They can’t distinguish the forest from the trees

Above: February 2003 cover of Between the Lines.


Why did the leader of the “Labor” Party, Amram Mitzna [a Res. General, former commander of the Israeli army in the Central District (the West Bank) in the first Intifada and the mayor of Haifa for the last ten years] awaken such strong expectations among veteran Israeli Peaceniks? Why is the Iraq war almost a non-issue for the majority of Israeli peace activists while the Israeli government is pushing continuously towards it? Why is there no broader mobilization against this war, despite the fact that this catastrophe will endanger Israel as well? Furthermore it is known that the Israeli government might use the Iraq war in order to expel as many Palestinians as possible. Isn’t that reason enough to give the subject a much higher priority on the political agenda of Israeli peace movements?

Why do Israeli Peacniks support Mitzna in the Elections?

These questions are interconnected in many ways and have obviously to do with the desperate situation of Israeli peacniks. Otherwise a dispassionate and level-headed analysis would have prevented such experienced persons like Uri Avnery [Head of Gush Shalom] or a radical left Prof. such as Tanya Reinhart from such projections about General Mitzna as though he were a savior. (Reinhart has since cancelled her support for Mitzna[1]). The numerous Israeli war crimes, the ongoing ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians and the continuous fascistization of Israeli society create the feeling that only a miracle can stop this insanity. Even a shade of a promise to stop these dangerous developments make many peaceniks grasp distraughtly at an obvious straw produced by the ‘Labor’ party. In this despair, Israelis, who actually are considered to be critical, find themselves close to the conservatives among the Palestinian leadership - and not for the first time. All of them dream of renewing and reviving the Oslo process under the same old proven faulty presumptions and logic.

The deep despair and sense of powerlessness also brings many peace activists to suppress the high risks of an Iraq war and categorize the dangers looming, including those to the Israeli population, as part of Sharon’s propaganda to deflect attention away from his election campaign problems. The threat of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) is conceived of as a weapon of mass distraction. The participation of Labor in support of the war does not contradict its belittling of the price Israel will pay in such a war. Labor is trying to calm Israeli concerns while continuing the Likud-“Labor” government declaration of its open support for the war. Moreover Peres as Foreign Minister in the then Unified government, went so far as to plead for the war’s launching as soon as possible, while parks near Tel Aviv were prepared to function as potential cemeteries. Actually there is no real dispute on this issue between the “Labor” and Likud.

By now it has become clear that Mitzna is not going to deliver the goods. But still, why is it that such intelligent people like Avnery and Reinhart so positively and unrealistically projected General Mitzna in the first place. Cautiously enthusiastic, Reinhart wrote, “Although I do not share their [the business and military circles behind Mitzna] world-view, I believe that implementing their plan is a huge step forward.”[2] Mitzna promised to “evacuate [isolated] Jewish settlements from the Palestinian territories” occupied by Israel since 1967, “renew negotiations” with the Palestinians and achieve “separation”.

Whatever the Elections Results - The Military Rules

But still, even in the best-case scenario of Mitzna evacuating some 40-50 isolated settlements and restarting negotiations, this cannot be perceived as a ‘huge step forward’. Rather this would be tantamount to returning to the very unsatisfying situation created for the Palestinians through the Oslo Accords before the outbreak of the present Intifada. Actually it would be a return to far worse conditions, given the increase in settlement and by-pass road construction and the huge tracks of land confiscated, which cumulatively create facts which weaken even further the imbalance in relations of forces witnessed during Oslo. Unfortunately many, including those on the Palestinian side, believe that the settlements issue is the central one. They overlook that the settlements are a symptom and not the disease itself.

In the 1970’s there weren’t so many settlements. But the Palestinians were still oppressed. One tends to forget that there are many forms of colonialism and that one of the main problems with the Oslo process was that many people believed that it was a peace process and failed to notice that it was just a change in the mode of Israeli control, and that it was a continuation of war by new means. The belief in the illusion of peace is very dangerous, counterproductive and cannot be considered a huge step forward.

For example, because of the Oslo illusion, the Israeli movement “Women in Black” (WiB) dismantled itself. It therefore took them many years to found the organisation “Machsom Watch” which observes and attempts to prevent human rights abuses at the check points [“Machsoum” is the Hebrew word for checkpoint]. This despite the fact that crimes at the checkpoints were an immanent part of the Oslo reality implementing the fragmentation of the West Bank which was part of the Oslo scheme.

