press.

Despite a 1979 peace treaty between Israel and Egypt under Prime Minister Menachem Begin and President Gamael Abdel Nasser, Egypt and Israel share cold relations.  In September, a mob of several thousand rioters threatened to lynch the diplomatic corps at the Israeli embassy in Cairo, leading to the evacuation of the majority of workers and staff.

The Muslim Brotherhood condemned the visit on Thursday, with Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Mahmoud Ghozian saying “Muslim clerics have taken a position that there is no visiting Jerusalem under continued Israeli occupation.  He violated this opinion of the majority of clerics.  Why, I don’t know.”  Abdel-Akher Hamad, the leader of the fundamentalist Al-Gamaa al-Islamiyya associated Gomaa with the ousted regime of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and said Gomaa would not enjoy his position for much longer.

Though Gomaa’s position on Israel is unclear, a 2007 report in the Egyptian daily al-Ahram newspaper stated that he considered the famous Jewish blood libel, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, to be a forgery, and took a publisher who falsely put his name on an introduction to its Arabic translation to court.

Gomaa was appointed by Mubarak in 2003 to serve as Egypt’s top religious law authority.

Since the expulsion of Mubarak, the Muslim Brotherhood influence has increased throughout the country, and with it, a decline in sentiment toward Israel.

Bibi Will Fail, Like Other PMs Who Evicted Jews: Begin, Sharon, Olmert

Thursday, April 5th, 2012

I had just wrapped up a pleasant visit with my good friend Jack from the US. As he pulled away, the beeper beeped, with something of a blood-chilling message: “Police have broken into Machpelah House and are expelling its residents.”

Over the past few days, a number of important politicians had visited Machpelah House, including Ministers Yuli Edelstein, Yisrael Katz, Moshe Kachlon, Deputy Minister Gila Gamliel, and MKs Uri Ariel and Tzippy Hotoveli. And there may be others that I’ve forgotten.

When Barak insisted on expelling the families from the building, others, including Gideon Sa’ar and Limur Livnat, protested publicly.

Last night, as we were conducting a small dedication in Machpelah House, Bibi was meeting with a group of ministers to discuss the “crisis.” Unofficial results consisted of “no decision yet” and “no change in status,” at least until of end of April.

So when the storm-troopers crashed the party early Wednesday afternoon, very few people were home. Most were at their “other homes,” getting ready for Passover. It only took a few minutes for the hundreds of police, border police, soldiers and riot squad to round up a few women and kids, and see them to the door. Quiet, peaceful, almost pastoral. Almost. But not quite. Watching a group of about twenty Border-police women surrounding and escorting a young woman with her two very small children isn’t really tranquility-in-action. Actually, it’s rather sickening.

So what happened? Yesterday Bibi said that we’d have some time to prove our case. And today?

It seems that our Prime Minister, as we get close to the holiday celebrating our exodus from Egypt, decided to dress up as the Pharaoh and to assist with another exodus. This one from Hebron. Of course, his original great great granddaddy tried to keep us in Egypt. His great great grandson, the new version of the Pharaoh, is doing the opposite, which is, expelling us – from our homes, our property, our land.

Good ol’ Bibi is the same Prime Minister whose actions took Hebron into Hell. The decision to split the city, leaving most of Hebron with Arafat, including the hills surrounding the Jewish community, led to massive gunfire directed at us for two and a half years. Leading to the killing of Shalhevet Pass, and to the injuring of others, physically and otherwise. Bibi promised us we’d be safe. He lied.

In the government decision of January, 1997, Bibi promised to assist Hebron, building and developing its Jewish community. He lied.

A day ago, Bibi promised that Machpelah House residents would have a chance to prove that they really own the building. He lied.

A true Pharaoh at heart.

Bibi’s coalition is fairly right-wing. The people in his cabinet certainly lean right. Likud’s MKs, for the most part, certainly lean right. His coalition partners certainly lean right.

Except for one: Ehud Barak. Barak is, for all intents and purposes, partyless. He left Labor, and doesn’t have a spot in the polls. He’s a nothing, a political nobody. Yet he is Defense Minister of the State of Israel, and as such, wields tremendous authority. So much so that his lone opinion outweighs that of Netanyahu’s party, MKs, Ministers and coalition. So if Ehud says…, Bibi does.

