Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak photographed in May 2005. (Moti Milrod/MaanImages)
Israeli “Defense” Minister Ehud Barak is definitely the most dangerous politician in the Middle East. Ahmadinejad can only dream of having the powers — political and military, conventional and non-conventional — that Barak already possesses. Netanyahu and other far-right Israeli politicians say what they think and are earmarked as extremists, so they are under permanent scrutiny. Barak is more extreme than Netanyahu, but he’s an extremist in disguise.
The person who destroyed the Oslo process and initiated the second intifada, the person who demolished the Israeli peace camp from within, by spreading legends about a “generous offer” rejected by the Palestinians, by persuading the Israelis that he “unmasked” Arafat and that there was no Palestinian partner — this person still calls himself “the leader of the Israeli peace camp.” That’s one of Barak’s most dangerous traits: his inherent untruthfulness, his presenting himself as the very opposite of what he actually is.
Barak hasn’t changed. As the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth announced just a few months ago (“Labor Leader More Right-Wing Than Netanyahu,” 10 August 10, 2007), Barak described the renewal of the peace talks as “a fantasy,” said “there is no difference between Hamas and Fatah;” promised “I will not remove roadblocks in the West Bank;” and repeated his old mantra, “there is no chance for a settlement with the Palestinians.”
Indeed, Barak opposed the Annapolis Summit all along. His opposition turned into reserved support just a few weeks before, when it became clear the meeting would be nothing but a photo-op. On top of it, to make sure nothing comes out of the newly launched process, Barak repeatedly calls to resume peace negotiations with Syria, simultaneously with the Palestinian track. A characteristic Barakian trick: urging to resume peace talks with Syria enables Barak to boost his false reputation as a man of peace even as he knowingly works to sabotage any prospect of peace. In an official report written under then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak in 2000, recently obtained and published in Hebrew by Haaretz (13 December 2007), Barak’s bureau chief wrote that resuming negotiations with Syria had led to extreme distrust and stiffening on the Palestinian side, and, on top of it, that the Israeli team had been unable to manage negotiations on both fronts simultaneously. In other words, resuming negotiations with Syria is a tested measure to make sure the Palestinian track doesn’t work, and Barak is playing this dirty card for the second time.
Barak promised to quit the coalition with Olmert after the publication of the Winograd Commission final report, which is likely to blame Olmert for the failed war in Lebanon in summer 2006. He has now hinted, through his “aides,” that he won’t keep his promise (Barak never speaks to the media; he sends his “aides” to hint at his intentions, so that no one can hold him responsible for anything he actually says). It is quite likely that Barak’s perverse logic leads him to plan his return to the prime minister’s office by way of a “small” war. Once Olmert is officially discredited for the failed Lebanon war, Barak as defense minister can hope to take all the credit for a new, successful war — a big operation in Gaza (“drawing nearer all the time,” as Barak tirelessly repeats), a war on Syria, a strike on Iran, or a combination of all these. Such a war would also be an excellent pretext to break his promise to exit the coalition: after all, it would be “irresponsible” to quit when a war is imminent.
Barak knows all too well how to get Israel into a war, even behind the government’s back if needed: after all, it was young Maj. Gen. Barak who in the early 1980s recommended to his superiors in the army to use deception in order to allure the Israeli government and public into a war in Lebanon.
Rwanda Is richer
Much of the foreign news in the popular media falls under “infotainment”: “Man Bites Dog,” “Host Eats Guest,” “Woman Dry-Cleans Cat.” Recently this kind of reporting — in both style and content — is applied ever more often to the Gaza Strip, a region under effective Israeli control, just an hour’s ride from Tel Aviv. We are informed about the price of a pack of cigarettes in besieged Gaza — more than $15 — while 63 percent of Gaza residents live on less than $2.50 a day, beating the poverty rate of Rwanda. We watch an amused television report about a soft-drink producer in the Strip, who, unable to get CO2-gas, found an original way to produce soda pop using some other, available gas. Or about a dramatic rise in the prices of donkeys, since there is no gasoline for cars, and how the transport of goods is done by animals. Great pictures: The soft-drink producer proudly showing his chemical invention, shaking off allegations it may cause cancer. A starving Gazan donkey auctioned for $60, $75, $100, the seller saying he cannot afford to feed it. Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh congratulating his people on the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, admitting there are no lambs to sacrifice in the starving Strip.
Hermetically under siege, after decades of occupation and years of intifada in which Israel destroyed the little infrastructure that the Strip ever had, following many months of total embargo on everything except basic food products, which brought the economy to a halt, with daily invasions of Israeli tanks and extrajudicial killings by Israeli airplanes, and now with gasoline supplies cut and electricity supply to be reduced soon, the Gaza Strip (1.5 million people, 80 percent refugees) is no longer the world’s biggest open-air prison. It’s a huge laboratory for human experimentation, run by the Israeli army.
Some of these reports came together with the “good news” about the international community promising to give more than $7 billion to the Palestinian Authority over the next three years. Some Israeli commentators described the promised sum as the biggest amount ever given to any leader anywhere, though it is significantly smaller than the American military support given to the regional power, Israel, in any given three years. Others quickly calculated that every Palestinian family would “earn” about a $1,000 a month, if the sum were to be divided equally; but, they added triumphantly, we all know that most of it would get to the corrupt pockets of the Fatah leadership and not to the poor guy selling his donkey in Gaza. Dramatic sigh of despair and self-righteousness: once again, the Palestinians are to blame for their own plight. No one bothers to take the thought a step forward — for example, to wonder why Israel is so anxious to keep alive the corrupt Fatah leadership, even after it lost the support of its own people and was overthrown in Gaza, precisely because of its inherent corruption.
The public discourse in Israel does love questions — but only of the kind posed by President Shimon Peres last week: “There’s not a single Israeli settler or soldier in Gaza now, so why do they shoot at us?” Yes, why do they?
Dr. Ran HaCohen was born in the Netherlands in 1964 and grew up in Israel. He has a B.A. in Computer Science, an M.A. in Comparative Literature, and his PhD is in Jewish Studies. He is a university teacher in Israel. He also works as a literary translator (from German, English and Dutch), and as a literary critic for the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronot. HaCohen’s work has been published widely in Israel. “Letter from Israel” appears occasionally at Antiwar.com. This article, which first appeared on Antiwar.com, is republished with the author’s permission.