[dehai-news] Does Israeli Intelligence Lie?

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From: wolda002@umn.edu
Date: Tue Jan 13 2009 - 00:37:28 EST

Does Israeli Intelligence Lie?

Ira Chernus | January 12, 2009

Editor: John Feffer

All of the suffering in Gaza — indeed, all of the suffering endured by
Palestinians under Israeli occupation for the last eight years — could
have been avoided if Israel negotiated a peace agreement with Yasser Arafat
when it had the chance, in 2001.

What chance? The official Israeli position is that there was no chance, "no
partner for peace." That’s what Israeli leaders heard from their Military
Intelligence (MI) service in 2000 after the failure of Israeli-Palestinian
negotiations at Camp David. Arafat scuttled those talks, MI told the
leaders, because he was planning to set off a new round of violence, a
second intifada.

Now former top officials of MI say the whole story, painting Arafat as a
terrorist out to destroy Israel, was an intentional fiction. That’s the
most explosive finding in an investigative report just published in
Israel’s top newspaper, Ha’aretz, by one of its finest journalists,
Akiva Eldar.
Tale of Two Tales

Much like our own CIA, Eldar’s sources say, Israeli military intelligence
has two versions of every story. MI analysts give their findings to
government policymakers in oral reports that simply tell the political
leaders what they want to hear. Meanwhile, the analysts keep the truth
secret, filed away in written documents, waiting to be pulled out to cover
MI’s posterior if the government’s policies turned out to be failures.

Much of the information in the Ha’aretz report comes from Ephraim Lavie,
an honors graduate of Israel’s National Security College who rose through
the ranks in MI's research section and eventually became head of MI's
Palestinian research unit during the era of the Camp David talks. "Defining
Arafat and the PA as 'terrorist elements' was the directive of the
political echelon," said Lavie. "The unit's written analyses were
presenting completely different assessments, based on reliable intelligence

The idea that "there is no one to talk to and nothing to talk about,"
simply because Arafat rejected the Israeli offer at Camp David, just wasn't
true. But it was what the politicians wanted to hear.

Journalist Eldar found others who had worked inside MI to corroborate
Lavie’s story. General Gadi Zohar, who once headed the MI terrorism desk,
agrees the heads of the MI research unit "developed and advanced the 'no
partner' theory and [the notion] that 'Arafat planned and initiated the
intifada' even though it was clear at that time that this was not the
researchers' reasoned professional opinion."

In fact, these intelligence veterans say, MI concluded after Camp David
that Arafat was willing to follow the Oslo process and abide by interim
agreements. He wanted to keep the negotiating process alive, and even told
his staff to prepare public opinion to accept an agreement that would
include compromises. He thought violence would not help his cause. In late
September what year?, when violence did erupt in a second intifada, it was
purely a popular protest, MI found. Arafat and his advisors never expected
it, much less planned it.

They did let the violence go on, to put pressure on the Israelis in future
negotiations. But Israeli leaders had already made it clear they would make
no more compromises. That’s exactly why MI invented the story of
Arafat’s intransigence and commitment to violence; MI was giving the
political leaders oral briefings that supported policies the politicians
had already agreed on. As Lavie puts it, the MI research unit was an
instrument in the politicians' propaganda campaign.

"The conception underneath the 'no partner' approach became a model with
grave national implications," Zohar points out. The most serious result,
says Lavie, is that Israeli leaders have "ignored the connection between
Israel's acts and their implications for the Palestinian arena." Instead,
they repeated the old story that Israel is an innocent victim of the
Palestinians, who are bent on unprovoked violence.

MI told Israel’s leaders the violence was all Arafat’s fault, hiding
what it knew about broad popular support for acts of resistance. By
undermining the power of Arafat, Fatah, and the Palestinian Authority,
Israeli leaders created a governmental vacuum. They then turned around and
said, "See, we have no one to negotiate with, no partner for peace."
Instead, Israel responded to the intifada with heightened violence of its
own, which of course provoked even more Palestinian popular resistance and
even more Israeli suppression. So the vicious cycle of violence kept
spiraling ever downward.
Rise of Hamas

The combination of Palestinian political vacuum and Israeli violence also
boosted the fortunes of Hamas, another development that MI kept hidden from
Israel’s political leadership, according to this report. To reinforce the
"no partner for peace" story, MI treated Arafat as the only significant
political force on the Palestinian side. So it ignored the growing power of
Hamas. The MI unit predicted a tie between Hamas and Fatah in the January
2006 Palestinian election, or at most a tiny advantage for Hamas. Hamas, of
course, won a major victory in an election outside observers found free and

All of this, say Eldar and his sources, is crucial background for the
tragic Israeli relationship with Gaza. The MI oral briefings (to repeat
Lavie’s crucial words) "ignored the connection between Israel's acts and
their implications for the Palestinian arena." So they encouraged Israel's
leaders to believe they could separate their own nation from the neighbors
they continued to control. In the West Bank they began building a physical
wall. In Gaza they withdrew their occupation troops, hoping to leave Gaza
to live or die on its own. The leadership simply ignored the possibility
that Hamas might be strong enough to gain popular control in Gaza.