What a mighty, powerful Pharaoh!

It’s clear that this is not an isolated incident. It fits, hand–in-hand, with Barak’s plans to expel Jews from Migron, Beit El, and who knows where else. This is just the beginning of the rolling of the snowball, whose true goal is the deletion of all Jewish presence in Judea and Samaria.

Other Prime Ministers have expelled Jews from their homes: Menachem Begin, Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert. What happened to them?

That’s where Pharaoh Bibi is headed. In the same direction. He will fizzle and fail. And Machpelah House, as ensconced in the name (Machpelah means ‘double’), will double, triple and quadruple itself, many times over.

Guaranteed!

Preempt Iran — At All Costs!

Wednesday, February 1st, 2012

The discussion about the cost of a pre-emptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities is valuable only if intended to advance the attack and neutralize the possible retaliation by Iran and its allies. However, such a discussion is harmful, ignores precedents, plays into Iran’s hands and threatens Israel’s existence, if it reflects hesitancy, skepticism and fatalism, aiming to preclude preemption, and assuming that Israel can co-exist with a nuclear-armed Iran.

On May 12, 1948, the pre-state Israeli Cabinet decided by a vote of six to four to declare independence and include Jerusalem within Israel’s boundaries, despite internal opposition and pressure by the U.S. and despite a terrible price: The U.S. withheld military aid, threatened economic sanctions and surmised that the declaration of independence would result in a second Holocaust, this time at the hands of the Arabs. Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion refused to abide by the American pressure to postpone the declaration of independence by a few years, knowing that such a delay would be tragic in the long run, and that independence exacts a painful price.

On Oct. 5, 1973, the eve of the Yom Kippur War, Prime Minister Golda Meir rejected the option of a pre-emptive strike to repel the clear and present danger of a joint Egyptian-Syrian attack. She was concerned about the cost of such a strike — namely appearing as the aggressor and severely damaging ties with the U.S. — and preferred to be portrayed as the victim. However, the terrible, long-term cost of that war has been far greater than pre-emptive action would have been. As expected, Israel was not viewed as a victim, but rather as a country that lost the “spirit of the Six-Day War,” eroding is own deterrent power, and undermining its position as a strategic asset for the U.S.

In June 1981, on the eve of the destruction of the nuclear reactor in Iraq, then Prime Minister Menachem Begin weighed the cost of a pre-emptive strike versus the cost of inaction. The heads of the Mossad and Military Intelligence, former Defense Minister Ezer Weizman, opposition leader Shimon Peres, Deputy Prime Minister Yigael Yadin, Israel’s national security adviser and the Head of the Atomic Energy Commission all opposed striking Iraq. They presented apocalyptic scenarios that would result from such action: an irreparable rift with the U.S., harsh sanctions, conflict with the Soviet Union and Western Europe, reconciliation between Muslim countries and a pan-Islamic attack, threats to the peace treaty with Egypt and other doomsday events. They underestimated the probability of a successful pre-emptive attack and overestimated Iraq’s military capabilities. Some claimed there was a greater chance of seeing Israeli pilots being dragged through the streets of Baghdad than being welcomed back to their bases. But, Begin decided in favor of a pre-emptive strike, determining that the cost of restraint could be far greater than that of a pre-emptive strike; that a nuclear threat would subordinate Israel both politically and militarily; that a nuclear attack could not be ruled out considering the violent, unpredictable and hateful nature of regimes in the region, and that the ratio of Israeli territory to that of surrounding Arab states (0.2%) did not allow for a Mutual Assured Destruction. Begin understood that the window of opportunity for a strike against Iraq’s nuclear reactor was about to close. The destruction of the reactor drew short-term isolation, which was promptly substituted by a long-term strategic esteem and cooperation.

In 2012, after a decade of failed attempts at engagement and sanctions, and in light of the assistance (in terms of development and acquisition) Iran has received from Pakistan, North Korea, Russia and China for its nuclear program, Israel must decide between launching a pre-emptive attack to eliminate that threat or facing it. Opponents of an attack warn that it could potentially result in a harsh response from Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas, and international anger directed at Israel over higher oil prices, a wave of terror and Persian Gulf turbulence. Yet, these pale in comparison to the lethal cost of a nuclear threat, which includes a withdrawal of overseas and Israeli investors from the country, a record number of Israeli emigrants and a sharp decline of Aliya (Jewish immigration), dwindling tourism, intensification of military-political-economic dependence on the U.S., a more powerful and influential Iranian regime that takes control of the Persian Gulf , and the transformation of Israel from a strategic asset to a strategic liability. Israel would wither without even one nuclear warhead needing to be launched.

