INTERVIEW

'All the major turning points in the Middle East have been fantasy scenarios. You always have to dream.’

FORMER MOSSAD CHIEF EFRAIM HALEVY TALKS TO LINDA FRUM ABOUT THE WAR IN LEBANON AND WHO WON AND WHO LOST

September 4 2006
INTERVIEW

'All the major turning points in the Middle East have been fantasy scenarios. You always have to dream.’

FORMER MOSSAD CHIEF EFRAIM HALEVY TALKS TO LINDA FRUM ABOUT THE WAR IN LEBANON AND WHO WON AND WHO LOST

September 4 2006

'All the major turning points in the Middle East have been fantasy scenarios. You always have to dream.’

INTERVIEW

FORMER MOSSAD CHIEF EFRAIM HALEVY TALKS TO LINDA FRUM ABOUT THE WAR IN LEBANON AND WHO WON AND WHO LOST

Q There is currently tremendous anger in Israel against the government. For example, members of the military’s elite Alexandroni Brigade recently staged an unprecedented protest complaining: “You made us lose this war.” Do you believe the anger is justified?

A: If that is the way the soldiers feel then this has to be taken as a fact of life, and whether it’s justified or unjustified in the eyes of some third party is immaterial. If soldiers felt that they had not been properly prepared, or that they had been given orders which they didn’t understand, or that in some way or another, their freedom of action militarily has been curtailed, inasmuch as this could affect their security, these are ideas which cannot easily be put aside.

Q: But on a strategic level there’s a feeling in Israel that the war was not well fought. The military and political leadership messed up. There was no plan. Or at least, no good plan.

A: I don’t think this is true. I think there was a plan. Obviously the plan did not obtain the desired result, so you can say that since the plan did not obtain the result, therefore the plan was not a good plan. But the desired result can be assessed in many ways. Did we uproot Hezbollah entirely in the way that was hoped for by the powers that be in Israel? No, this was not achieved. Was it possible to achieve this? As you know, the military claim now that they told the government in ad-

vance that this was not something which was within their powers. Hezbollah could be weakened strategically, crippled. Severe damage would be meted out to Hezbollah, but that would not be a result which would end in the complete disappearance of the Hezbollah. But there is another way of looking at it, and that is that one of the major considerations in any war that Israel has fought has been to save as many lives as possible of the fighting force, and from this point of view, yes, lives were lost but the number of lives lost all in all I think was around 150,16O people, including the civilian population, over a period of a month. This compares to, let’s say, the Six Day War, where we had 700 people killed in six days, or the Yom Kippur War where we had 2,000 dead and 10,000 wounded in a period of about 2V2 weeks. So, how do you assess success? It’s not an easy thing to do.

Q: Is7i’t it inevitable that military action will resume in a matter of weeks or months? Contrary to UN Resolution 1701, Syria and Iran are already rearming Hezbollah. And since no other international force seems willing to disarm them, Israel will soon be obliged to go back in and try again?

A: I think that this war was a prelude. It was a prelude to one of two things. Either it was a prelude to a second round, in which the stakes will be higher and the forces committed to battle will be greater and the results will be different. It also could be a prelude to something else. I know that the perspective

now is that Israel did not win this war. But a few things have happened here which does not make this a lopsided victory to either side. Israel claims, in the words of the chief of staff, they won on points. Winning on points is not a victory, because in order for us to achieve what we wanted it should have been a knockout. Whereas from Nasrallah’s point of view—the head of the Hezbollah—he didn’t need to win the war. Survival is tantamount to victory. That’s one aspect to it. There are others. Number one, much of the infrastructure of the Hezbollah in the south was indeed destroyed. They lost 500 to 1,000 fighting men.

Q: Out of how many?

A Out of between 3,000 and 4,000. That’s a very high ratio. All the Hezbollah infrastructure was destroyed in the civilian sector. Hezbollah began many, many years ago in southern Lebanon by doing two things: purchasing much of the farmland in the country, and purchasing most of the drug stores. They wanted to create a situation whereby a) the population would be beholden to them for their livelihood, and b) they wanted to start building a social system, a health system, similar to what Hamas has done in the territories. Now all this has been destroyed and there is a rush between competing powers in the region about who is going to do the rehabilitation. Will it be the Hezbollah handing out money

to the population, or is it going to be Saudi Arabia and Kuwait who are also going to compete with Hezbollah? And it could well be that on this score Hezbollah’s success will be modest. Hezbollah doesn’t have unlimited resources. It’s now doling out sums of $12,000 per person to people whose houses have been damaged in the strife.

There is a power struggle in Lebanon between the agents of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia and the agents of Iran?

A: In the eyes of the population in the south, what will count for them is who rehabilitated them. Was it the Saudi Arabians, or the Kuwaitis? Or was it Hezbollah? There was, by the way, a very strange scene on television, the Iranians handing out American money, American dollars. It’s a Big Satan, the United States, but when it comes to paying the citizens of southern Lebanon, what the Iranians do is pay with the dollar, the almighty dollar.

