It will be a moment where government ministers hold their breath. Newspapers, books, and maybe even movies will portray it, years later, as a “historical moment.”
The “visitors” by the government table – the IDF chief of staff, Mossad chief, Shin Bet chief, and various advisors – will take a close look at the ministers. Weeks, months, or years later, each one of these visitors will remember the facial expressions on the ministers’ faces and their paleness. The ministers themselves won’t forget it either.
Seconds earlier, the prime minister will turn to his colleagues sitting around the table. He too will grow pale then. Years of discussions and preparations will come to an end at that moment.
Benjamin Netanyahu, as the son of a historian and as one who is deeply familiar with how history is written, will say a few words for the protocol, clearly realizing that this is how he perpetuates himself, and certainly his words, in the history books. Then, the government meeting room will grow silent. What will Netanyahu propose that we do, or don’t do, in respect to Iran’s nuclear bomb being built underground as we speak? What can be done?
Much, and even very much, depends on one man who will be sitting by the table, without the right to vote. Before the ministers vote, the prime minister will turn to him. He will be the last speaker before the ministers speak. “The chief of staff,” Netanyahu will say. “Go ahead.”
Netanyahu is familiar with the army chief’s position, which had been uttered during days and nights of endless discussions. Now, before such fateful decision, he will ask the army chief to fully explain his position. Netanyahu also knows that some of the ministers – and possibly many of them – will vote in line with Lieutenant GeneralGabi Ashkenazi’s position.
Our generation’s mission
Assuming that the undersigned knows the current army chief, and he indeed makes pretenses of knowing him, Ashkenazi will not grant the government the honor and pleasure of shifting the decision to his shoulders. He will present the most accurate data, the “in favor” and “against” positions, and then he will say: Gentlemen, the decision is in your hands. It’s yours.” Then he will add: “We will carry out whatever you decide.”
In a retrospective historical look, this may be the most dramatic decision required of an Israeli government since Ben-Gurion’s decision to declare the State of Israel’s establishment. Every decision – in favor, against, abstention – will have historical meaning this time around: For the second time in modern history, the Jewish people is facing an existential test.
Netanyahu, even before he was elected as PM, believed that this is our generation’s mission; today he still believes that his historical role as prime minister is to eliminate the threat from the second Hitler. The question of how to do it, whether it’s even possible to do it, and what will be the historical implications of every act or failure are currently tearing apart the political leadership, and also the defense establishment. There is no going back after the decision.
Government ministers, in any government, usually fear such moments of decision. Indeed, they aspired for years to reach the government table, but a national decision of this scope? Almost nothing in their lives prepared them to take such decision. This is why they want to depend on “higher authorities” in order to make the decision, and in this case the army chief is their target.
The most intelligent ministers who are deeply familiar with history also remember that commissions of inquiry always blamed the military leadership (retroactively, of course,) so why not now?
As opposed to the chief of staff, who justifiably leaves the decision up to them, Netanyahu and Barak cannot look back and seek someone else that can be relied on to make the decision. For better and for worse, it’s them. Only them. One should not be envying this duo.