The discussion about the cost of a pre-emptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities is valuable only if intended to advance the attack and neutralize the possible retaliation by Iran and its allies. However, such a discussion is harmful, ignores precedents, plays into Iran’s hands and threatens Israel’s existence, if it reflects hesitancy, skepticism and fatalism, aiming to preclude preemption, and assuming that Israel can co-exist with a nuclear-armed Iran.

Are Small Parties Good for Democracy?

Thursday, January 26th, 2012

Today, Israel has thirteen officially recognized parties represented in the Knesset, with an unofficial fourteenth party consisting only of Chaim Amsalem, who is officially from Shas. The largest parties in the Knesset are Kadima with 28 seats and Likud with 27 seats. Together the two largest parties own 55 seats, representing just 45 percent of the Knesset.

In the 1981 elections Menachem Begin’s Likud won 48 seats, compared to the Alignment (predecessor of the Labor party) under Shimon Peres, which came in second place with 47. These two parties occupied 95 seats of the Knesset’s 120. With almost eighty percent of the votes cast representing just two parties it was the closest Israel has ever come to a two-party system. In total, ten parties passed the required 1% threshold to win at least a single seat. The third largest party was the National Religious Party with six seats.

The larger parties have been troubled by their shrinking numbers. In addition, having numerous parties represented in Knesset has resulted in difficulties forming coalition governments after elections. Kadima conducted a private poll about electoral reform prior to the 2009 elections and found that most Israelis want electoral reform but disagree on the type. Kadima’s solution was to campaign on electoral reform but not disclose exactly what type of reform that would be.

There have since been many proposals for electoral reform from various parties. The goal of the proposals has typically been to reduce the number of parties and thus facilitate the coalition process. The latest measure presented came from Prime Minister Netanyahu, who established a coalition committee to discuss changing the electoral system. The main reason given for the formation of the committee was that too many small parties are bad for democracy. Netanyahu explained that since the leading party is a minority in its coalition they cannot govern properly, and steps need to be taken to change that. Among the measures being considered are raising the threshold for a party to enter Knesset, currently at 2%, to perhaps as high as 5%, or 6 seats. This would be the third time the threshold would be raised since Israel’s establishment. Eight of the current Knesset’s thirteen parties have 5 or fewer seats.

A recent poll showed that in 2009 55% of Israeli voters in the 18-35 age bracket voted for small parties. While young voters are embracing the smaller parties, those parties will likely need to merge in the event the threshold is raised. But are small parties really bad for democracy, as Netanyahu charged?

The answer lies in how you define democracy. Is Democracy a form of government in which all citizens have a representative say in the decisions that affect their lives or is democracy achieved when only large groups have that say. If you agree with the former, raising the threshold of votes required for a party to enter the Knesset would be undemocratic. According to the latter it would be undemocratic not to raise the threshold.

Thirty years ago Shulamit Aloni entered the Knesset with 1% of the vote as the lone representative of the Ratz party, the predecessor of Meretz, which reached a high of 12 seats in 1992. Since then the threshold has been raised twice. The latest parties to lose out were the Green party, which received 1.5% of the vote, and the Green Leaf party, which received 1.3% of the vote, in the 2006 elections.

A common criticism of Israel’s current style of government is that nothing ever gets done. What it offers, though, is that when something does get done usually a majority of Israelis agree with it. Those who preach electoral reform feel minority groups shouldn’t have such a powerful say in a democracy. Those who oppose it feel the minorities’ representation is what makes Israel a democracy.

Will the system ever be changed? How will the new system work? We don’t know yet. Geographic voting districts could eliminate the smaller parties, but determining how to divide up those districts would raise a whole new set of issues. Electoral reform will continue to be discussed, but I expect only a small increase in the threshold. Smaller parties will probably merge and one day some might surpass the current larger parties. In the meantime, the larger parties should examine why they are losing their voters instead of forcing the smaller parties to merge.

