I have seven children. Three of them served in the last few years at the same time in the IDF elite combat units.
While they were in the army, Israel launched Operation Protective Edge. I, personally, was very critical towards the moves led by the chief of staff, the defense minister and the prime minister. But deep in my heart I knew, that the chief of staff, Gantz, and then-defense minister Moshe "Bogie" Ya'alon are reasonable, experienced, level-headed and responsible people. I knew they would cover for the extreme lack of military experience of our prime minister, who calls himself "Mr. Security". They would have an answer for his hesitancy and inability to assume real responsibility.
I always wanted my children to contribute their best to the army and to the State of Israel. But as a father, I wanted to know that they were in the good hands of people who would give all the professional considerations necessary before they sent my sons to war or on a military operation. I hoped that whoever did that would be a person who had already sent people to war in the past and who knew the full meaning of such decisions. A person who knew what it meant to send a soldier on a mission from which he may never return, and who knew that war is not just a word… I had great confidence in defense minister Ya'alon and Chief of Staff Eisenkot—two highly credited and worthy people.
I have known former defense minister Ya'alon for many years. We are in dispute on several political issues, but I have great respect for his experience and bravery as a soldier and an officer, as well as for his civil courage and the statesmanship that he represents.
I saw it with my own eyes in 1998, when I was commander of the Jerusalem District and the Judea and Samaria region in the Israeli Internal Security Service ("Shin Bet"), and Bogie Ya'alon was commanding officer of the IDF Central Command. We planned an operation against the military wing of Hamas in Judea and Samaria. After a series of successful missions, we managed to arrive at the secret hide-out in the Hebron area of the Awadallah brothers, the military leaders of Hamas. The Awadallah brothers were responsible for a series of violent suicide bombings in Israel following the Oslo Accords and were in the midst of organizing a wave of even more violent attacks in the near future.
After a few days, I decided to break into the house where they were hiding, and the Shin Bet, as well as the Counter-Terrorism Unit ("Yamam") were in charge of carrying out the mission. As this was a very rugged mountain terrain, I asked for IDF assistance in the outer perimeter, in case they managed to escape.
To my great surprise, I realized that the political echelon (then-defense minister Yitzhak Mordechai and Prime Minister Netanyahu) had instructed the IDF not to assist the Shin Bet in this mission. The political leadership was captivated in the trauma of Yihye Ayash, whose assassination in 1996 was followed by a series of vengeful terror attack. They felt trapped. On the one hand, this was a rare opportunity to arrest or kill the heads of the military wing of Hamas, and on the other hand, there was the fear that if the brothers were killed during the break-in, the political leadership would be the ones to bear responsibility for the revenge attacks that may follow.
After a lot of squirming, a decision was formed that was neither here nor there. It was decided that the operation would be the sole responsibility of the Shin Bet and that the IDF would not be involved and would not assist in the operation.
We decided to go ahead anyway. During our deployment, Bogie Ya'alon, who was head of Central Command at that time, came to the area, together with Maj. Gen. Yitzhak Eitan, who was head of army forces in the West Bank. The two informed me that contrary to the decision made by the defense minister and the chief of staff, they were sending the assistance we asked for… I was proud of their courage to take such a decision, as well as of the camaraderie and partnership they expressed, in spite of the twisted decisions of their superiors.
The troops reached the house and broke in several hours later. The Awadallah brothers, who were equipped with a lot of weapons, were killed. The military archives of Hamas, which held extremely valuable information, were captured. Hamas took a very hard blow in the few months that followed—maybe the hardest hit in its West Bank history—and the result was two of the quietest years in the West Bank, a period that lasted until the beginning of the Second Intifada. This is who Bogie Ya'alon is: a stubborn, rigid man, who is also a partner, a brave warrior, and a commander in his entire being.
Prime Minister Netanyahu, by the way, who, as usual did not support the organizations under his charge, keeps boasting about the Shin Bet and IDF operations in those years in the West Bank and attributes their success to himself.
Lieberman is the complete opposite of Bogie. This is a cynical, unrestrained man, who has no military background or experience and has never sent a soldier to battle in his entire life.
Lieberman has never been asked to take real responsibility in decision-making. He was a foreign minister who mainly visited the most irrelevant countries in the world.
Lieberman is also the one who joined the new Israeli "exemplary figures"—Baruch Marzel, Bentzi Gopstein from the Lehava organization, and The Shadow—demonstrating in front of the military court in support of the "heroic" soldier who killed the already-neutralized terrorist.
When we send our children to the army to fight wars, we want them to be in expert, level-headed, ideological and experienced hands. These are definitely not Lieberman's hands. These are Ya'alon's hands, and certainly the hands of Chief of Staff Eisenkot and his deputy, Yair Golan, whom I know very well.
Giving the Ministry of Defense to Lieberman will turn Eisenkot into the most significant figure in the defense decision-making system. He will be the only one with the power to make sure that the responsible minister, as well as the prime minister, does not drag us into impossible situations…
The state of Israel is 68 years old… the nomination of Lieberman as minister of defense only shows that underneath the surface, nothing is at a stand-still and that we continue to slide faster and faster down the slippery slope.
There are a growing number of Israelis in search of foreign passports ("escape passports" as some call them) from the countries of their parents' and grandparents' origin. The split between secular and religious Jews grows wider, the distance between Mizrachi and Ashkenazi Jews becomes larger, the schism between Jews and Arabs deepens, the ethnic demon—nourished in the last years by slander and defamation from the Garbuzes as well as the Mizrachim—is ranting openly in the streets, social justice is way in the distance, the housing problem continues, corruption is spreading, signs of an economic recession can be seen on the horizon, racism against Israeli Arab citizens, against Ethiopian Jews, or against refugees and work-immigrants increases every day. In 68-year-old Israel, blood-weddings of the radical right wing, orchestrated by members of Lehava is already nothing to be ashamed of.
If we thought that in the State of Israel, the security system functions relatively properly, compared to other systems—from now on, it is led by an insecure prime minister and an inexperienced defense minister. And I wonder to myself: Is this the end of the beginning, or actually the beginning of the end?
Yuval Diskin was the director of the Shin Bet from 2005 to 2011.