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Q & A with former Israeli Mossad chief Efraim Halevy.
May 16, 2005 3:04 PM   Subscribe

Q & A with former Israeli Mossad chief Efraim Halevy. Halevy fields questions from readers around the world. See also his article "The coming Pax Americana".
posted by ori (19 comments total)

 
The panel on the right also has links to other Q&A sessions with leading figures in Israel, such as former prime minister Ehud Barak and Arab-Israeli Member of Knesset Ahmed Tibi, among others.
posted by ori at 3:14 PM on May 16, 2005


Thanks for the link. Very interesting. And, to underline one of my key assertions:

"You might be surprised if I say that not withstanding the fact that weapons of mass destruction have not yet been found in Iraq, I would not rule out the possibility that they might be found in the future. Iraq is a vast country, and only several months ago, a full squadron of aircraft was discovered buried in the sand.

I do not believe that Saddam Hussein risked the fall of his regime and his own capture just out of false pride. He doggedly and continuously refused to cooperate with the United Nations missions which tried time and time again to set up a credible monitoring system in Iraq after 1998.

I know this reply goes against some of the very definitive statements that have come out of Washington in recent months, following the findings of the Senate select committee on the Iraqi campaign and I know that there have been others who have searched Iraq high and low and who have not come up with anything in their hands. Yet all I can do is commend to you the findings of the British commission set up under the leadership of Lord Butler. Butler concluded in his report that he could not state definitively that weapons of mass destruction would never be found in Iraq."
posted by ParisParamus at 3:27 PM on May 16, 2005


And, to underline one of my key assertions:

"You might be surprised if I say that not withstanding the fact that weapons of mass destruction have not yet been found in Iraq, I would not rule out the possibility that they might be found in the future. Iraq is a vast country, and only several months ago, a full squadron of aircraft was discovered buried in the sand.


"Saddam Hussein's regime 'is busy enhancing its capabilities in the field of chemical and biological agents,' Vice President Dick Cheney told the Veterans of Foreign Wars in August, adding, 'These are not weapons designed for the purpose of defending Iraq. These are offensive weapons for the purpose of inflicting death on a massive scale.' Billed by the White House as laying out the case for military action against Iraq, the speech employed the phrase 'weapons of mass destruction' eight times. George W. Bush also regularly uses 'weapons of mass destruction' as a collective term for chemical, biological, and atomic arms. In his 2002 State of the Union address, for example, the president stated that the United States would not 'permit the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most dangerous weapons,' citing chemical, biological, and atomic arms as equal concerns."Saddam Hussein's regime "is busy enhancing its capabilities in the field of chemical and biological agents," Vice President Dick Cheney told the Veterans of Foreign Wars in August, adding, "These are not weapons designed for the purpose of defending Iraq. These are offensive weapons for the purpose of inflicting death on a massive scale." Billed by the White House as laying out the case for military action against Iraq, the speech employed the phrase "weapons of mass destruction" eight times. George W. Bush also regularly uses "weapons of mass destruction" as a collective term for chemical, biological, and atomic arms. In his 2002 State of the Union address, for example, the president stated that the United States would not "permit the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most dangerous weapons," citing chemical, biological, and atomic arms as equal concerns...

Yet their lethal potential is emphatically not equivalent. Chemical weapons are dangerous, to be sure, but not "weapons of mass destruction" in any meaningful sense. ...pound for pound, chemical weapons are less lethal than conventional explosives and more difficult for an attacker or terrorist to use. It's also hard to see what the moral distinction is between being killed by gas and being blown up. Modern artillery shells create horrific scenes of carnage, and yet we don't view them as weapons of "mass destruction," though firing them into an unsuspecting city could readily produce more deaths than gas.

