In an interview with SPIEGEL, Yuval Diskin, former director of Israel’s internal security service Shin Bet, speaks of the current clash between Israel and the Palestinians, what must be done to achieve peace and the lack of leadership in the Middle East.
SPIEGEL: Mr. Diskin, following 10 days of airstrikes, the Israeli army launched a ground invasion in the Gaza Strip last week. Why now? And what is the goal of the operation?
Diskin: Israel didn’t have any other choice than to increase the pressure, which explains the deployment of ground troops. All attempts at negotiation have failed thus far. The army is now trying to destroy the tunnels between Israel and the Gaza Strip with a kind of mini-invasion, also so that the government can show that it is doing something. Its voters have been increasingly vehement in demanding an invasion. The army hopes the invasion will finally force Hamas into a cease-fire. It is in equal parts action for the sake of action and aggressive posturing. They are saying: We aren’t operating in residential areas; we are just destroying the tunnel entrances. But that won’t, of course, change much in the disastrous situation. Rockets are stored in residential areas and shot from there as well.
SPIEGEL: You are saying that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been pressured to act by the right?
Diskin: The good news for Israel is the fact that Netanyahu, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and Army Chief of Staff Benny Gantz are not very adventurous. None of them really wanted to go in. None of them is really enthusiastic about reoccupying the Gaza Strip. Israel didn’t plan this operation at all. Israel was dragged into this crisis. We can only hope that it doesn’t go beyond this limited invasion and we won’t be forced to expand into the populated areas.
SPIEGEL: The possibility of a third Intifada has been mentioned repeatedly in recent days, triggered by the ongoing violence in the Gaza Strip.
Diskin: Nobody can predict an Intifada because they aren’t something that is planned. But I would warn against believing that the Palestinians are peaceful due to exhaustion from the occupation. They will never accept the status quo of the Israeli occupation. When people lose hope for an improvement of their situation, they radicalize. That is the nature of human beings. The Gaza Strip is the best example of that. All the conditions are there for an explosion. So many times in my life I was at these junctions that I can feel it almost in my fingertips.
SPIEGEL: Why isn’t Netanyahu working toward such a compromise, preferring instead to focus on the dangers presented by an Iranian nuclear bomb?
Diskin: I have always claimed that Iran is not Israel’s real problem. It is this conflict with the Palestinians, which has lasted way too long and which has just intensified yet again. The conflict is, in combination with the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, the biggest security risk for the state of Israel. But Netanyahu has made the invocation of an existential threat from Iran into his mantra, it is almost messianic. And of course he has derived political profit from it. It is much easier to create consensus about the Iranian existential threat than about an agreement with the Palestinians. Because there, Netanyahu has a problem with his electorate.
SPIEGEL: You have warned that the settlements in the West Bank may soon become irreversible and that it will make the two-state solution impossible.
Diskin: We are currently very near this point of no return. The number of settlers is increasing and already a solution to this problem is almost impossible, from a purely logistical standpoint, even if the political will were there. And this government is building more than any government has built in the past.
SPIEGEL: Do you believe there is a danger of Israel becoming isolated?
Diskin: I am sorry to say it, but yes. I will never support sanctions on my country, but I think the government may bring this problem onto the country. We are losing legitimacy and the room to operate is no longer great, not even when danger looms.
SPIEGEL: Do you sometimes feel isolated with your view on the situation?
Diskin: There are plenty of people within Shin Bet, Mossad and the army who think like I do. But in another five years, we will be very lonely people. Because the number of religious Zionists in positions of political power and in the military is continually growing.
Full article: Ex-Israeli Security Chief Diskin: ‘All the Conditions Are There for an Explosion’ (Spiegel Online)