When the Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu returns from his working meeting with President Barack Obama in the second half of next week, he and defense minister Ehud Barak will have their hands full dealing with disgruntled generals and security chiefs, our military and Middle East sources report.
IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi is of one mind with the policy-makers (and Washington) on the need for utmost military restraint, but most national security and military leaders maintain that the 800 Scud D missiles, which are capable of carrying nuclear or chemical warheads, pose too great a peril for Israel to allow them cross into Lebanon and become operational.
They offer three arguments:
1. Israel stood idly by for the build-up of thousands of Iranian and Syrian missiles smuggled to the Lebanese Hizballah, but the Scud D missiles' presence in Syrian bases minutes away from the Lebanese border must be seen – even in Jerusalem – as the last straw which broke the camel's back.
The scenario of a chemical attack on Tel Aviv was drilled Tuesday, May 25, the third day of the Israel Home Front defense drill, 'Turning Point 4' (May 23-27).
The results and conclusions were disturbing.
More than 65 percent of the population lacks protection against an attack using toxic chemicals. Israel may suffer an estimated 3,300 casualties including up to 200 dead in conventional Syrian or Hizballah long range missile attacks, but if those missiles carry chemical warheads, the casualty figure would soar to 16,000 and leave more than 200,000 homeless.
Tiny Israel with its small population cannot possible afford casualties on this scale, say the government's critics.
2. Iran and Syria will use the Scud D menace as a card for squeezing more concessions when the US faces Iran in negotiations on the new enriched uranium swap deal brokered by Turkey and Brazil. By allowing this to happen, Israel will strengthen Tehran's hand and help bolster the hostile "Northern Alliance" of Iran, Turkey, Brazil and Hizballah.
3. In the view of most Israeli military and security leaders, if Netanyahu and Barak hold back from a timely strike against the menacing Scud missiles, they will ultimately shrink back from hitting Iran's nuclear facilities as well. This pattern of non-response will lead Israel into coming to terms alongside the Obama administration with a nuclear-armed Iran.
Lawmaker Tzahi Hanegbi, Chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, has been going around later warning that Iran's attainment of nuclear weapons would pose Israel with mortal danger. He speaks for a large body of well-informed security and military chiefs – and is not the only one.
Israel's top security-military echelons up in arms
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military sources disclose comments at a closed-door lecture by General (res.) Amos Gilad, senior political-security advisor at the Defense Ministry, which are gaining ground among broad circles of high-ranking IDF and junior officers.
After serving a series of Israeli defense ministers as senior strategic adviser, Gilad is now voicing in private circles, exasperation with the policies Israel has followed in the decade since Bashar Assad came to power and vis-à-vis Hizballah. These policies, he maintains, were costly in terms of Israel's deterrent strength and have left the country exposed to the current outburst of aggression from the North.
Unusually outspoken, Gen. Gilad says Israel came away from the 2006 Lebanon war, which was triggered by a Hizballah cross-border attack, with hardly a single strategic gain. Its outcome was harvested by Syria and Hizballah to upgrade Hizballah and transform the terrorist militia, ordered by the UN Security Council to disband, into a professional military force for confronting Israel's armed forces.
Gilad asserted that the relative calm of the ensuing four years on Israel's borders with Syria and Lebanon owed nothing to Israel's deterrent power, as defense minister Barak and Chief of staff Ashkenazi were fond of stating; they owe everything, he says, to the quiet needed for Iran and Syria to finish arming Hizballah with the sophisticated tools of war for attacking Israel at the earliest opportunity.
Assad is not susceptible to diplomacy, only force
Regarding Israel's waning deterrent strength, the Defense Ministry adviser drew attention to the fluctuations in Syrian ruler's bellicosity, which peaked before Israel demolished his North Korean-built plutonium reactor in September 2007 and damped down right afterwards. But when Assad realized eighteen months later that the attack was a one-off, he went back to his threatening rhetoric for Israel and the open pursuit of brutal steps for subjugating Lebanon.
By May, 2010, his stridency and aggressiveness had reverted to their old level.
It's about time we took Bashar Assad's measure, said the defense ministry adviser. We all know he is tremendously cunning, but we have to remember that this guy gets up every morning, looks in the mirror and asks himself – What can I do today better than my late father (Syrian President Hafez Assad, who ruled Syria with an iron fist from 1971 to 2000)?
Gilad stresses that Bashar's driving force is the urge to outdo his father.
Therefore, because Hafez forged a strong alliance with Tehran to preserve his regime at the head of his minority Allawite sect, Bashar felt compelled to deepen that alliance still further. In following in his father's footsteps, he constantly needs to go that extra step.
The Obama administration and Israel have made no impression on the Syrian ruler because they missed his most basic motive, which is the compulsion to beat his father at his own game, according to Gilad. It explains why he is so unresponsive to any form of diplomacy rooted in rational political expediency, or even gain. But he is very sensitive to any display of force, especially if it menaces his dynastic grip on the regime
Ex-General Gilad's arguments have been making the rounds and influencing members of the IDF high command.
The high command and its ministerial supporters are increasingly critical of the way the Netanyahu-Barak duo is handling the 800-Scud D missile crisis. Their clamor for Israel to take the weapons out before they cross into Lebanon is getting louder.