The Israeli newspaper Haaretz published an interview with Ami Ayalon, one of the former heads of the General Security Agency (Shin Bet), in which he presented a striking reading of the results of the war on the Gaza Strip, and reviewed the scenarios for exiting the war from his point of view.
Elon confirmed – in an interview conducted with him by Israeli journalist specializing in security and intelligence affairs, Yossi Melman – that Israel will not emerge “with a picture of victory” from this war, even if it is able to assassinate Yahya Sinwar.
The former Shin Bet head said – in his first interview since the beginning of the war – that “whoever believes that the Palestinians will surrender does not know the Palestinians, Hamas, or the extremist Islamic movements of this century.”
Ayalon called for the release of all Israeli detainees in exchange for the release of Palestinian prisoners, including Marwan Barghouti, who he believes is the only person who can lead the Palestinians in the post-war stage.
This is a translation of the interview text:
Israel will not emerge victorious
As part of a deal that includes the return of all hostages, we must release Marwan Barghouti. This is a correct step in two respects, firstly because the return of the Israeli hostages is the closest to the “image of victory” in the current (military) campaign in Gaza, and secondly because Barghouti is the only Palestinian leader who can be elected within a unified and legitimate Palestinian leadership on the path to a peaceful solution. (Which paves the way) for the separation process in agreement with the Palestinians.
Ayalon refused to comment on the progress of the battles in Gaza and on the northern border. He also refrained from talking about Houthi attacks from Yemen and the Red Sea, areas he knows well from his time as commander of the 13th Fleet, and later commander of the Navy. He said that what interests him is talking about the “exit strategy” from the war, or what has come to be called the “day after” the war, and he stipulated that this should be focused on for the interview.
The former Shin Bet chief said, “In this campaign there will be no image of victory, similar to the waving of the American flag in Hiroshima in World War II, nor scenes such as Yossi Ben Hanan (the Israeli soldier) waving a Kalashnikov rifle in the Suez Canal at the end of the Six-Day War, nor even such scenes as A picture of Yasser Arafat, who was forced to sail from the port of Beirut to Tunisia after the First Lebanon War.
According to Ayalon, “In past wars described by von Clausewitz in the 19th century, in which victory was determined by a military decision on the battlefield, there were indeed images of victory that clearly marked (the day after the war) and the transition to negotiations. But in the war on terrorism, there is no Raise any white flag.”
What if we eliminate Yahya Sinwar, wouldn't that be a victory?
no. Even if the spirit of Sinwar ascends to its creator. If someone believes that the Palestinians will surrender, he does not know the Palestinians and does not know Hamas and the extremist Islamic movements of this century.
Ayalon reinforces his opinion by returning to the arrest of Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, who was paralyzed and sitting in a wheelchair. He says: When he was in prison, we were worried about his health. We made sure that he did not die in prison so that he would not become a martyr. We in the Shin Bet opposed his release from prison. Among the generals of the General Staff were those who laughed and said: What are you afraid of? He's not a leader, he's a poor man in a wheelchair.
He added: We must understand that Sheikh Yassin – who, as leader of the movement, drafted the Hamas Charter, was in the eyes of the Palestinians, largely because of his disability and fragile appearance, a symbol of their misery. He was the only one who succeeded in unifying the religious, social, political and military leadership that was embodied in himself.
An episode in an ongoing war
Ayalon looks at Israel's wars in the current century differently, and believes that “the war to establish and defend Israel has been going on for about 140 years, since the appearance of the first Zionists at the end of the 19th century,” and the war continues with varying intensity, and has operations, battles, and systems. Therefore, according to him, What is happening in the last three months “is not a war, but another campaign in the ongoing war for our independence.”
Will we win this war?
We won in March 2002: at the Arab League conference in Beirut, when the Arab countries surrendered and waved the white flag. It retracted the League's decision issued in August 1967 in Khartoum, known as declaring the three no's: “No reconciliation, no negotiation, and no recognition of Israel.” In March 2002, after 35 years of struggle, they agreed at the same summit to recognize Israel and establish full relations with it on the basis of United Nations and Security Council resolutions, which were also signed by the governments of Israel. Thus, “there was a policy that said: yes to recognition, yes to negotiations, and yes to peace with the people of Israel. The tragedy is that we refuse to acknowledge our victory and continue fighting. We have turned the war into an end in itself.”
Is the goal to avoid making decisions?
Yes. To avoid the controversy that tears apart Israeli society, and at its heart is the issue of where we have arrived here as a people in this country. The decision of the Council of Ministers not to discuss (the next day) (the post-war phase) turns the war into a military conflict without a political goal. This is a situation in which victory, which is always formulated in political terms, cannot be defined. The great danger is that this is the situation in which war becomes… the goal.