Similarly, biological weapons are widely viewed with dread, though in actual use they have rarely done great harm. The most successful biological warfare to date took place nearly 250 years ago, when the British gave smallpox-laden blankets to French-affiliated Native Americans during the Seven Years' War. Japanese attempts to use biological weapons against China during World War II were of limited success. More recently there have been accidental releases of smallpox and anthrax in the Soviet Union and Ebola exposure in the United States; all did far less harm than would have been caused by the detonation of a single conventional bomb.

..Deliberate, systematic distribution of weapons-grade anthrax in the United States in 2001 killed five people--terrible, but hardly "mass destruction" compared to the jet-fuel explosions that killed 3,000 on September 11 and the conventional bomb that killed 168 in Oklahoma City in 1995. Because actual attempts to use bioweapons have been few, it's hard to be sure; but it may well be that, like chemical weapons, biological agents will prove less dangerous than conventional arms, as well as more difficult for armies or terrorists to use.

Then there are atomic and nuclear devices--utterly, unmistakably "weapons of mass destruction." Pound for pound, these are the most awful constructions of human enterprise, thousands or millions of times more dangerous than any chemical or biological arms.

The phrase "weapons of mass destruction," then, obscures more than it clarifies. It lumps together a category of truly terrible weapons (atomic bombs) with two other categories that are either less dangerous than conventional weapons (chemical arms) or largely an unknown quantity (biological agents). This conflation, moreover, muddies the American rationale for military action against Iraq. That rationale should be to prevent Saddam from acquiring atomic weapons. This alone is reason to go to war.


'Weapons of Mass Destruction' Meaningless
Gregg Easterbrook | New Republic | October 7, 2002

Short version: atomic weapons, and atomic weapons alone, deserve the label of weapons of mass destruction. Iraq had neither atomic weapons nor a viable atomic weapons program. None were found, none will be found.
posted by y2karl at 4:20 PM on May 16, 2005


Yes, my children, just keep saying it and it will come true!

There WILL be Iraqi WMD! There WILL be Iraqi WMD! I DO believe in fairies! I DO believe...

Fuck this Zionist jerk.
posted by Decani at 4:27 PM on May 16, 2005


Wow, four threats and already a shit-storm. Halevy is not and was not a key player in the orchestration of the Iraq war, so I do not attribute much importance to his opinion on this issue, I was, however, hoping there'd be some attention to Halevy's more progressive positions, such as:

"If Israel supports the policy of democratization in the Arab world, then it must accept the results of freely held elections in the Palestinian territories. Democratic elections do not entail a guarantee of victory by one particular party and therefore one must assume that there is a possibility that Hamas will play a role in the political life of the Palestinian Authority and Israel will be powerless to prevent this from happening. Hams today represents between 30 and 40 percent of the Palestinian population. These 30 to 40 percent are much more cohesive than the "silent" 60 percent of Fatah and its associates. Therefore, realistically, we must envisage a situation in which Hamas will be sitting at negotiating tables and will continue to be a political force in Palestinian society."

But, I guess not.

Decani, thanks for RTFA. From your post, it's really evident you gave it a solid read.
posted by ori at 4:44 PM on May 16, 2005


y2karl: yes, I believe the UNSC would have grudgingly backed the overthrow of Saddam if the inspections team had uncovered signs of an active nuke program. Saddam was clean on this score, and they just wanted to get back to bidness-as-usual.

What a laughingly bad work of diplomacy this admin committed.

The only way they got reelected is that they've just charged the $200B+ costs of the war. Just wait until THAT bill comes due. People still don't realize that the average taxpayer is on the hook for $3000+interest as of now. $3000! If you had polled people if Iraqi Freedom was worth $3000 to them (not to mention thousands of US casualties), I don't think you'd see more than 20% support for this war (the 20% of the country that doesn't know their ass from a hole in the ground).

