Vladimir Putin, Defender of Russia’s Interests

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President Vladimir Putin, participates in a wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of Unknown Soldier in Moscow, Russia, on June 22, 2020 (Source: Spokesman.com)

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In just a couple hours, the heart of Russia will vibrate to the sound of patriotic military music. People will celebrate Victory Day and the 75th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany – a feat that would have been impossible without Soviet contribution. President Vladimir Putin will be the host of the ceremony that will unfold in Moscow. Since he has been at the helm of Russia for 20 years and because it is realistic to think that he will carry on beyond the end of his current mandate in March 2024, I thought it might be interesting to conduct an interview about the President of the Federation with a leading expert of this country. Dr. Dmitri Trenin, author of many insightful books on the subject (I recently reviewed his captivating book about the history of Russia) and Director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, has generously accepted to answer my questions. Here is the content of our exchange.

Putin has broken the American monopoly in world affairs.

Entire forests have been used to print analysis and op-eds condemning President Putin and portraying him as a threat to the world’s stability. On the other side, your book about the history of Russia presents him as a leader who wants his country to be respected. What is his worldview and agenda?

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Dr. Dmitri Trenin

What you say depends on where you sit. For those defending the current – post-Cold War – order of unprecedented dominance of the United States and the liberal and democratic norms that the U.S. has established – upholds and polices, Vladimir Putin is a dangerous disruptor. Since his Munich speech of 2007, he has been publicly challenging U.S. global hegemony and since 2008 (pushing back against Georgia’s attempt to recover breakaway South Ossetia) and 2014 (intervening in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine) has been pushing back against Western geopolitical expansion. Putin has broken U.S. de facto monopoly on intervening in the Middle East by sending forces into Syria in 2015. The following year, Russia interfered with its information resources in U.S. domestic politics which stunned many Americans who are not used to foreigners seeking to influence them. Russia has also strengthened partnership with China, America’s principal challenger of the day. Moscow has energy assets in Venezuela, whose leadership Washington seeks to topple; it has a relationship with Iran and contacts with North Korea, two minor enemies of the United States. Above all, however, Russia, under Putin, has veered off the West’s political orbit; returned to the global scene as a great power; and rebuilt its military might. Russia, which had been relegated to yesterday’s news, an international has-been, a regional power at best (Obama) and a filling station masquerading as a country (McCain), made a stunning comeback.

Continue reading “Vladimir Putin, Defender of Russia’s Interests”

Israël veut procurer la technologie laser à ses Forces armées – Entrevue exclusive avec le rédacteur en chef du Jerusalem Post

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Yaakov Katz (courtesy of himself)

THE ENGLISH VERSION FOLLOWS

Yaakov Katz, rédacteur en chef du grand quotidien The Jerusalem Post et auteur de deux livres à succès consacrés aux affaires militaires israéliennes a récemment accepté de répondre à quelques questions exclusives pour ce blogue. Voici donc le contenu de notre échange, pour lequel je lui suis d’ailleurs très reconnaissant.

Je suis d’avis que les bons auteurs s’inspirent de grands livres. Accepteriez-vous de partager avec mes lecteurs quel est le meilleur livre que vous ayez lu?

J’ai lu plusieurs excellents livres. Celui qui a vraiment influencé mon style d’écriture et de narration s’intitule Thirteen Days in September (13 jours en septembre) par Lawrence Wright. C’est un livre fantastique au sujet des pourparlers de paix de Camp David entre Israël et l’Égypte, mais ce que Wright fait d’étonnant, c’est de donner aux lecteurs le sentiment qu’ils sont dans la pièce avec Begin, Sadate et Carter. Je le recommande vivement.

À l’heure actuelle, l’un des grands objectifs est la technologie laser pouvant intercepter potentiellement des missiles et des tirs de mortiers ennemis en approche. Imaginez ce que cela signifierait pour Israël.

Après avoir lu votre excellent livre The Weapon Wizards (écrit avec Amir Bohbot), je me demandais si vous pouviez me dire quelle nouvelle innovation / invention israélienne pourrait faire son apparition dans un avenir prochain – si vous êtes autorisé à en parler?

