Separate whirlwinds demolish two Middle East figures in one day
Close observation of the circumstances surrounding the seven-day popular uprising that ended Hosni Mubarak's 30-year old presidency cannot avoid noticing the skillful choreography which brought it up to a well-judged climax Tuesday night, Feb. 2. In fact, the hands of the United States, Britain and the Egyptian army heads were plain to see at every stage. Their agents pushed the levers for speeding up the street action when it flagged and hit the brakes before it went too far.
Interestingly, the outburst of fury appeared to be leaderless and totally spontaneous, an apparent liability in a popular revolution. In fact it was an asset. Mubarak's dread security forces were bereft of the power to break up the protest movement by the usual means of grabbing the ringleader, figure or group at its head. They were also denied an object of penetration for finding out what the street had in store and when – and getting their blows in first.
Without these levers of control, Mubarak's week-long struggle to keep his head above water was doomed from the start.
The master choreographers chose well when they set up their main platform at Cairo's Tahrir Square. It provided the journalists housed in the luxury hotels overlooking the square a ringside seat over a perfect arena for their cameras. The crowd scenes played out under their hotel windows were graphically and dramatically presented in the world's living rooms as an anti-Mubarak movement springing up spontaneously across the country.
In fact, most of the week, excepting the day of the March of Millions on Tuesday, the demonstrations outside Cairo did not exceed hundreds or a few thousand at most.
The identifies of the choreographers will no doubt surface in the months ahead as the reins of power slip out of Mubarak's hands and into those of the new leaders. A hint was provided by US President Barack Obama early Wednesday, Feb. 2, when he reported on his farewell phone conversation with Mubarak. Obama, who from the first made no secret of his sympathy for the protesters, told Mubarak bluntly his time was up. What must happen now, he said, is the orderly transition of power to groups of people with a wide range of views.
The US president may be presumed to know who those people are and the nature of their views.
Mubarak, along with Saudi Arabia's royal house and Israel, was for 30 years one of America's three staunchest allies. If the 82-year old Egyptian leader finds it hard to smoothly sustain the transition momentum, the mechanism which fostered the protest movement will not doubt apply another prod to remind him of his pledge to leave at the end of his term in September.
We may not have to wait until then for his successors to step out of the shadows and into the light as the members of the old regime step down.
The termination of Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant's military career, just weeks after the government designated him Israel's next chief of staff, is a separate and different episode from Mubarak's ouster. But they have common features. For one, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu cancelled Galant's appointment to the top IDF job Tuesday on the same day as Mubarak publicly accepted his marching orders.
Neither case developed spontaneously without help.
Galant was disqualified under deftly-choreographed public pressure on the parties who were asked to review his appointment. The Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein informed the prime minister Tuesday, Feb. 1, that he could not defend the appointment in the High Court against a petition revolving around a decade-old dispute over land he acquired for his home in Moshav Amikam. The moshav itself is divided on this issue. Netanyahu thereupon revoked the appointment. Defense Minister Ehud Barak refuted the AG's view but said he would respect it and named the Deputy Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Yair Nave stopgap for 60 days until a new candidate is approved.
The following day, retired Judge Yaacov Turkel, head of the Civil Service Appointments Commission, said Galant had come out of every stage of his exhaustive pre-appointment examination with a clean sheet. The commission had agreed unanimously that if there had been issues in his past, they were too trivial to bar his appointment, a view the judge still holds. In a radio interview, he hinted that a witch hunt in which the media had colluded had brought Gen. Galant down. He too found it hard to believe that justice had triumphed in this case.
The fact that the only winner was the outgoing chief of staff Lt. Gen. Gaby Ashkenazi, who ends his stint on Feb. 14, provides a clue to the hand behind it. There was another one: Wednesday, two opposition leaders from Kadima and Labor challenged Barak for failing to extend Ashkenazi's term to bridge the gap until his successor is selected.
Throughout the ups and downs of this affair, Ashkenazi made no secret of his opposition to the Galant appointment as part of his campaign against the man responsible for it, Defense Minster Barak.
But it was also part of another campaign which Ashkenazi has been waging without publicity: to take the IDF out of the jurisdiction of the defense minister, a political civilian appointee, and award the IDF chiefs greater autonomy.
Ashkenazi has been seeking to demote the defense minister to the professional level of the US military secretaries for the ground forces, air force and navy and strip him of the powers he holds today as senior strategic policy-maker like the US Secretary of Defense. To this end, the chief of staff while still in uniform lobbied in secret for the amendment of the Basic Law: Israel Defense Forces. He and his team had even prepared a draft amendment for presentation to lawmakers.
While it may be legitimate for a general to promote ideas and reforms, the defense minister is equally entitled to dispute them. In this case, however, Ashkenazi and his aides crossed certain constitutional red lines while still members of the armed forces, because their campaign was designed primarily to catapult the outgoing chief of staff into politics after he became a civilian.
Just as Mubarak's enemies chose Tahrir Square in Cairo as their arena of confrontation, so Galant's opponents filmed his moshav home from every possible angle with accompanying maps marked with bold red circles just like a crime scene. As in Tahrir Square, all that was missing was the hand which guided the cameras to target.
Besides General Galant, who ends a brilliant army career in undeserved ignominy, the big losers of this affair are the prime minister and defense minister. The two men responsible for Israel's security and wellbeing missed the unfolding of a deliberate scheme that could only harm the country and the IDF and failed to abort it. Galant's fall may well presage theirs. Ashkenazi and his following will target them next.