3 Likud Ministers Oppose Likud Bill Authorizing Migron Outpost Community

Sunday, January 15th, 2012

Likud ministers Benny Begin, Michael Eitan, and Dan Meridor staunchly opposed a bill presented at the Likud ministers’ meeting Sunday morning that would legalize outposts in Judea and Samaria.

The proposed bill states that if a land owner in Judea or Samaria fails to take legal action within four years of the moment a home is built on his land, the structure will not be torn down. In such cases, the landowner will receive other forms of compensation.

The three ministers implored Prime Minister Netanyahu to demolish Migron in accordance with the High Court’s ruling.

Fire From The Skies

Wednesday, June 1st, 2011

Thirty years ago next week – shortly after 5:30 p.m. on June 7, 1981 – Israeli fighter jets flew undetected through hundreds of miles of Arab air space and rained fire from the skies over Baghdad, laying waste an atomic reactor and depriving a brutish dictator the potential for mass destruction.

“The precision of the bombing,” marveled a French technician who viewed the wreckage, “was stupefying.”

Ze’ev Raz, the mission’s lead pilot, recalled years later in an interview with The Jewish Press that “things happened there that to this day we have no explanation for. For instance, according to all calculations the Iraqi radar systems were supposed to have spotted us at least 15 minutes before the bombing despite the fact that we flew at very low altitude.

“That’s why we had eight and not four F-16 fighters, because we thought for sure the Iraqis would spot us and send several MIGs to try to down us. We thought we would encounter heavy resistance.

“Don’t forget, the Iraqis were threatened by Iran too, so for sure they had their radar system and fighter MIGs on alert. We never thought we would take them by such complete surprise. But they didn’t do a thing.

“Here is another inexplicable thing: King Hussein was vacationing in Aqaba and saw us on our way toward Iraq. He immediately phoned Amman – our intelligence picked up the whole conversation then – and reported it to them. But those idiots ignored it and didn’t do anything . Of course it was a miracle. How is it possible that even after we bombed the reactor not one plane tried to down us?”

Miracle or not, the world was outraged. Voices that had been silent for years, while Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein courted the feckless nations of the West in his quest for nuclear bombs, were suddenly raised in a chorus of indignation:

“We don’t think [Israel’s] action serves the cause of peace in the area.” – French Foreign Minister Claude Cheysson, whose country supplied Hussein the ill-fated reactor.

“Provocative, ill timed and internationally illegal.” – U.S. Senator Mark Hatfield.

“Armed attack in such circumstances cannot be justified; it represents a grave breach of international law.” – British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

“Israel’s sneak attack…was an act of inexcusable and shortsighted aggression.” – New York Times editorial.

“[The attack] did severe damage to the hope in which Israel’s true security must lie: the hope of realistic relations with all its neighbors.” – New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis.

“[Israel has] vastly compounded the difficulties of procuring a peaceful settlement of the confrontations in the Middle East.” – Time magazine.

Innocent souls unschooled in the machinations of diplomatic flimflam were no doubt mystified by the uproar.

After all, wasn’t the act of separating a ruthless tyrant from a state-of-the-art nuclear arsenal a good thing?

And wasn’t Saddam Hussein, at the very time of the Israeli attack, a year into his bloody invasion of Iran?

And hadn’t Hussein worked long and hard to earn the nickname “Butcher of Baghdad”?

* * * * *
For Saddam Hussein, procurement of an arsenal that could mean the destruction of Israel was a goal of the highest priority.

Iraq had never been reticent in displaying its animosity toward the Jewish state. When the Arab League organized an “Inter-Arab Command” in the months before Israel’s birth, an Iraqi general was placed in charge, and at the conclusion of the first Arab-Israeli war, Iraq refused to sign an armistice – in stark contrast to the Arab front-line states of Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.

More recently, nine Jews had been hanged in Baghdad in 1969 on trumped-up charges of spying for Israel.

Iraq’s interest in nuclear technology dated back to 1959, when the Soviet Union, looking to expand its influence in the region, agreed to provide Baghdad with a reactor, enriched uranium and a team of scientists and engineers. After several delays – the Iraqis accused the Russians of dragging their feet – the reactor finally went operational in 1968.