Q: That’s rich.

A: What I think will happen is this. If the ceasefire doesn’t hold, if for instance the Lebanese army does not ultimately deploy along the border, if an international force does not materialize, if arms begin flowing in large quantities from Syria to Lebanonall these ingredients for the ultimate breakdown of this UN resolution—when this happens, sooner or later I think there will be a resumption of hostilities. Now, here again, talking about failure and success, or victory and defeat, almost from day one those who cried for a ceasefire were Hezbollah, the Iranians and the Syrians. Israel didn’t ask for a ceasefire at the time. Israel asked for something else, and those who tried for a ceasefire knew why they were asking for a ceasefire, because apparently every day that went by more and more of their assets were being destroyed or damaged in almost an irreparable way, and even the president of Iran, when he was at the Muslim Heads of State Conference in Malaysia, made the following very, very strange statement. He said, “Obviously the real solution to the problem is that Israel would cease to exist, but in the meantime we need a ceasefire.” Why do you need a ceasefire if you don’t want Israel to exist? Let the war go on. But maybe this highlights a point of weakness on the part of Iranians.

Q: Or a brilliant manoeuvre. They succeeded in appointing Kofi Annan as official referee. It’s up to him to decide who is in violation of the ceasefire and who isn’t, as if he is capable of seeing this conflict other than just one way...

A: The fact of the matter is that if the international force is not in place, Kofi Annan will not be able to determine who violated what.

One of the purposes of a robust international force would be that it would be able to ascertain what happened, but the UNIFIL, this slow, depleted force which is there, has no capability whatsoever of determining who did what, and certainly whatever they say is lacking any credibility. Now, the French have decided, as you know, to send a force in, the major element of which is 49 French soldiers. If the international force will not get off the ground, then it might well be that this will herald an earlier resumption of hostilities rather than a later one.

Q: And yet, you spoke of Israel’s reluctance to lose large numbers of casualties...

A: At the beginning. I think the strategy was that the air strike would be more effective than it was. Once this didn’t happen, the alternative strategy was employed. I suppose that there will be those who will argue the effectiveness of one way and those who argue the other way. I don’t want to project myself as a military strategist. Military strategy was not my area of competence when I was around.

Q: Your area of competence, one of them, was targeted assassinations?

A: No. My organization was not involved in this kind of activity. This was all part of the IDF security service operation in the Gaza Strip and so forth. Some scurrilous report attributed it to me. Not that I think it was wrong to do, but I don’t want to take credit for what I didn’t do.

Q: Fair enough. But let me ask you this: since one of the aspirations of this campaign was to take out Nasrallah personally, do you think, if intelligence permitted, a targeted assassination of Nasrallah continues to be a desirable tactic?

A: That would be something for the prime minister to decide.

Q: Of course. But I’m asking you on a purely strategic, theoretical level.

A: I know, but there’s no such thing as a pure strategic theoretical level. Everything is related to circumstances at that moment in time, and therefore nobody can say strategically, theoretically, what you should do at a given moment.

Q: After the two Israeli soldiers were kidnapped in Lebanon, you advocated that Israel should enter into direct negotiations with Iran for their release?

A What I said was this: the hostages will not be released unless there’s a green light from Tehran, and if we have to deal for the release of the hostages, let’s deal directly with those who have the power and authority to make the decision. I know my view is not popular in Israel at the moment, and I was severely criticized. I still believe that,

when you have an enemy like Iran, which is the most deadly enemy that Israel has ever had, and the nature of the threat which they have potentially is a terrible threat. Nevertheless, I believe there is merit in dealing directly with your enemy. I see maybe—maybe—out of such a direct negotiation or contact or dialogue something can come out which is positive.

Q: Will Iran take Israel’s phone call?

A: I’m not sure. What I’m saying is, I believe that if the United States will find itself negotiating with the Iranians on the issue of the nuclear enrichment programs of the Iranians and their intentions to obtain nuclear military capabilities, if the United States is going to be there, Israel should be there too, and we should ask the United States to allow us to be next to their side. Because the issues that will come up there will not only be the nuclear issue but other issues.

'It’s a Big Satan, the U.S., but the Iranians pay the citizens of southern Lebanon with the almighty dollar1

Q: That sounds like a bit of a fantasy scenario, doesn’t it?

A: The Middle East is full of fantasy scenarios. All the major turning points in the Middle East have been fantasy scenarios. If three days before Sadat came to Jerusalem I would tell you, “Look, Sadat is going to come to Jerusalem,” you’d say, “That’s a fantasy.” When I came up with the idea that we do a peace treaty with Jordan, the immediate reaction was that this was the realm of fantasy. In order to bring a change in the Middle East you always have to dream and enter the realm of fantasy. M