Le secteur de la défense et les Forces de défense israéliennes (IDF) sont constamment à la recherche de nouvelles capacités et technologies. À l’heure actuelle, l’un des grands objectifs est la technologie laser pouvant être utilisée à différentes fins, mais avant tout pour intercepter potentiellement des missiles et des tirs de mortiers ennemis en approche. Imaginez ce que cela signifierait pour Israël. Quelques systèmes laser déployés le long de ses frontières pourraient potentiellement libérer le pays de ces missiles qui représentent une menace. Pensez aussi à l’aspect économique de cela – si un intercepteur de type Iron Dome coûte environ 100 000 dollars, un tir laser ne coûterait presque rien.

WeaponWizardsDans The Weapon Wizards, on retrouve un chapitre fascinant intitulé « Les armes diplomatiques », à l’intérieur duquel vous faites référence au développement des relations d’Israël avec la Chine. Que diriez-vous sur l’état de cette relation aujourd’hui (où elle en est actuellement)?

Les relations entre Israël et la Chine ont commencé par des ventes d’armes. C’est l’histoire fantastique d’un petit pays qui s’est servi de sa technologie d’armement pour nouer des relations diplomatiques avec plusieurs pays, dont certains plus grands, à travers le monde. Israël entretient aujourd’hui de vastes liens économiques et commerciaux avec la Chine, mais rien dans le domaine de la défense. Cette décision a été prise il y a une quinzaine d’années, pour éviter toute tension avec les États-Unis.

Même si Vladimir Poutine a accepté qu’Israël mène des opérations en Syrie, cette position pourrait changer demain.

Comment envisagez-vous les relations d’Israël avec la Russie dans un avenir proche?

Continue reading “Israël veut procurer la technologie laser à ses Forces armées – Entrevue exclusive avec le rédacteur en chef du Jerusalem Post”

Avigdor Lieberman, kingmaker

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Avigdor Lieberman, leader of the Yisael Beytenu and holder of the political balance in the aftermath of Monday’s (March 2) elections.

The Jerusalem Post reports that “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suffered a blow on Thursday afternoon when Yisrael Beytenu leader Avidgor Lieberman endorsed Blue and White leader Benny Gantz’s efforts to pass a law that would prevent and indicted MK from forming a government.

Mr. Netanyahu therefore seems to be in a much tougher position than he seemed to be in the aftermath of Monday’s elections.

Lieberman’s ultimate goal is to topple Netanyahu.

I was personally under the impression that the Soviet-born leader – who once worked as a bouncer in his younger days – would play the kingmaker for Netanyahu (who is short of 3 seats to form a government), but it appears that “Lieberman’s ultimate goal is to topple Netanyahu”, confided a well-informed source close to Israel’s political circles.

From now on, the two options are either the formation of a national unity government, with a rotation in the Prime Minister’s chair, a scenario that seems to be ruled out by the leader of the Likud, or new elections, which would be the fourth round within a year. With both blocs (Netanyahu’s and the opposition led by Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party) pretty unmovable in their positions, it would be foolish to discard the latter option, according to the same source.

Netanyahu is a fighter and probably the smartest guy in the world.

But don’t count Netanyahu out yet. “He’s a fighter and probably the smartest guy in the world”, declares my source.

Today’s events are a turning point in Israeli politics and Monday night’s foregone conclusion that PM Netanyahu’s victory would permit him to stay in office appears more elusive as every hour goes by.

Breaking news reporting that Lieberman might recommend Benny Gantz for Prime Minister confirms my conviction that Israeli politics is one of the most fascinating in the world.

But my feeling is that one shouldn’t count Netanyahu out yet. He has more than one trick up his sleeve.

Netanyahu’s reelection – I told you so!

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The author photographed with Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu in 2007.

In light of yesterday’s historic elections in Israel and the resounding victory of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for a fourth consecutive term (his fifth) at the helm of the government, I find it pertinent to post here the content of an op-ed I have penned, 14 years ago this month, about this legendary statesman. Many people were then very skeptical about my prediction. But history and the leader of the Likud have proven me right.

Netanyahu is not finished
by Marc Nadeau
(originally published in the Record (Sherbrooke), Friday. March 31st, 2006, p. 7)

Conventional wisdom suggests that Benjamin Netanyahu was the great loser of this week’s election in Israel. Finishing fifth, the Likud Party he has led since Ariel Sharon departed to create Kadima sustained its worst defeat since its creation in 1973.

Even before voters went to the polls, pundits and observers predicted that Netanyahu would be challenged for the leadership of his own party.