Though the Soviets upgraded the reactor’s output (from two to five megawatts) three years later, they steadfastly refused to supply the Iraqis with any material that could have been used in the manufacture of nuclear bombs.

Iraq in the early 1970s had come under the de facto control of Saddam Hussein, though officially Hussein was second in command to General Ahmed Hassan-al-Bakr. Described by those who knew him as “power hungry to the point of insanity,” Hussein destroyed his political enemies, in the process raising the practice of torture to an art form. His stated goal was to succeed the late Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser as undisputed leader of the Arab world.

Possession of nuclear weapons was central to Hussein’s ambitions. But since the Soviets had unequivocally rejected the Iraqis’ requests on that score, the search was on for a country more willing to deal. Fortunately for Hussein, his rap sheet of bloodshed and megalomania meant nothing to the French, who loved to make new friends, particularly ones swimming in oil.

In 1974 France’s foreign minister, Michel Jobert, went to Baghdad and pledged any assistance Iraq might need to build up its technological infrastructure.

“I am happy,” Jobert said in a toast to his Iraqi hosts, “that your great country will now have the means to restore its past glory.”

Not to be outdone by Jobert’s groveling, the French prime minister, Jacques Chirac, paid a call on Hussein the following year and proclaimed the Iraqi dictator a “great statesman whose qualities will lead his people toward progress and national prosperity.”

It wasn’t long after Chirac’s visit that France agreed to build a nuclear reactor in Iraq – strictly for research purposes, both sides claimed.

“Research” was, of course, the last thing on Hussein’s mind, and he let it be known he was in the market for a hot cell – a piece of equipment that would enable Iraq to develop weapons-grade plutonium. Italy proved eager to sell Iraq what it needed, and at that stage only the blind or the French could fail to see what Hussein had in mind.

All the while Israel had been keeping a wary eye on Iraq’s nuclear ambitions. When Menachem Begin took office in 1977, he stepped up behind-the-scenes efforts to prevent Iraq from becoming a nuclear threat. The U.S. was Begin’s best hope, but the Carter administration, for all its talk of the need to halt the spread of nuclear weapons, was less than energetic in pursuing the matter.

As Israel’s diplomatic efforts foundered, pressure of a different sort was brought to bear on the Iraqis. In April 1979, just days before the French were scheduled to ship the nearly completed reactor to Iraq, saboteurs infiltrated a warehouse near the port of Toulon and attempted to blow up the reactor’s core. Damage, however, was relatively minimal.

Fourteen months later, the head of Iraq’s nuclear program was killed in his Paris hotel room.

Israeli agents were believed responsible for both incidents.

* * * * *
Sabotage and assassination notwithstanding, work continued as planned on the reactor the French had name Osirak but the Iraqis called Tammuz 1. By the autumn of 1980, Begin had concluded that Israel would have to take direct military action. As his military strategists set to work on a plan to take out the reactor, Begin kept up the diplomatic entreaties, all to no avail. The French insisted that Iraq’s intentions were of a purely peaceful nature.

By early 1981 the only question remaining for Begin was when to launch an attack on the reactor. The operation was postponed on more than one occasion when members of Begin’s cabinet voiced concerns over how the U.S. would react to the attack.

For his part, Begin expected a sharp reaction from Washington, perhaps even a U.S. vote to condemn Israel in the UN. But, he thought, it would all be so much window-dressing. Ronald Reagan had defeated Jimmy Carter the previous November, and Begin regarded President Reagan and his secretary of state, Alexander Haig, as warm friends of Israel.

As winter turned to spring, Begin began bracing himself for a final decision to strike at Iraq. He’d informed Labor party leader Shimon Peres of the plan to bomb the reactor. Peres made clear his opposition to the idea. Begin now knew the operation would bring harsh reaction not only from the outside world but from within Israel as well.

Adding to his uncertainty, Israelis would be heading to the polls in just a few weeks. Begin was locked in an extremely tight race with Peres and feared he would be accused of staging the raid as an election ploy. But he had an even greater fear – one that convinced him of the need to act before the election and a possible Peres victory.

“He really believed that Peres would never have the guts to order the raid,” said a Begin aide. “And Begin couldn’t bear the thought of Israel living in terror of an Iraqi bomb.”