Once Benny Gantz and Gadi Eisenkot entered the government, and it became clear that their departure would lead to the collapse of the coalition, considerations necessarily became political as well. Without deciding on a political objective, the government cannot develop an exit strategy from the war as we walk with open eyes toward a future sunset in the sands of Gaza.
Is this Israel's biggest problem?
Yes. Overall, this is the main problem. If we do not decide the direction we are moving towards together and the values that bind us, then there is a risk of continuing to fight forever, because this is the only battle in which we are not fighting each other. The saying (together we win) is true, but it only exists during war, when enemies from the outside impose on us a unity that we did not choose, which is unity, and it is an empty path if it is a way to escape from real discussions that we refuse or are unable to hold, perhaps because strong differences may lead us to… To a fratricidal war.
Were we close to that after Rabin's killing?
Yitzhak Rabin was killed for precisely this reason. Because of the big question of who we are and why we are here. Rabin was killed because the rabbis issued a persecution ruling against him. When I entered the service (Ayalon was appointed head of Shin Bet after Rabin was killed) I realized how deep the rift was that has existed in varying degrees ever since.
Did this rift reach its peak last year with the coup?
Out of arrogance, the right-wing government decided a year ago that the nature of the regime needed to change. In addition to the hundreds of thousands who took to the streets to protest, the General Staff and the heads of the security services, the institution informed the Prime Minister and members of the government that there was a multifaceted threat and that the government's move endangered Israel's security. In an address to the nation, the Secretary of Defense defined the threat of war as “clear and immediate.” But the Prime Minister and the ministers in his government refused to listen, and made it clear that the army’s warnings had a political motive, and so we entered into the current (military) campaign.
Was the October 7 War a result of this?
Yes. The breakdown lies in several layers of misconceptions. First and foremost, a political concept that begins with the collapse of the Camp David negotiations, according to which there is no one to negotiate with on the other (Palestinian) side.
Is there a Palestinian party with which we can negotiate?
The Palestinian Authority recognized the State of Israel on the 1967 borders. It agreed to discuss the right of return with Israel within the framework of negotiations. We need to talk to a party that is willing to negotiate with us based on these principles. The last person to try to lead the movement to settle the conflict was Ariel Sharon, who decided to leave Gaza and the northern West Bank, because he realized that he was losing Israeli society, which is what Ehud Olmert followed. However, since Netanyahu's return to the premiership, he has established a conflict management policy that entails deliberately weakening the Palestinian Authority and strengthening Hamas, in order to avoid entering into negotiations for a political settlement.
Is Netanyahu also pursuing a policy of divide and rule?
actually yes. Netanyahu made a mistake when he thought that this policy would buy him time politically, and refused to recognize the threat posed by Hamas. Despite the Shin Bet chiefs’ warnings to him about this.
The absence of political action (to resolve the conflict) makes Hamas the only party fighting for national liberation in the eyes of the Palestinians. There is an incorrect (Israeli) belief that assumes that the Palestinians are not a people, and if we allow them economic prosperity, they will give up the dream of independence. Ultimately, the Palestinians are a people. They are ready to fight and die for their independence.
What other false beliefs?
Intelligence belief, which estimated that after Operation Walls Guard in May 2021, Hamas had been deterred. We measure the danger: how many Hamas “terrorist” activists we have killed, and how many infrastructures or tunnels the Israeli army has destroyed, while the Palestinians consider public opinion support for them as the measure. After each round of violence, support for Hamas increases as it fights the occupation, and the Palestinian Authority, which does not join the violence, is seen as a partner of Israel.
What are the scenarios for exiting the war?
On the way to the “next day” (after the war) there are two ways out, and at the moment we (the government of Israel) refuse to make a decision, and because of the differences that are tearing apart Israeli society, they do not understand that not making a decision is also a decision in itself.
One way out of the war, which I believe is the outcome, is a democratic Jewish Israel, with a Jewish majority. This road is long, and may last 40 years, and will require us to make concessions and agreements among ourselves. If we proceed in this way, the Arab countries that signed the Arab Peace Initiative, as well as the Western democracies, will be on our side. I believe that this path leads us to a safe, Jewish and democratic Israel.
What about the second scenario?
The second path is followed by those who mistakenly believe that occupation leads to security, and others who believe that we have no right to give up any of the Land of Israel, even if that means fighting an endless war. In my view, this perception does not acknowledge reality. It is a path that leads to one state, in a region where 7 million Jews and 7 million Arabs currently live. This is a reality that will cause Israel to lose its democratic Jewish identity. This reality takes us back to the Great Arab Revolt of the 1930s, and to a religious conflict that attracts the most extremist and violent groups on both sides.