The evacuation from Gaza was tied up with a larger strategy, again spurred
by telling leaders what they wanted to hear. When the Bush administration
endorsed the so-called Road Map for Middle East peace, MI told the Israeli
government not to take it seriously; it was just an American public
relations gesture to mollify the Arab states. Israeli leaders were
unprepared when it turned out that Washington expected Israel to take the
road map seriously.

The Israeli prime minister at the time, Ariel Sharon, then announced his
plan to withdraw Israeli troops and settlers from Gaza. He hoped to avoid
pressure from Bush to continue negotiations. Sharon's senior advisor, Dov
Weissglas, famously said that "the disengagement [from Gaza] is actually
formaldehyde. It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that is necessary so
that there will not be a political process with the Palestinians...This
whole package that is called the Palestinian state has been removed from
our agenda indefinitely."
Gaza Today

But the message to Hamas was that Israel would act unilaterally, refusing
to negotiate with the ascendant Palestinian party. Instead, the Israelis
would rely on brute force. Tragically, as the events of the past two weeks
have shown, the level of force just goes on escalating. Hamas, like any
political party, has both moderate and intransigent wings. Israel’s
policies have consistently undermined the moderates, who would want to
pursue negotiations if they saw any chance. Israel has denied them that
chance, leaving violence or surrender as the only options. And Israel’s
underestimation of the power of Hamas power is still proving a fatal

But if these new revelations are true, the policy of unilateralism and
brute force didn't originate with Sharon and his right-wing Likud Party. It
goes back to 2000, when the Labor Party, headed by Ehud Barak, refused to
agree with Yasser Arafat that the path of negotiation — as difficult and
tedious as it was — should be pursued to a successful end. The one
attempt to revive the negotiations, at Taaba in early 2001, collapsed when
Barak withdrew.

Today Barak, as the Defense Minister in charge of the Gaza attack, sees his
once-fading political fortunes rapidly rising again. Most of the Israeli
public still believes what MI tells the political leaders in briefings
often leaked to the press: Israel is a helpless victim of Palestinian
violence, violence that Israeli policies did nothing to provoke. But now it
looks like analysts in Israel’s own Military Intelligence service have
long known how false this story is, according to former top MI officials.

When the story appeared in Ha’aretz in early January, it drew a quick
rebuttal from General Yossi Kuperwasser, former head of the MI research
unit: "MI never adjusted its assessment to what the leadership wanted." Of
course if the charges are true, that’s just what would be expected: an
official public story at odds with the privately known truth.

On the other hand, it’s possible that Eldar has uncovered the trail of an
old internal dispute within MI. Speaking of the time when the Camp David
talks collapsed and the second intifada began, Kuperwasser says: "I assume
that all the assessments about Arafat's behavior in August and September
2000 were written by Lavie. In Central Command, where I was then serving as
the intelligence officer, our assessment was that the Palestinians were
bent on a confrontation." In other words, the experts in the Palestinian
section of MI, headed by Lavie, saw Arafat as a potential partner for peace
but their superiors reversed the assessment.

But even if only some key Israeli intelligence officers believed
negotiations could yield a positive outcome, that news should be a shocking
revelation. Yet in a Google News search a few days after the article
appeared, found not a single mention of it anywhere in the world’s news
media, and certainly not in the United States, where it matters most. It
matters most here because Israel can't continue its military action without
at least a tacit green light from Washington. Washington can give that
green light only as long as the American public raises no serious
objection. The public here isn't likely to object as long as the basic
plotline of Middle East news coverage remains the same; namely, that Israel
attacked Gaza in self-defense.

Though U.S. news coverage isn't as wholly sympathetic to Israel as it once
was, the Israelis still managed to make their version of the story central
to mainstream media coverage. Millions of Americans who know nothing else
about the still ongoing conflict believe that the Israelis are "retaliating
against Hamas rockets." What if those millions also knew the Israeli
government ignores its own intelligence experts when they say Palestinian
leaders are willing to make peace? That might change the entire picture of
the Arab-Israeli conflict — and push Americans to push their government
to push Israel to negotiate in good faith a peace deal with the

Ira Chernus is professor of religious studies at the University of Colorado
at Boulder, author of Monsters to Destroy, and a Foreign Policy In Focus

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