The attack on the Iraqi reactor was set for early May but Begin called it off at literally the last moment when he learned that precise details of the mission had been leaked to Peres. If Peres
knew about it, Begin feared others – and not just in Israel – might have the same information.

* * * * *
Four weeks later, Begin decided he could wait no longer. In the early afternoon hours of Sunday, June 7 – the eve of the festival of Shavuot – Israeli pilots went through one last rehearsal. Shortly after 4 p.m., the planes – eight F-16s and several F-15 interceptors – took off from southern Israel.

The F-16 pilots were Ze’ev Raz, Amos Yadlin, Dobbi Yaffe, Hagai Katz, Amir Nachumi, Iftach Spector, Relik Shafir, and Ilan Ramon (who would go on to become Israel’s first astronaut, only to perish in the Columbia space shuttle disaster in 2003).

Begin summoned his cabinet to his home in Jerusalem. “Welcome, my friends,” he greeted the assembled group. “At this very moment our planes are approaching Baghdad.”

Not long afterward, Begin received the message he’d been anxiously awaiting.Thereactor had been destroyed and the pilots were on their way home.

Baruch Hashem,” Begin exclaimed. “What wonderful boys we have.”

In Israel, news of the raid set off an atmosphere of euphoria not felt since the 1976 Entebbe rescue. As expected, the Labor opposition was highly critical of the operation and its timing, but the criticism was quickly toned down once Peres and his colleagues realized how out of sync they were with the mood in the street.

The U.S. reacted much the way Begin thought it would. The Reagan administration voted to condemn Israel in the UN, and several F-16s scheduled for shipment to Israel were held back a few weeks. At the same time, President Reagan called Begin to assure him of his continued support.

“Technically,” Reagan would write years later, “Israel had violated an agreement not to use U.S.-made weapons for offensive purposes, and some cabinet members wanted me to lean hard on Israel because it had broken this pledge … but I sympathized with Begin’s motivations and privately believed we should give him the benefit of the doubt.”

Begin survived the international firestorm of criticism and went on to win reelection. His defense of the raid was blunt and emotional.

“The Iraqis were preparing atomic bombs to drop on the children of Israel,” he told a gathering of foreign correspondents in Jerusalem several days after the attack.

“Haven’t you heard of one-and-a-half million little Jewish children who were thrown into the gas chambers? Another Holocaust would have happened in the history of the Jewish people.

“Never again, never again. Tell your friends, tell anybody you meet, we shall defend our people with all the means at our disposal.”

Many of Begin’s Israeli critics would admit to having second thoughts in the weeks and months following the raid.

“Up to this point in time, the fact is that I was not right,” conceded Labor’s Mordechai Gur.

“It was a triumph, no diplomatic harm was caused and Israeli deterrence was reinforced,” said Abba Eban.

Moshe Dayan may have put it best: “Not one Arab would shed a tear were Israel to vanish off the face of the map…. To me, the raid was a positive action. Iraq was producing nuclear weapons against Israel, and we were obliged to defend ourselves.”

It took the rest of the world a little more time to come to grips with Saddam Hussein, but few illusions remained by the time Iraq invaded Kuwait in the summer of 1990.

In 1981 the Soviet Union had characterized the attack on Saddam’s reactor as “an act of gangsterism”; nine years later the Soviet chief of staff called it understandable.

In the fall of 1990, as an American-led coalition prepared for war with Iraq, U.S. defense secretary Dick Cheney publicly thanked Israel for its action.

* * * * *

In his 2007 interview with The Jewish Press, Ze’ev Raz looked back on the raid he led:

The General Staff originally wanted us to carry out the bombing after sunset so it would be harder for the Iraqis to attack us on the way back. But I was opposed to that. I thought if we did the bombing after sunset there wouldn’t be enough light and our planes would miss their target – so I insisted that the bombing take place before sunset.

As a result, we flew back as the sun was setting. But since the planes were traveling at such a fast speed, the sun was out all the time and never set. It was as though it remained standing in the middle of the horizon.

At that time we pilots all radioed each other reciting the same exact biblical verse – Joshua 10:12: “Sun, stand still over Gibeon, and moon, over the Valley of Ayalon.”

You know, as I am recalling this now I am getting goose bumps.