It should have been clear since late September 2000 that the real disagreement between mainstream Israelis is between those opting for expelling the Palestinians, those who wish to return to direct Israeli control and those who wish to renew the Oslo model of self-suppression where Palestinian ‘anti-terror units’ are entrusted as “subcontractors in return for personal and economic advancement and vague political promises.[3]”

Ha’aretz commentator Aluf Benn realistically summarized a very common Israeli assessment, which can also be attributed to Labor and Meretz[4]: “The Palestinians did not fulfill the function meant for them at Oslo to operate like a kind of beefed-up South Lebanon Army that would fight the Hamas and Islamic Jihad and - for a discounted price - protect the Green Line and the settlements.” According to Aluf Ben, from the point of view of the Israeli High Command the situation looks as follow: “Fancy talk about ‘security reforms’ in the PA, that would create a new generation of determined ‘anti-terrorist’ fighters, are in the best case a fantasy and in the worst an excuse to rebuff international pressure and reject an agreement.”

Benn describes a very crucial point; namely, that neither the Israeli army nor the Shabak are ready to trust the Palestinians anymore to do the dirty work for them. He writes: “Even if a Prime Minister from the Left were elected, it is difficult to see how he would impose a return to Oslo on the army.”

This is the main problem with the elections: they are just cosmetic and cannot substantially influence Israeli policy towards the Palestinians. The Israeli High Command has controlled the national strategy since the beginning of the Intifada in September 2000!

There are many Israeli reports which bare evidence for this. Here are just several of them:

Ben Kaspit from Ma’ariv described in his excellent series about the beginning of the Intifada[5], how the High Command with the cooperation of police officers, provoked the Intifada and by-passed Prime Minister Ehud Barak. According to Kaspit, Barak could not control the army, which continuously escalated the situation. Kaspit proves clearly that it was an overreaction of the Israeli police which triggered the Intifada and that the army, which was very well prepared for this eventuality, ‘overreacted’ on purpose. Kaspit’s publications are corroborated by a B’Tselem report and also by the findings of the judicial investigative Commission of Inquiry under Supreme Court justice Theodore Orr.

Again and again, several renowned Israeli commentators have pointed out - sometimes carefully, sometime blatantly - that the army actually controls Israeli politics. Ofer Shelach reported in the Israeli daily Yedioth Aharonot that when Barak ordered to re-open the Palestinian airport in Gaza, the army formally complied — but sealed off all the roads leading to the airport.[6] Ze’ev Schiff from Ha’aretz is more cautious and just formulates the questions: “Has the government lost control of the IDF? Are the army and its activities genuinely under the supervision of the civil authority?”[7] Another Ha’aretz conservative commentator Yoel Marcus aggressively asks: “Who makes the policy decisions around here? Who plans our national strategy? The army or the government?”

His answer is the army. Marcus wrote: “One is reminded of the days of the Fourth Republic, when France was politically divided and the army (affiliated with the right) was determining the rules of the game in Algeria.”[8]

Aluf Benn wrote under the title: “The Army Dictates and the Politicians Abide” that under Sharon, the High Command received an even freer hand than with his predecessors and can now escalate anti-Palestinian measures with no governmental restraint.[9] The former director of the foreign ministry, Avi Gil, told Ha’aretz that the army intervenes and decides on a wide range of problems which have nothing to do with military matters, from foreign policy to European exports.[10] Doron Rosenblum also from Ha’aretz is the most explicit of the Israeli mainstream commentators: “In the atmosphere of the ‘voluntary military putsch’ in which Israeli politics is currently [throughout the past two years] mired, it looks as though the sky’s the limit when it comes to the authority and status of the chief of staff and the commanders of the corps.”[11]

This kind of voluntary, silent or secret military putsch is not new in Israeli politics. According for example, to Israeli military historian Motti Golani, this was the case before the war of June 1967, as the Israeli High Command sabotaged any real chances to find a political solution to the crisis with Egypt and Syria and forced the government to agree to military aggression. Golani quoted Israel Lior, the military secretary of premier Levi Eshkol, who defined the internal political conflict prior to the war as a “bloodless putsch”.[12]

