An Israeli General Looks Askance at Trump’s National Security Appointees
In a closed, wide-ranging lecture to a select Israeli business and academic audience in Tel Aviv this week, IDF Military Intelligence Chief Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevy stepped out of the accepted purlieu of Israel generals to voice his views on the election of Donald Trump as US president.
“Trump was elected because he was against the system,” he sad. “The question is: how will he carry his ideology into the White House?”
Showing a slide depicting the Trump victory and the Brexit referendum in Britain, the military spy chief saw “more ultra-nationalists ascending in the West” and predicted, “The institutions of state will grow stronger and the walls between nations higher.”
Some eyebrows were raised among his Tel Aviv listeners. Armed forces officers are not generally authorized to voice their opinions on American or any other international political processes, unless they directly impinge on Israeli security. It is the job of the cabinet to outline policy. The last military officer to step across this line was Ariel Sharon, 50 years ago. A general at the time, who later became prime minister, he advanced the doctrine of the three strategic cycles for buttressing Israel’s security.
Gen. Halevy’s comments at this time reflected a certain sense of unease in the upper circles of Israel’s military, intelligence and government about some of the candidates in line for top jobs in the Trump cabinet.
Gen. James Mattis’s candidacy as defense secretary is not popular in those circles – and not just because of past remarks negating the settlements and other Israeli policies. He is seen as downgrading Israel’s status as a leading American strategic ally, and reducing the IDF to just another Middle East military force.
As one IDF officer put it to DEBKA Weekly, Mattis’ view may be understandable in American terms, but it clashes with the high qualitative appreciation Israeli generals have of the IDF – and especially its Air Force and elite Special Operations units.
As for Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, the incoming US president’s National Security Adviser, Israeli leaders are not comfortable with the impression that he is putting too many eggs in the Russian basket, by counting Moscow in as America’s senior partner for eliminating ISIS and other Islamic terrorist groups in the Middle East.
Although Binyamin Netanyahu has developed a seemingly warm working relationship with Vladimir Putin – in apparent harmony with the Trump approach – that relationship is handled on the quiet with kid gloves, because no one can be sure which way it will head tomorrow.
Israeli policymakers are not entirely happy with Flynn’s close ties with Turkey either. This distrust surfaced in the pessimistic note sounded by Gen. Halevy, when he said: “We [are witnessing] a process of religious radicalization in Turkey.” While Israel’s relations with the Turkish ruler, Recep.Tayyip Erdogan, were on the mend, he urged the government “to play hard to get and go forward with extreme caution.”