Tales Of Begin (And Other Prime Ministers): A Conversation with Ambassador Yehuda Avner

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

Political intrigue. Backroom discussions. Revealing portraits. These and more fill the pages of a new memoir by Ambassador Yehuda Avner, The Prime Ministers: An Intimate Narrative of Israeli Leadership (Toby Press). Hailed as the “ultimate insider’s account,” this 731-page book reveals hitherto unknown stories based on recollections and notes Avner took while working for four different Israeli prime ministers.

Avner served as an adviser and English speechwriter to Levi Eshkol, Golda Meir, Yitzhak Rabin, and Menachem Begin, and later as Israel’s ambassador to Great Britain, Ireland, and Australia.

This month he heads to the United States for a book tour.

The Jewish Press: You write in the book that Menachem Begin was “the most exceptional” of the various prime ministers you worked for. How so?

Avner: I’m an observant Jew. Eshkol, Meir, and Rabin were total secularists. So it was tremendously refreshing after 20 years of working with these others to suddenly find myself in the proximity of a man – Begin – who was a quintessential Jew. I don’t say he was totally observant at home, but certainlyb’farhesia, outside, he was very strict, and he understood me and I understood him – it was intuitive.

The first Friday after Begin entered office, I received a phone call from a bachur at the Chevron Yeshiva – his name was Herzog, although I don’t think he was any relation to the famous Herzog family – who said he wanted to come to the prime minister’s residence to check the mezuzot. I, having been almost conditioned by working with the other agnostic prime ministers, was taken by surprise and said I didn’t know whether the prime minister would want someone to check his mezuzot. So I said, “Leave me your telephone number.” Then I went in to say “Shabbat shalom” to Begin and told him [about Herzog’s offer]. He said, “Oh, zeh chashuv, it’s important, let him come and check.”

So Herzog came, took off the mezuzah, checked it, and found that it was passul. Begin then took the klaf that Herzog had brought with him and affixed the mezuzah himself, making the berachah, b’shem malchut, by heart. I was looking around for cameras, because politicians do things to make an impression on the public, but [there were none].

Wasn’t Begin the first prime minister who asked for kosher food when traveling?

He was the first to insist that all public dinners abroad be kosher l’mehadrin. At Begin’s first meeting at the White House, Jimmy Carter himself made an announcement and said, “This is a truly historic occasion. For the first time in the history of the White House, a dinner is being served that is totally kosher under the supervision of rabbis.”

What would Begin say concerning Israel’s political situation were he alive today?

He would never say, “two-state solution.” He would say “hamoledet, the homeland, the sacred homeland” – that its territory must be untouched and there can be no compromises. So he would sharply differ with Bibi Netanyahu’s present approach.

But many people blame Begin for being the first to accept the notion of “land for peace,” by signing the Camp David accords in 1978.

I think that is a gross misreading of the truth. The peace treaty with Egypt in Begin’s view was of momentous strategic importance because Egypt is the largest and most powerful and influential of all the Arab countries. There never was a war against us – and I’m quoting Begin now – which Egypt did not launch and there never was a war that ended without Egypt being the first to pull out. In other words, the key to war and peace of all the Arab states against Israel was always Egypt. And he was determined to break that cycle, and the fact is that he did make peace with Egypt and that cycle has been broken.

But “land for peace” is now applied to the West Bank as well.

Begin was an ardent follower of Ze’ev Jabotinsky and his philosophy, and Jabotinsky had too much respect for the Arabs to believe that they would ever accommodate themselves to living in peace with Zionism and a Jewish state. So it was he who conceived the idea of giving autonomy to the Palestinian Arabs.

What to do, though, when those Arabs abuse their autonomy and attempt to eradicate the people who gave it to them?

I cannot answer that question. I’m not indulging it because I don’t know.

Today, “transfer” is a dirty word, but in the first half of the 20th century, transferring Arabs out of Palestine was favored by such personalities as Presidents Herbert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt. Did Begin or any of the other prime ministers you worked for ever consider transferring the Arabs out of the West Bank?

Never.

You spend five pages in The Prime Ministers talking about the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Why?

Because the Lubavitcher Rebbe was very important to Begin. They were very good friends. Begin was no Lubavitcher – he came from Brisk – but over the years they had established a very close friendship. He had tremendous admiration for the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

I understand that relations between the two cooled after Camp David. Is that true?

