Ynet.co.il, the news site associated with Yediot Ahronot, has a profile of incoming Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon (known since his youth by the nickname “Boogy”). It’s important reading, so I’ve translated it below.
Here’s the background that’s not in the profile: Born Moshe Smilansky in 1950, raised in suburban Haifa, he was active in the Noar Oved ve-Lomed youth movement and was in a garin (settlement group) named Garin Yaalon (from which he took his name), which joined with a sister garin from American Habonim to rebuild Kibbutz Grofit near Eilat. He returned to the army after the Yom Kippur War in 1973 and rose through the ranks. Commanded the elite Sayeret Matkal commando unit, became chief of Military Intelligence in 1995 and chief of Central Command, in charge of the West Bank, in 1998. During this period he underwent a famous conversion from left- to right-wing, claiming publicly that he now realized the Palestinians had no intention of making peace. In 2002 he became chief of staff, serving three years after Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz denied him the customary fourth-year extension due to his outspoken opposition to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s Gaza disengagement plan. It’s worth noting that of the 18 living ex-chiefs of the IDF, Mossad and Shin Bet, he is the only one who opposes a two-state solution. - JJG
Political Hawk and Loose TongueMoshe “Boogy” Yaalon called his General Staff colleagues “snakes” and the organizations on the left “a virus.” He believes that evacuating settlements is “perverse” and that the IDF can attack any nuclear installation in Iran. Over the years Yaalon’s statements have reflected a determined, activist security philosophy. In his gunsights: leftists, Turks and of course Ehud Barak.By Roy Mandel, Ynet 3/18/13In April 2012 Moshe “Boogy” Yaalon absorbed criticism at home when he dared to declare that he was Benjamin Netanyahu’s heir and would one day run for the leadership of the Likud and the country. The prime minister, as we learned from the negotiations with Yair Lapid, does not like politicians who openly declare that the house on Balfour Street is the object of their dreams. But ever so quietly, under the radar and almost without opposition, the former chief of staff has found himself in an excellent launching pad for the fulfillment of his vision, now that he has been named defense minister in Israel’s 33rd government. The man who declared on the day he was demobilized from the IDF that he was careful to keep his boots on at General Staff headquarters because of all the snakes will soon enter much taller shoes and march in them to his new office, which is located in the same General Staff compound, the Kiryah.Moshe Yaalon, ID no. 2057989, is a kibbutznik who returned to active duty after the 1973 Yom Kippur War, a retired chief of staff, the commander of the IDF during the second half of the second intifada and a person who ended his military service in grating tones when his tenure was not extended on the eve of the Gaza disengagement. Now, after a term as minister for strategic affairs, he is returning to run the entire system.The man who led a hawkish line at the General Staff and in the government, who believed that Yasser Arafat had never deviated from his goal of destroying the state of Israel, who insisted that the paradigm of two states for two peoples was unworkable—will now navigate the security establishment, effectively oversee millions of Palestinians and deal with Israel’s security and strategic challenges. Many on the dovish side of the political and military map fear that his line will drag Israel into diplomatic and security complications.
Evacuation of Settlements Is ‘Perverse’The issue of Gaza, which is on the agenda of every defense minister, is quite familiar to Yaalon. He vigorously opposed the disengagement plan and foresaw the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip, arguing that unilateral withdrawals are taken on the other side as signs of retreat and weakness.In his book “A Long, Short Path” Yaalon claimed that then-prime minister Ariel Sharon implemented the disengagement partly because he wanted to save himself from investigations in which he was embroiled: “The end of my service was not connected only to the disengagement that Sharon led, but also because they understood that on my watch there would be no horse thievery in all sorts of areas. A casino in Jericho, for example, all sorts of things in the area of energy or a security policy that would serve the interests of one or another party.”In an interview in 2010 Yaalon said that the assumption that settlements are an impediment to peace is a “twisted approach.” In his words, “If we are moving toward coexistence, why evacuate settlements? Dismantling settlements is perverse. How did we reach the point where an Arab has the right to live in all parts of the land of Israel but there are regions that are forbidden to Jews? This is genuine Judenrat. Dismantling homes in the Yovel neighborhood, in Eli or Horsha, what are we talking about? Their fate is the same as that of Lahavot Haviva, let’s not delude ourselves.”Knesset member Yisrael Hasson of Kadima, formerly deputy director of the Shin Bet, once expressed his opinion of the incoming defense minister by saying that in his view Yaalon was a danger to Israel: “Boogy follows a foolish path. If he reaches government he will lead us to a difficult fate. There is now a candidate who speaks in terms of defeating terrorism, eliminating its infrastructures, that there is nobody to talk to and nothing to talk about.“The person who designed the strategy of degrading Hezbollah’s missiles, and we all found out in the second Lebanon war how degraded they had become, was Boogy. The person who spoke of defeating the Palestinian Authority and didn’t address the question of what would come after it, was Boogy. Boogy is simply a danger, I have no other word than danger. I am afraid of people like Boogy.”A Virus Called “Peace Now”As minister of defense Yaalon is responsible for the system that governs and oversees Judea and Samaria. The positions he expressed in the past against organizations on the left and against the judicial system are very worrying to his opponents. At a conference of Moshe Feiglin’s “Jewish Leadership” in August 2009 he attacked the organizations of the left: “We are occupied with the matter that the virus which is ‘Peace Now’ – and, if you will, the elites – their damage is very great. The elites influence the public discourse in a twisted, dishonest, manipulative and misleading way.”Of the Supreme Court, the corporate leadership and the media he said: “These centers of power are centers of power without responsibility. This is not democratic. They have no responsibility. They are not accountable.”His positions on the topic of negotiations and diplomacy toward the Palestinians, as on the topic of the sensitive relationship with the United States around the diplomatic issue, will now be put to the test. In an interview in Yediot Ahronot in March 2010 he said: “Part of our interest is maneuvering vis a vis the United States and the European system, which is fed by Israeli factors that create the illusion that it is possible to reach an agreement. They say that time is against us, but time works in favor of those who use it well.