Interview in Yediot Achronot, 11/17/2003
Ex-Security Chiefs Turn on Sharon Government
Policies 'Create Hatred,' Israeli Newspaper Is Told
By Molly Moore
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, November 15, 2003; Page A01
JERUSALEM, Nov. 14 — Four former chiefs of Israel' powerful domestic security service said in an interview published Friday that the government's actions and policies during the three-year-old Palestinian uprising have gravely damaged the country and its people.
The four, who variously headed the Shin Bet security agency from 1980 to 2000 under governments that spanned the political spectrum, said that Israel must end it occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, that the government should recognize that no peace agreement can be reached without the involvement of the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, and that it must stop what one called the immoral treatment of Palestinians.
"We must once and for all admit that there is another side, that it has feelings and that it is suffering, and that we are behaving disgracefully," said Avraham Shalom, who headed the security service from 1980 until 1986. "Yes, there is no other word for it: disgracefully. . . . We have turned into a people of petty fighters using the wrong tools."
The statements to Israel's largest-circulation Hebrew- language daily newspaper, Yedioth Aharonoth, added to recent public criticism of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon by Israeli political, military and civic leaders for hi failure to stop terrorism or negotiate peace as the uprising enters its fourth year.
Members of the Sharon government said they would not comment directly on the statements.
"I don't want to add more fuel to this," said a senior government official, speaking on condition of anonymity. "These, of all people, should have known this is the worst time to conduct public debate on these issues."
The official said creating the image that "Israel i falling apart at the seams" could prompt Palestinian organizations to "intensify terrorist activity."
The former security chiefs said they agreed to the two- hour interview — the first time the four have ever sat down together — out of "serious concern for the condition of the state of Israel," according to Carmi Gillon, who ran Shin Bet in 1995 and 1996.
Maj. Gen. Ami Ayalon, who headed the agency from 1996 until 2000 and is co-author of a peace petition signed by tens of thousands of Israelis and Palestinians, said: "We are taking sure and measured steps to a point where the state of Israel will no longer be a democracy and a home for the Jewish people."
Shin Bet is Israel's dominant domestic security and intelligence service, with primary responsibility for the country's anti-terrorism efforts. It often plans and directs armed forces operations that support its own activities, including raids into Palestinian towns and villages in search of alleged terrorists, assassination of suspected militants and interrogation of suspects. The current Shin Bet chief, Avi Dichter, is one of Sharon's most trusted and influential advisers, according to administration officials.
The four former Shin Bet leaders said they recognized the contradictions between some of their actions a security chiefs and their opinions today.
"Why is it that everyone — [Shin Bet] directors, chief of staff, former security personnel — after a long service in security organizations become the advocate of reconciliation with the Palestinians? Because they were there." said Yaakov Perry, whose term as security chief between 1988 and 1995 covered the first Palestinian uprising, or intifada. "We know the material, the people in the field, and surprisingly, both sides."
The security chiefs denounced virtually every major military and political tactic of the Sharon administration, adding their voices to the dissent in Israel against the prime minister's handling of a conflict that has claimed the lives of more than 2,500 Palestinians and nearly 900 Israelis and foreigners.
In recent weeks, the country's top general ha criticized Sharon's clampdown on Palestinians in the West Bank; active and reserve Air Force pilots have publicly declared the military's use of missiles and bombs to kill militants in civilian neighborhoods to be "immoral"; activists have initiated independent peace proposals; and opinion polls have indicated that faith in Sharon is plummeting.
Perry said the country is "going in the direction of decline, nearly a catastrophe" in almost every area — economic, political, social and security. "If something doesn't happen here, we will continue to live by the sword, we will continue to wallow in the mud and we will continue to destroy ourselves," he said.
The four men said Israel should be prepared to initiate a peace process unilaterally rather than wait for the Palestinians to bring a halt to terrorism, which i Sharon's overriding prerequisite for negotiations.
"As of today, we are preoccupied with preventing terror," Gillon said. "Why? Because this is the condition for making political progress. And this is a mistake."
"You are wrong if you think that this is a mistake," interjected Shalom. "It is not a mistake. It is an excuse — an excuse for doing nothing."
The group was particularly critical of Sharon's attempt to sideline Arafat and declare him "irrelevant" — also a key tenet of President Bush's Middle East policy.
"It was the mother of all errors with regard to Arafat," said Shalom, who has worked as an international busine consultant since leaving the government. "We cannot determine who will have the greatest influence over there. So let us look at the Palestinians' political map, and it is a fact that nothing can happen without Arafat."
Israel should "stop talking about a partner already and do what is good for us," said Perry, now a bank chairman and businessman. "What is good for us is to be able to protect ourselves in the most effective manner . . . to waste fewer troops on guarding hilltops and settlement and three goats and eight cowboys."
The former security chiefs said the Jewish settlement that have proliferated across the West Bank and the Gaza Strip are among the greatest obstacles to peace. "Sharon has often talked about the fact that we will be required to make painful compromises," Perry said, "and there are no painful compromises except for evacuating settlements."
Several of the chiefs also condemned the 400-mile fence and barrier complex Israel is erecting around the heart of the West Bank. Sharon has said the fence is needed to stop terrorists from infiltrating Israel. However, it path veers deep into the West Bank in several places.
"It creates hatred, it expropriates land and annexe hundreds of thousands of Palestinians to the state of Israel," Shalom said. "The result is that the fence achieves the exact opposite of what was intended."
Alluding to South Africa's former system of racial separation known as apartheid, he added: "The Palestinians are arguing, 'You wanted two states, and instead you are closing us up in a South African reality.' Therefore, the more we support the fence, they lose their dream and hope for an independent Palestinian state."
Ayalon, who is chairman of an irrigation system company, said he considered much of Israeli policy in the Palestinian territories "immoral, some of it patently immoral."
"Terror is not thwarted with bombs or helicopters," said Shalom, who asked rhetorically: "Why does this increase terror? Because it is overt, because it carries an element of vindictiveness."
"The problem, as of today, is that the political agenda has become solely a security agenda," said Gillon, who has also served as an ambassador. "It only deals with the question of how to prevent the next terror attack, not the question of how it is at all possible to pull ourselves out of the mess that we are in today."