Support for Vietnam collapsed too once the bills started coming in.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 4:44 PM on May 16, 2005


ori: I read it right through, and believe me it wasn't my first exposure to Mr. Halevy. I was flippantly dismissive because I no longer consider it a worthwhile use of my time to painstakingly make a case against Zionism and Zionists. I'm too old and impatient for that. You either get why Zionism is wrong, unfair and intrinsically hypocritical without having it spelled out, or you don't. If you don't, hey, sorry, we're on opposite sides on this one. I have a similar attitude where Nazism is concerned, ironically enough. And no, that isn't a Godwin. It's just a direct and handy illustration of my position.
posted by Decani at 5:12 PM on May 16, 2005


Fuck this Zionist jerk.

Decani, just stop. Seriously. You have no "case against Zionists" just cheap leftist nostrums and unexamined prejudices.

Thanks for the thoughtful post, ori.
posted by felix betachat at 5:23 PM on May 16, 2005


and unexamined prejudices.

mindreading much, huh?
posted by matteo at 5:57 PM on May 16, 2005


mindreading much, huh?

No recourse to the supernatural necessary! Decani's a guy who insists on voiding his bowels in a great many threads on religion generally, and Judaism in particular. He's not embarrassed by this, but he should be.
posted by felix betachat at 6:05 PM on May 16, 2005


felix, I was under the impression we were discussing Israel (a State among whose founders as I am sure you know there were also many atheists), and (in a derail), Iraq, not Judaism.

I'm sorry you get somehow snippy whenever Judaism is mentioned, even tangentially, but listen for a second:
in this day and age, I myself hate the pejorative use of "Zionist" as "rabid supporter of colonization of the West Bank" (in that sense I prefer, say, "Likudnik", or "right-wing nut"). but you have to admit that the post-1948 definition of "Zionist" is somehow murkier. the State is there, now, right where Herzl wanted it, not in Uganda or Argentina or wherever the hell it was suggested back then -- it's right there where the original Zionists wanted it, more or less. and it's fully stocked of nukes, so it'll be there indefinitely, or until the region will be replaced by a big-ass radioactive hole in the ground.

sadly, if by a 2005 "Zionist" one means "somebody who thinks that the West Bank is unjustly occupied by Arabs who must go to make room for the people God gave the land to in the OT" (what was it, Genesis?), well, it sounds zany. and this from a committed antifascist like me who's appalled whenever Israeli actions and Nazi actions are mentioned in the same sentence. but still, for most reasonable people the OT is not a binding legal document

again, unless I'm talking about Herzl or one of his contemporaries I never use the word "Zionist". but if Decani is against the use of the Old Testament to justify year-2005 MidEast Policy (and related war crimes, on both sides), well, insulting him only makes you look unreasonable.

many of us, not only among the Goyim, think that use of (I was almost going to say "Bronze Age" but I know how you feel) Early Iron Age myths to argue for implementation of present-day policy (or to decide whether menstruating women are unclean) is, well, zany.
posted by matteo at 6:27 PM on May 16, 2005


matteo: Sorry if my use of "Judaism" strikes you as an obfuscation. I use it for precise reasons in contexts like this and for exactly the sort of obscurities you point to. There are a wide range of opinions on the subject of Zionism among people of Jewish ancestry outside of the State of Israel as well as among Israelis themselves. As Decani used the term, "Zionist" scarcely has any positive explanatory value. In his hands, it's an epithet, nothing more. And it obscures the genuine subtlety of Halevy's position. Branding him a Zionist scarcely allows us to appreciate the radical novelty of statements such as:
If Israel supports the policy of democratization in the Arab world, then it must accept the results of freely held elections in the Palestinian territories. Democratic elections do not entail a guarantee of victory by one particular party and therefore one must assume that there is a possibility that Hamas will play a role in the political life of the Palestinian Authority and Israel will be powerless to prevent this from happening.
I believe, based on prior acquaintance with his rhetoric, that Decani uses "Zionist" because he wants to imagine that the issue of Jewish sovereignty over territory in the Middle East is a simple black and white issue. The term allows him conveniently to elide the genuinely complex reality and history in play.

