Accept Responsibility

October 6, 1997 - Yosef Goell - The Jerusalem Post

How should true patriots, public figures profoundly concerned with the security and well-being of their country, behave when it becomes evident that one or more of their top leaders has behaved so irresponsibly as to endanger that country and that people?

I am referring to the Likud and their leader, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, in the wake of the irresponsibly conceived and botched-up Khaled Mashaal assassination affair. National Infrastructure Minister Ariel Sharon and lesser government spokesmen were correct yesterday in calling for restraint in public criticism, so as not to further prejudice attempts to free, according to foreign reports, the two Mossad perpetrators from captivity in Jordan. Labor leader Ehud Barak, as opposed to some of the other party spokesmen, was indeed admirably restrained with that consideration in mind.

But such restraint can legitimately be demanded only if it is clear that there are concurrently at least a few courageous souls in the Likud itself who are determined to put country ahead of party.

Only a fortnight ago, Netanyahu was taking personal credit for the success of the General Security Services in finally identifying the Palestinian perpetrators of the Mahaneh Yehuda market and Ben-Yehuda mall suicide-bombings. Whether he deserved the credit or not is a moot point. The fact remains that the prime minister is solely responsible for the operations of the GSS, as he is of the Mossad.

Netanyahu's irresponsibility lies not in the determination to hunt down and kill as many as possible political and operational heads of Palestinian terrorist gangs. They fully deserve such treatment. Self-proclaimed terrorists must be given to understand that sooner or later they are dead men. All the more so when such pinpoint retribution is the clearly preferable alternative to collective punishment against large parts of the Palestinian public - even though some are knowing abettors of the terrorists among them.

The irresponsibility and abominable lack of judgement lie in the prime minister's failure to consider all the complex and dangerous implications, according to Jordanian reports, of killing Mashaal in Jordan in the present circumstances and the price that Israel would have to pay, not only in the case of a botched-up job, which can never be ruled out, but even for success.

It is such considerations and the weighing of gains against irreparable harm to Israel, that have kept that arch-terrorist Yasser Arafat alive and immune from such Israeli actions.

Peace with Jordan has been Israel's greatest achievement in recent years. But it is no secret that peace is so far with King Hussein, the Hashemite family and their immediate supporters. Large parts of the Jordanian public are opposed to peace with Israel and continue to wish our destruction and the disappearance of the king and his family.

The Hamas in Jordan is part of that very large opposition to the king and his relations with Israel. Hussein tolerates Hamas because he feels he has no choice, realizing that opposing them head-on, rather than by subterfuge and guile, could deluge his country with Egyptian-style terrorism, or worse, reduce Jordan to Algeria.

It is highly unlikely that Hussein could weather such a terrorist storm as well as Egypt's Mubarak or even the Algerians. Any Israeli prime minister who does not understand that or who cannot resist the temptation of playing James Bond in Amman is the epitome of irresponsibility and does not deserve to remain in office.

In our half-century of confrontation with Arab enemies, our deservedly vaunted intelligence services have had their share of stinging failures and mishaps. In the 1954 esek habish security mishap, when an equally irresponsible action was mounted by IDF intelligence against American institutions in Cairo, a reputedly namby-pamby prime minister, Moshe Sharett, sacked the all-powerful defense minister, Pinhas Lavon and the head of IDF Intelligence, Binyamin Gibly.

In the mid-1980s then-premier Yitzhak Shamir, foreign minister Shimon Peres and defense minister Yitzhak Rabin refused to accept responsibility for the enormous lack of judgement and control behind the running of Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard in the heart of the American intelligence establishment.

By this collective shirking of responsibility they caused grievous harm to Israel's interests in the US. Is it too much for us to today expect the patriots in the Likud to seek to emulate Sharett rather than the Pollard trio who preferred to have Pollard languish in jail rather than accept supreme political responsibility?

The writer comments on public affairs.

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