The Implementation of Field of Thorns Proceeds

The High Command is now obviously working along the lines laid out in a 1996 plan called “Field of Thorns” (FoT) published by the recognized US military expert Anthony Cordesman in October 2000[13]. The escalation of measures has just been slowed down by pressure from abroad, but not stopped. The Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) have sabotaged every effort to reach a political arrangement or a ceasefire. One of the most obvious cases happened in January 2002 after a clear and undeniable period of three weeks of reduced Palestinian violent actions against Israelis. The trend at that time [on the Palestinian side] was one of continuous decrease in clashes. All of a sudden, without any pretext, the Israeli army killed the leading Fatah militant Ra’ed Karmi on January 14 and demolished houses in Rafah. After this provocation, a wave of suicide bombing started that has not stopped till today, giving the IOF excuses to destroy the Palestinian infrastructure and intensify its ethnic cleansing. The obvious Israeli provocation caused even hesitant parts of the Zionist peace movements (such as “Peace Now”) to overcome for a short while their addiction to the myth of Barak’s “generous” offer at Camp David in July 2000; an offer that was rejected by Yasser Arafat and was believed by even Israeli “Left” to prove that the Palestinians are not interested in peace. These “moderates”, who all the time find excuses to submerge themselves in the national consensus, realized for the first time in this Intifada that the Israeli army is responsible for the escalation. It was the provocation of January 2002 with the assassination of Al Karmi which caused among other things, Israeli officers from the mainstream of Israeli society, to established the movement “Courage to Refuse” who called for refusing to serve in the Occupied Territories.

Looking at the measures which Israel was predicted to adopt according to Operation FoT] indeed reveals the blue prints of the IOF. All measures mentioned in this list have been implemented step by step by Israel. Still outstanding are the complete elimination of the Palestinian Authority (PA), the re-introduction of an Israeli military (called “civil”) administration and deportation from “sensitive areas”, which under convenient circumstances might be the entire Palestine.

It is obvious that the Israeli army is looking for some pretext to complete FoT and it is obvious that either the Iraq War or a mega-Palestinian attack with hundreds or thousands of Jewish causalities, will supply the necessary excuse for the ‘transfer’, and for further escalating the ongoing ethnic cleansing.

The massive destruction in the Occupied Territories means among other things that there is no longer a central power capable of doing the dirty work for Israelis. The extensive Israeli demolition of Palestinian infrastructure also means that the possibility of reconstruction - either by a Palestinian Authority or an Israeli civil administration - is not really taken by the Israeli army as a viable scenario. It is hard to imagine that even if the fighting stopped tomorrow, that the Palestinians would be able to rebuild all that was damaged and that foreign countries are likely to finance repairing the damages deliberately caused by IOF. The Israeli High Command is obviously not considering fixing the damages on its own through a new Israeli administration, because otherwise there would not have been so much destruction in the first place.

Can Mitzna or the business circles behind him stop this dangerous development?

Theoretically the answer is yes. Actually they are even interested in doing so, because the bellicose Israeli policy has brought the economy to the verge of bankruptcy. One of the few branches which really is booming is of course the arms industry with a record year in 2002.[14] Most of the other industries are suffering.

The Illusions of the Israeli “Peace camp”

It is not only a question of the elections’ results. As illustrated above, with the unofficial military rule in Israel, elections are unlikely to change the situation. The dominating generals are not going to voluntarily give up their rule. The opposition to these hardliners, also inside the “security” system, is not very likely to risk a violent open conflict. They can disclose more details about the way the military Junta functions, but for example, would hardly dare to initiate or support a juridical process inside or outside Israel against these war criminals.

Therefore all those who are pursuing a just peace in the Middle East can hardly expect some real change from the next Israeli elections.

The ‘Laborites’ and their affiliates in Meretz and other pro-Oslo parties are not likely to win the elections anyway and even if they would have, they are not likely to make an attractive and acceptable offer to the Palestinians. For instance, they are not likely to drop their conception of a peace plan which aims at preserving indirect control of the Palestinians, especially Palestinian economic dependency and its integration within the Israeli economy. And last but not least, they hardly have a chance of forcing this kind of policy under the present circumstances upon the army.

There are portions of the Israeli peace movements and also among the Palestinians, who still hope that the US will stop Israel from its destructive policies including the plan for expelling the Palestinians and impose a just settlement on Israel after the Iraq war. But this expectation also seems to be nothing more than wishful thinking. Until now, the US has just slowed down the Israeli escalation, but not more than that. The Bush administration stands behind the Israeli politics and only intervenes for diplomatic and cosmetic reasons.