When I use "Judaism" by contrast, I acknowledge that diversity, since Judaism is both ethnos and cultural system. It has no single, positive ideological value, but encompasses a diversity of positions. Scan through this debate, for example, to get a sense of the flavor with which Jews may debate the same concept that Decani so blithely spits upon. How can we generalize about something which, in this debate, Daniel Boyarin and Jay Harris struggle with so passionately?

matteo, Jews are not people of the Hebrew bible, despite your apparent assumption. Their cultural categories are defined by Talmudic and Midrashic disputation. For every opinion, there is an alternative. Dialogue and debate are central cultural acts. In the domain of religion, so in the domain of politics.

What separates Jews and Israelis from people like Decani, you and myself is that they live this reality. "Zionism" or "anti-Zionism" are not elective opinions on a spectrum of political possiblility. They are the translations into political reality of a complex historical experience. Israelis live their politics in ways that we in the first world will never have to. Six million died in recent memory over precisely these issues and the repercussions continue to be felt.

Permit me, please, a single anecdote. I have good friends of mine in Tel Aviv, classic "Peace Now" leftists who would love to see a viable and empowered Palestinian state living alongside a strong and safe Israel. They have a shrine to Yitzak Rabin in their house. These same friends have been devastated by the collapse of the Israeli left and the outbreak of the second intefadah. They live with a constant and ambient anxiety that you and I cannot imagine. The husband had a brother in a prolonged vegetative state as a result of a rock thrown during the first intefadah. And still, they were leftists. I have seen and spoken with them for years now, and witnessed the toll that Arafat's venture has taken on their family life. I will not describe to you the ways in which they have suffered. Instead I will tell you that they celebrate every marriage, birth, success and safe passage as a victory snatched from the maw of death.

How can I, or you, or Decani, or anybody else, deign to pass judgment on these people or any others, Israeli or Palestinian who suffer under similar conditions? I have my opinions, obviously, about how best to achieve peace in the middle east. But I temper them with humility because I do not know the full complexity of the situation. Decani does not, and for this reason, I cannot respect him.

Please, matteo, how is his curse of Halevy anything but the grossest sort of ideological chauvenism?
posted by felix betachat at 7:26 PM on May 16, 2005


Felix - nicely written!

Did anyone else notice that one of the questions was from Noam Federman in Hebron? He is exactly the kind of scary far-rightist that curses should be reserved for, and should not be placed in the same catagory as Halevy, let alone all Israelis.
posted by blahblahblah at 7:50 PM on May 16, 2005


The link is interesting. The perspective of this guy is amazing. The statement that others are not ready for democracy or self government is something that any communist or British Imperial apologist would be proud of.

Felix - nicely written. The problem is that Americans and Europeans have to decide about the policy they wish to pursue with Israel.

America funds Israel to the tune of several billion dollars a year and also places no restrictions on Israel's nuclear arsenal. You might say that America has passed judgement on Israel and said that it can do whatever it wants and receive American backing that is unlike what America gives to any other state in the world.

The repurcussions of this are serious. One of the major, if not the major, claim that Arab Islamic militants make is that Israel is a state that is an offence to every muslim. Regardless of the truth of the situation this has massively contribed to the fact that muslim extremists decided to fly aeroplanes into buildings in America.
posted by sien at 8:03 PM on May 16, 2005


felix, I obviously didn't defend the tone, and I distanced myself from a good part of the content.

but when you state

What separates Jews and Israelis from people like Decani, you and myself is that they live this reality.