There are relations which are eternal and there are opinions which can differ. The Lubavitcher Rebbe considered Camp David a mistake. I sat with him for over five hours going over the material at Begin’s request, document by document. He thought it was a strategic mistake to return the whole Sinai and dismantle the settlements. He was categorical on this, but Begin had a different view and I communicated Begin’s view.

Begin, incidentally, also had a very close relationship with Reb Moshe Feinstein that went back over many years.

Begin resigned as prime minister in 1983 and went into virtual seclusion until his death in 1992. Do you have any insight as to why?

I don’t pretend to have a full answer to that question. I don’t think anybody has a full answer. The closest I can get to it is that he’d lost his life’s partner, his wife, who had been with him through thick and thin. Then there were the casualties of the first Lebanon War which pained him deeply. Then there was the fact that he’d had two heart attacks, a minor stroke, and had broken his hip. He also had differences of opinions with Ronald Reagan when he was president. I think he just got to the end of his strength. His words to the cabinet when he resigned were, “Eini yachol yoteir, I just can’t go on.”

You have an interesting story in the book about eating kosher food at the White House while working for Yitzhak Rabin.

Yes. President Ford made a dinner for Rabin in the White House with about 200 of the Who’s Who of Washington. Because I was in the White House so often, I had gotten to know the White House housekeeper very well. Her name was Mary Lou. She knew about my kosher needs and always made sure I had a vegetarian dish.

On this particular occasion, everybody was eating roast pheasant with roast potatoes and decorative garnished beans while my place setting was empty. They had misspelled my name – instead of “Yehuda Avner,” my place card read “Yeduha Avner” – and I thought that might be the reason I had not yet received my dish. Now, on my right was Barbara Walters and on my left was the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Brown. At one point, General Brown leaned over to mark my name and said to me, “Yeduha, you’re not eating with us tonight?”

Whereupon a butler stepped forward and placed before me an extravaganza of color that consisted of a base of lettuce, on top of that a mound of diced fruit, on top of that a blob of cottage cheese, and on top of that a swish of whipped cream, so that the whole thingamajig stood about a foot high. Compared to everybody else’s deep ground roasted pheasant it sparkled like a firework, and Barbara Walters began to applaud. This caught the attention of the president, and he half rose to see what was happening. He then whispered something into Rabin’s ear and Rabin whispered something back into his ear, and then the president stood up and called out to me, “Happy birthday, young fella!” That got the whole hall standing on its feet singing, “Happy birthday, dear Yeduha.”

In the ballroom after dinner I asked Rabin, “Why on earth did you tell the president it was my birthday?” and in all seriousness he shot back and said, “What? I should have told him the truth and tomorrow will be a headline in the Israeli newspapers that you ate kosher and I didn’t and the religious parties will bolt the coalition and I’ll have a government crisis on my hands? Ani meshuga?” Those were his very words.

[Immediately after, Rabin faced a personal crisis as] President Ford swept Leah Rabin onto the brightly lit ballroom floor and waltzed her around to general applause, while First Lady Betty Ford flashed a smile at Rabin, awaiting his invitation to follow suit. With nowhere to run he grimly made his way toward Mrs. Ford and croaked, “Please forgive me, I can’t [dance].”

“Can’t dance?” The woman seemed astounded, as if she had never heard of such a thing. “Not a step,” blushed the prime minister. “I’ll be treading on your toes all the while. I’ve tried it before. I’m no good at it.”

“Have no fear, Mr. Prime Minister,” chortled a buoyant Mrs. Ford, taking him by the hand and leading him onto the ballroom floor. “When I was younger I used to teach dance, and I protected my toes from men far less skillful than you. Now this is how you do it .” and she rotated the crimson-faced premier around and around, he staring fixedly at the first lady’s toes until [Henry] Kissinger tapped him on the shoulder, and said in deadly seriousness, “Yitzhak, give up while you’re ahead. Mrs. Ford, may I have this dance?”

“By all means,” she said, letting go of Rabin, who tottered toward his chuckling staffers, muttering, “If Henry Kissinger does nothing else for Israel but save me from that embarrassment I shall be forever in his debt.”

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/interviews-and-profiles/tales-of-begin-and-other-prime-ministers-a-conversation-with-ambassador-yehuda-avner/2010/11/10/

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