“There are people in America who see the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as the principle cause of instability in the Middle East. This view is also present in the government. But what can you do – it is not because of us that there is instability. I don’t minimize the importance of relations with the Western nations, but we mustn’t exaggerate. We needn’t be alarmed, and there is no diplomatic isolation. What there is, is an attack of delegitimization against Israel that we need to confront. Delegitimization is a strategic threat.”At the Jewish Leadership conference Yaalon was asked about relations with the United States and he replied: “I am not afraid of the Americans. There are things we need to say – ‘This far and no farther.’ When you do things you don’t believe in, you enter a slippery slope. Pressures are placed on you and you start to slide downward. When I was chief of staff I said several times in closed forums that every time the politicians bring the dove of peace here, we have to clean up after them.”The Ballad of Boogy and EhudAfter the second Lebanon war Yaalon voiced extensive criticism of the functioning of the IDF in general and specifically of his successor as chief of staff, Dan Halutz. But the inquiry into the actions and behavior of the General Staff conducted after the war by the former chief of staff, the late Dan Shomron, pointed to Yaalon as responsible.“During the years 2000-2006 a new theory of operations was developed in the IDF that was intended to replace the traditional theory of operations,” Shomron wrote in his report. “The new theory was based on the use of opposing fire in order to create leverage and to affect the enemy’s consciousness, while reducing the use of major ground maneuvers in enemy territory. As early as 2004 a live-fire exercise was conducted in which the General Staff, the Northern Command and its divisions practiced the new approach. No efforts were made during this exercise to carry out ground operations to halt enemy fire, and therefore the ground forces were not given clear, detailed tasks with a timetable as part of the objectives of battle. The clear influence of the lack of battle objectives was quite tangibly felt in July 2006.”Yaalon had a series of sharp confrontations with outgoing defense minister Ehud Barak, particularly against the backdrop of the handling of the Turkish flotilla in 2010 and after the release of the Harpaz Report. In the Turkel Commission which investigated the Mavi Marmara flotilla incident Yaalon claimed that he had warned of failures in planning and execution, but in his words Barak “did not let anyone get involved” in the planning for the flotilla and the operational calculations “and now he is attempting to blame everyone else.”Yaalon believed that Israel should not apologize to the Turks, and in an interview in 2011 he said: “An apology would cause strategic damage to Israel vis a vis the nations of the region and position Recep Tayyip Erdogan as the person who brought Israel to its knees. If we were to apologize it would truly spit in the face of our naval commandos.”As for the Harpaz affair, Yaalon was even more vitriolic when he spoke to a forum at a private home in Nes Ziona, hinting broadly in the direction of Ehud Barak and his role in the affair. “The events of the past week sharpen what I said about snakes in the Kiryah,” he said without elaborating. The reactions in the defense minister’s office were furious.The dispute with Barak reached its peak over the issue of Iranian nuclear power. Yaalon charged that Barak spoke forcefully on the matter and then worked with the American administration without coordinating with the prime minister. “The minister put Israel up a tree, then fled at the last minute and presented himself as a moderate,” Yaalon said in October 2012.Barak answered him in an interview with Dana Weiss on Channel 2. “This is a pathetic statement,” Barak said, adding a typically cynical remark: “Boogy failed in the primaries. This is an endemic disease among Likud members.”It Is Possible to Attack Every Iranian Installation MilitarilyIran is the most serious file on the desk of the incoming defense minister. Yaalon, who is well acquainted with the details, has expressed his views on the matter more than once. At the Herzliya Conference in February 2012 he said it was possible to hit every nuclear installation in Iran militarily: “Any installation that is defended by humans can be penetrated by humans. It is possible to militarily damage all the installations in Iran, and I am saying this from my experience as chief of staff.”Several months ago Yaalon was criticized for a statement regarding the web. It happened during an interview with Golan Yuchpaz on Galei Zahal about the Flamer virus that had attacked the Iranian network. “Israel is fortunate to be a country with a wealth of top-level technology. These achievements open up a great many opportunities,” he said. Iranians were quick to announce that Yaalon’s words were proof that Israel had planted the virus.Yair Lapid, then a political opponent and today the finance minister in charge of the budgt of Yaalon’s ministry, was sharply critical of the statement. “This is madness,” Lapid said at the time. “This government is talking itself to death. A new virus infiltrates the computers in Iran and we are given to understand from his words (Yaalon’s – r.m.) that he personally in his capacity as minister of strategic affairs, he and Feiglin sent the virus.”Apropos Lapid, Yaalon as minister of defense will have to handle the hot potato known as “sharing the burden.” While the Plessner Committee was in operation Netanyahu had put him in charge of developing an alternative plan for drafting yeshiva students, and Yaalon said at the time, “The demand to draft everyone at age 18 is not realistic. Anyone who thinks it’s possible to enact a law under which everyone in Israel will be drafted at age 18 is ignoring Israeli reality. Which shows that the defense minister will have to deal during his tenure not only with terrorism and Iran, but also with his coalition partners.
Jonathan Jeremy “J.J.” Goldberg is editor-at-large of the Forward, where he served as editor in chief for seven years (2000-2007).