I could immediately answer that Palestinians live that reality, too. and I'm afraid that Talmudic and Midrashic tradition and hexegesis have very little relevenace for them, too. sien has a point -- it's not an emotional issue, it's about geopolitics and massive US support to one side, at the cost of more of a trillion dollars in the last 40 years.

even if I'm afraid it is an emotional issue for you, and it's a legitimate position. for me -- as a secular Goy, it's not my war. but it is the root cause of a lot of shit that ends up creating many problems all over the world. and I can't ignore it.

it may not be as black and white as some think, but it ends up becoming one: there's land. some people are settling there, and it costs a lot of money and a lot of blood on both sides. either the settlers or the Arabs will have to move. it's pretty black and white in the end -- it's about who packs the bags.

and frankly, that the former chief of Mossad talks about a future role for Hamas is interesting. but the end, many of the players end up admitting that water's wet (cue the American taboo of the words "Palestinian State" -- Hillary Clinton, that poor, deeply moralistic former Goldwaterite who wouldn't be admitted in any self-respecting non-USian progressive party, got skewered less than 10 years ago for uttering the words "Palestinian State". a few years later it became a catchphrase for the most right-win US adiministration evar.)

Hamas is not 100% bombs. hence, it'll have to play a political role. I am under the impression that not all the Sinn Fein gentlemen are saints, either. but their party is not a 100% military organization.

etc, etc.

realism is fine, but way too many settlers still think in OT terms of ancestral lands and "Hellenized Jews". they have very powerful enablers, and nobody ever cuts their funding -- settlements magically escape any kind of cuts since the eighties. and, since that geopolitical infected sore is making the world I live less safe, excuse me if I pass some judgement on the actors. I'd hate to see Armageddon be sparked by a very old tribal war with religious (some of us say "mythical" overtones). I don't believe a bearded man in the sky gave that land forever to someone in particular. but then, I also don't think that our readers in the Southwestern US, sitting on land stolen from Mexico, should pack their bags and let the brown people reclaim their ancestral land. so I am quite pragmatic in the end.
posted by matteo at 9:01 PM on May 16, 2005


For a really good read on Israel and all it's trials and tribulations in the last century, The Iron Wall is one of the best books I've read. Written by an Israeli historian using Israeli historical documents. Don't let that last part fool you. This is a really in-depth look at why Israel continues to do the wrong thing when it so easily could have done the right thing. As an example: Nearly starting a war with Jordan because sheep wandered across the border back in the 1950's.
posted by mk1gti at 9:56 PM on May 16, 2005


Thanks, felix.
posted by ori at 10:53 PM on May 16, 2005


since that geopolitical infected sore is making the world I live less safe, excuse me if I pass some judgement on the actors

matteo, try thinking about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict less as a cause and more as a symptom of this geopolitical uncertainty you're talking about. The region is a fault line, and not in the sense that Samuel Huntington thinks it is. Both Jewish and Palestinian claims to land are playing out a Blut und Boden drama quite at odds with the values of the modern nation state.

And the drama is not just geographical, but psychological, too. As even the Dutch are learning, to their chagrin, there are hard limits to the pluralistic democratic values of the enlightenment. Ethno-nationalism is not something to be reasoned away, but a very real force with which inalienable democratic principles must be reconciled. We cosmopolitan first-worlders forget this at our peril.

From this perspective, an opinion on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is less a dispassionate stance and more an expression of where one draws that psychic line between modernity and tribalism. There's no avoiding it. But I meant to remind you that, for all our psychic contradictions, Israelis and Palestinians are real flesh-and-blood people who suffer and cause real suffering. We ought to account for our own post-modern neuroses when we feel our blood pressure rise.

I have no problem with the sentiment that you and sien express above. Expressing dissatisfaction with Israel's actions based on America's (or Europe's) strategic interests is perfectly legitimate and ought to be a variable in the Israeli political calculus. But don't kid yourself. We don't give that money because we're closet theocrats. From the Cold War until now, we give it because it buys us influence, just as it does in Egypt.

Since that influence could very well be exercised in the next few months to prevent an Israeli military strike against Iran, we oughtn't disregard the value we gain from it.
posted by felix betachat at 6:24 AM on May 17, 2005


There's now also an interview with former Shabak head Carmi Gillon.
posted by kickingtheground at 8:46 AM on May 19, 2005


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