Ya'alon. Americans will let him sweat for a while
Photo: Ariel Hermoni, Defense Minister
Defense Minister Moshe (Bogie) Ya'alon says a journalist violated the conditions for a background conversation he received. The claims made by the minister's office that the journalist brought about the entire affair cannot be accepted. Anyone familiar with the defense minister and his media advisor, Ofer Harel, knows that they are levelheaded and experienced people who would have found a way to clarify the rules the conversation was being held under to the journalist, and if they didn't want the remarks to be quoted and attributed to the defense minister, they would have made it very clear.
My colleague, Yedioth Ahronoth reporter Shimon Shiffer, in an experienced journalist who would not easily burn a senior source if the rules were explicitly clarified to him.
So it seems the defense minister did not launch his verbal attack by chance. On the other hand, it was likely not a calculated move aimed at granting Ya'alon some points in the rightist and extreme rightist wings of the Likud. So what prompted Ya'alon to make remarks that caused cognitive damage to the State of Israel and personal damage to his relations with the Barack Obama administration and with John Kerry?
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The answer is frustration. Unfortunately, the State of Israel's professional and determined defense minister has what psychologists define as a "low frustration level," and he has good reasons to be frustrated: First of all, because he believes Kerry's proposals and efforts will harm Israel in any event. If Israel accepts Kerry and General Allen's security plan, it will throw us into an unreasonable security situation in the Jordan Valley and Judea and Samaria, and eventually the West Bank will turn into a second Gaza. On the other hand, Ya'alon believes that if Israel doesn’t accept the principles of Kerry's framework agreement, it will turn into a leprous country in the international arena and suffer sanctions and boycotts.
So Ya'alon really and truly and authentically believes that Kerry is waging a crusade on Israel's back.
Another reason for Ya'alon's frustration is what can be dubbed "the Kerry enigma." Ya'alon, and many in Israel, really don't understand the motive behind Kerry's intensive campaign aimed at reaching a permanent Israeli-Palestinian agreement. Ya'alon and quite a few Israeli government ministers believe that the conditions for such an agreement have actually not matured at the moment. The turmoil in the Arab world, the growing tsunami of al-Qaeda activists on our border and the refugees filling Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon, are all causing Abbas to be concerned and avoid reaching an agreement with Israel, which might even cost him his life.
Unnecessary affairA third reason for the frustration is also personal. Ya'alon has been marked by Kerry and his team as the main obstacle to the framework agreement they are asking both sides to agree to. Ya'alon is mainly against the security aspect, and they are presenting him as the chief party pooper in briefings they are giving politicians and former senior Israeli military officials. Kerry's personal emissary, former Ambassador Martin Indyk, has not been shy about his opinion on Ya'alon either, and this has all reached the 14th floor at the Defense Ministry building. Ya'alon didn’t like the defamation and the brawl broke out after bubbling for quite a long time in utmost discretion.
Ya'alon's frustrations are understandable, but as the State of Israel's defense minister, he must know that he cannot express them in public even indirectly. First of all, because with his remarks Ya'alon put Israel once again in the position of the main peace refuser in the American and global public opinion. The Republicans in the US may like it, but the Europeans – not really.
The irritating thing is that Ya'alon presented us as refusers after Abbas did the job for us and released a number of statements over the weekend which presented him as the person putting a spoke in the wheels of the negotiations.
It's reasonable to assume that the Americans will let Ya'alon sweat for while and will cool off their personal relations with him for some time. Ya'alon will find it difficult to get an invitation to Washington, and that won't be very helpful for Israel during the negotiations with the Iranians on the permanent agreement. So the damage is considerable, but not final.
Ya'alon, through several gestures, can reduce the cooling-off period which will be imposed on him by the Obama administration, and if the American president remains unpopular in the US, he will try to reduce the public disputes with Israeli officials. The entire affair was unnecessary, and frustration is not a substitute for sophisticated public diplomacy.