Opinion

The Mossad chief got it wrong

Hezbollah, Hamas and the Iranian regime are radicals, even when they act pragmatically.

Mossad chief Yossi Cohen attends a ceremony for the appointment of the new chief of Intelligence, at Glilot military base near Tel Aviv, on March 28, 2018. Photo by Miriam Alster/Flash90.
Mossad chief Yossi Cohen attends a ceremony for the appointment of the new chief of Intelligence, at Glilot military base near Tel Aviv, on March 28, 2018. Photo by Miriam Alster/Flash90.
Dan Schueftan
Dan Schueftan

Former Mossad chief Yossi Cohen is not naive. As one might expect, he is suspicious by nature and cynical due to his vocation.

Yet, in his first interview after leaving the intelligence agency, he conceded that he wrongly assessed that Hamas was looking for some sort of deal with Israel. He even revealed his almost-theological mistake, saying, “I wanted to believe” and “I believed wholeheartedly.”

He explained: “I thought we had an arrangement. I wanted to believe that because of all the effort we put into bringing about times of peace that we desperately need here [in Israel] and there [in Gaza]. … I admit I believed, wholeheartedly believed that if the residents of the Gaza Strip saw their wellbeing improve … their motivation for crises and wars would decrease. It seems I was wrong. I was wrong.”

Jews have been making this mistake for over a century. In the early statehood years, Moshe Sharett, who would become the second prime minister of Israel, explained that Zionism was built entirely on national consciousness, not on getting Jews to feel that they are better off. Yet, when it came to Arabs that lived in Israel, it expected them to voice their opinions on the economy and progress, entirely ignoring the national problem.

“We said: We are bringing them a blessing. … We expected them to sell their national birthright in this land for the proverbial mess of socioeconomic pottage. … There is an assumption, explicit or not, that since the Arabs are in an economically, socially and culturally disadvantageous position, they only focus on sustenance and on the mundane … [that] they have no understanding of national values. [Such an argument] gives rise to negative inclinations that stem from the insulting feeling that we see them as inferior human beings, who are not enthused over national identity and all they seek is food and medical services,” he said.

The damage of such an outlook becomes greater when combined with an analytic and perceptual error prevalent among intellectuals, namely the belief that pragmatic behavior indicates the abandonment of radicalism.

According to this approach, if radicals exhibit pragmatism, they must be abandoning their strategy of terrorism and attempts to wipe the Jewish state off the map. If only they were given all the assets they need, they would no longer try to destroy the country that granted these possibilities, because “they would have something to lose.”

Such an assumption is based on a faulty understanding of radicalism and a lack of knowledge of world history.

Adolf Hitler acted pragmatically in Munich, as did Joseph Stalin with the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, Yasser Arafat in Oslo, Ruhollah Khomeini with the first government that he formed and Ali Khamenei with his negotiations with Barack Obama. So did Pol Pot in Cambodia when he supported King Norodom Sihanouk, and Kim Il-sung when he was a commander in the Soviet army. This is also how the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt managed to get Obama to help them.

Hezbollah, Hamas and the Iranian regime are radicals, even when they act pragmatically. Israel must deter them instead of “believing wholeheartedly” that their aggressive and violent nature can be changed if their standard of living improves.

Radicals are trying to persuade Jerusalem and Washington to grant them resources, such as rehabilitating the Gaza Strip and lifting sanctions on Iran, which would enable them to continue their respective wars.

The two governments must not be tempted to do so. True, in the short- and medium-term, it could eliminate the threat, but we must in no way help Hamas gain more strength.

Dan Schueftan is the director of the International Graduate Program in National Security Studies at the University of Haifa’s National Security Studies Center.

This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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