Still some believe that because of the desperate Israeli economical situation, the Bush administration would be able to put effective pressure on Israel to make substantial concessions towards the Palestinians. This presumption is partly based on the fact that former Israeli PM Yitzhak Shamir was forced by the US to participate in the Madrid Conference in 1991. Besides, the Bush (senior) and Clinton administrations insisted that loan guarantees to Israel (worth 10 billion dollars), not to finance settlements in the Occupied Territories. As Shamir refused to accept this condition he didn’t get the money. But one is not allowed to forget that though Shamir gave in on the Madrid Conference issue, he ensured that the negotiations remained meaningless. Moreover, Rabin later found a solution to Shamir’s problem by getting the loan guarantees, and the money for the construction of settlements, which continued.

Israel’s role in the War Against Iraq

It is important to understand the mechanism leading to the present Iraq war. There is enough evidence proving that several Zionist US neo-conservatives, are responsible for the ‘anti-terror-campaign’ and for the buildup against Iraq.

Perle, chairman of the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board and whose views carry considerable weight in the Bush administration, actually envisioned the present conflict as early as July 1996. In a paper Perle co-authored that year, he recommends to Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s Prime Minister at the time, to sabotage the Oslo process. Perle’s reasoning is made obvious by reading some of his other publications. He, together with other neo-conservatives, fought to raise the US military budget, which sank during the Clinton administration to the lowest levels since the 1930s. This development was of course worrisome for the arms industry and the rest of the military industrial complex.

Raising the military budget necessitates a clear threat. And this, according to Perle’s paper from 1996, was to be created through destabilizing the Middle East. The goal could be achieved through ruining the unstable Oslo process. The expected advantage for Israel was among other things, larger support of the influential US arms lobby and averting the “dangers” for the Jewish state.[15] Under Perle’s influence, the Israeli army obviously cooked up “Op. Field of Thorns” in September 1996. It is quite a coincidence that shortly before the outbreak of the present Intifada, a strategy report was written, in which Perle played a central role again. This paper clearly influences Bush’s foreign and military policy and has real prophetic qualities. It stated that what was needed for the US in order to retain and even extend its domination was “some catastrophic and catalyzing event — like a new Pearl Harbor”[16]. Of course September 11, 2001 fully fulfilled these dreams. Without developing a conspiracy theory, it is clear that the authors of this strategy report and a coalition of US arms and pro-Zionist lobbyists, laid the framework to fully exploit events like 9/11. How it was done, was described in a series by the Washington Post.[17]

The Iraq issue, according to the report is a good excuse to strengthen US presence in the region: “While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein.” It is obvious that the new round in the “US against Saddam Hussein” is not motivated by his alleged or real possession of Weapons of Mass Destruction. There are economic and geopolitical interests at stake. But the main story cannot be oil alone, because Saddam Hussein would gladly cooperate with the US oil industry if he got the chance. He was even ready from 1992 to receive Palestinian refugees from Lebanon in order to promote a Pax Americana in the Middle East.

The main aim of the so-called anti-terror campaign in which the attack against Iraq is only one station, is to use the military budget as a locomotive for the US economy. By “adding [at least] $15 billion to $20 billion to total defense spending annually”[18] not only can US military industries get higher federal subsidies, but they can also increase their civil business profits as well. For example, a company like Boeing can thus get a very important advantage over its European competitor Airbus, by using the security exception of the rules of globalization.[19]

Israel plays an essential role in the “anti-terror campaign” generally and the Iraq war specifically. The growing profits of the Israeli arms industry after September 11 demonstrate an important Israeli interest in the growing belligerency. Israeli “anti-terror” experts, technology and equipment are growing in demand worldwide. But there is much more to it: the real big money is to be expected in intensifying cooperation with the US weapons producers. This is the direction that Perle and his friends are pushing towards. One of the main targets of Perle is the new expensive missile defense project. Here the Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) with its Arrow-system in cooperation with Boeing have very good chances to get into the attractive billions of the anti-missile defense market. After all the tests, the war against Iraq should serve as a welcome testing field in order to demonstrate the qualities of the Israeli development.

This is not the only reason for Israel to be interested in the Iraq war. This military adventure, which might endanger all the people of the Middle East, is supported by most of the Israeli ruling class as it will raise Israel’s chances of soon getting US financial support of 12 billion USD. Israel is supposed to get these desperately needed funds whether it actively participates in the war or not. It is considered a win-win situation.

Another reason for the Israeli military Junta to support the Iraq war lies in its aforementioned efforts to expel the Palestinians. The Israeli military expert Martin van Creveld of Hebrew University drew a very realistic scenario of this danger:

“The expulsion of the Palestinians would require only a few brigades. They would not drag people out of their houses but use heavy artillery to drive them out; the damage caused to Jenin [in April 2002] would look like a pinprick in comparison.[20]”

Van Creveld believes that the only country that can prevent Israel from committing this deed is the US, but that it would not stop it, especially if the operation was swift and would not endanger the flow of oil. This view is supported by the fact that even a serious newspaper like the Wall Street Journal published calls for a transfer. According to the Israeli Right-wing weekly Makor Rishon, Condoleeza Rice ordered feasibility studies from several think tanks about an eventual ‘transfer’ of the Palestinians to Iraq.

Because they have to deal with the numerous daily abuses and war crimes committed by the Israeli Army, Israeli peace movements obviously cannot distinguish the forest from the trees.

Instead of bothering at all with the elections, it is more important to develop a list of priorities and put the Iraq war on the highest level.

Many Israelis are worried and are really in a state panic because of the looming Iraq war. It is very important to point out to them that this war can be prevented, and that their government and army belong to the most active warmongers. Stronger opposition to the Iraq war in Israel can make the difference and destroy an implicit “justification” for the aggression against the Iraqi people.


1. Tanya Reinhart, “A Vote For Mitzna Is A Vote For Sharon”, Yedioth Aharonot, December 22, 2002.

2. Tanya Reinhart, “The Israeli Elections”, Yedioth Aharonot, November 26, 2002.

3. Aluf Benn, “Occupation or Internationalization”, Ha’aretz, April 18, 2002.

4. Aluf Benn, “Mitchell, Tenet and the Road Map”, Ha’aretz, October 31, 2002.


6. Yedioth Aharonot, 22.12.2000.

7. Zeev Schiff, 24.4.2002, mentioned in Ran HaCohen, “Who is Running the Country?”

8. Yoel Marcus, “Who’s the boss?”, Ha’aretz, September 3, 2002.

9. Benn Aluf, August 2002.

10. Ha’aretz, 12.11.2002.

11. Doron Rosenblum, August 30, 2002 Ha’aretz.

12. Motti Golani, “Wars Don’t Just Happen”, Modan, Ben-Shemen, 2002, p. 194.

13. For more details on Op. Field of Thorns including its list of measurements, please see Shraga Elam, “ ‘Peace’ with Violence or Transfer”, Between The Lines, December 2000.

14. According to the Military Radio (January 10, 2003) Israel exported in 1999 weapons totalling US$2 billion, in 2000 $2.5 billion, in 2001 $2.6 billion and 2002 is expected to see a record of over $3.5 billion.

15. “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm”, The Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies and “Study Group on a New Israeli Strategy Toward 2000”, July 8, 1996.

16. REBUILDING AMERICA’S DEFENSES: Strategy, Forces and Resources For a New Century, A Report of The Project for the New American Century (PNAC) September 2000. The list of persons closely connected with PNAC looks like a who’s who of the Bush administration: Dick Cheney, vice-president, Donald Rumsfeld, defence secretary, Paul Wolfowitz, deputy defence secretary.

17. Washington Post, “10 Days in September”, January-February 2002.

18. PNAC-Report.

19. John Feffer, “Globalization and Militarization”, Foreign Policy in Focus, February 2002. Michelle Ciarrocca, “Post-9/11 Economic Windfalls for Arms Manufacturers”, Foreign Policy in Focus, September 2002.

20. Martin van Creveld, “Sharon’s plan is to drive Palestinians across the Jordan”, April 28, 2002, Sunday Telegraph.

Shraga Elam is an Israeli peace activist and journalist based in Zurich Switzerland. This article first appeared in Between the Lines, February 2003, Vol. III #20 — a monthly English language journal providing critical information and analysis from independant members of Palestinain and Israeli society on the Palestinain-Israeli conflict. If interested in receiving a trial copy, or in subscribing, send your mailing postal address to: Local Subscriptions: $25. Foreign: $45. Ask about student discounts. For more see