The Likud finished not only behind the ruling Kadima and the Labor Party, but was also eclipsed by the Shas, a party popular among Orthodox Jews and Beiteinu, an outfit that draws most of its support from Russian-born immigrants.

Consequently, some say that the traditional voice of conservatism in Israeli public life may has lost its pertinence. For many reasons, it’s far too soon to conclude that.

If he decides to stay on, the man who led his country as prime minister from 1996 to 1999 is not finished.

In the past, Netanyahu has shown a legendary resilience. He not only came back from oblivion after his defeat in 1999, becoming minister of foreign affairs and minister of finance, but when Sharon left the Likud last November, it fell to him to pick up the shattered pieces of a party that lost an important number of members.

The result of this week’s election was not a personal defeat, but rather a testimony that Israeli politics have dramatically changed in the past few months. Thus, he should not shoulder the exclusive blame for Tuesday’s electoral outcome.

Analyzing the results further, one can also note that the Likud’s agenda did not spur popular passion this time.

About security issues – Netanyahu’s forte – the former Prime Minister was hardly a match for another leader – new Prime Minister Edud Olmert –  who promoted the exchange of territory for peace. The withdrawal plan for the West Bank comes when many are tired with the Israeli-Palestinian confrontation.

From now on the new Prime Minister will have to deliver on this plan. The road may bring numerous pitfalls.

First, Olmert is ready to unilaterally implement a plan which would give a group that promotes terrorism and refuses to recognize the existence of Israel – Hamas – the opportunity to govern a new Palestinian state.

Second, Israelis have not directly encountered terrorism for some time. But if a resurgence of violence was to directly affect Israel again in the future, the Prime Minister may find it difficult to promote concessions toward Israel’s tormentors.

Such a context, along with the failure of the upcoming government in its general policies may well pave the way for a Netanyahu comeback.

Last but not least, contemporary Israel history teaches its observers that it is sometimes premature to write up a political obituary.

Following his 1977 retirement from politics, who could have predicted that Itzhak Rabin would orchestrate the victory of the Labor party in 1992? In the aftermath of the controversy of his involvement in the Lebanese war, Sharon’s career seemed to have come to an end. He came back and left his imprint of Israeli politics, notably by becoming Prime Minister in 2001.

These are two eloquent illustrations that public figures may have a long life in the land of the prophets. After all wasn’t it Menachem Begin – another famous figure from the Likud – who was asked to form a government after 29 years in the opposition?

In politics, anything can happen. Netanyahu could decide to retire and attend to other challenges. He may alternatively be defeated in his bid to retain the leadership of his party. But if he decides to stay in the arena, he still has many good cards in his hand.

It may thus be too soon to confine him to the pages of history. Already, Netanyahu “shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat”, to borrow an expression from former US President Theodore Roosevelt.

Les douze piliers d’Israël

DouzePiliersIsrael« Je ne suis ni meilleur ni plus intelligent qu’aucun de vous. Mais je ne me décourage pas et c’est pourquoi le rôle de chef me revient. » – Theodor Herzl

La terre d’Israël m’a toujours captivé. Jeune écolier, l’une de mes professeurs passait son temps à parler de la Palestine, gommant systématiquement le nom d’Israël de son vocabulaire puisque ce pays n’existait pas selon elle. Un certain lundi matin, elle nous demanda, fidèle à son habitude, ce que nous avions fait durant la fin de semaine qui venait de se terminer. Lorsque mon tour arriva, je lui mentionnai que mon père m’avait acheté un Atlas géographique et que cela m’avait permis de découvrir qu’elle nous mentait éhontément puisqu’aucun pays répondant au nom de Palestine figurait sur la carte du monde. Je fus quitte pour une petite visite chez le bureau de la directrice, une vieille religieuse souriante et bien compréhensive qui s’est beaucoup amusée de mon sens de l’argumentation.

Plusieurs années plus tard, il m’a été donné de fouler le sol de ce pays à plusieurs reprises. Je me suis toujours senti choyé de pouvoir visiter le kibboutz de David Ben Gourion à Sdé Boker ou encore le Menachem Begin Heritage Center à Jérusalem. J’aurais tellement aimé aller me recueillir sur la tombe de Theodor Herzl ou Yitzhak Rabin, mais je n’en ai pas eu l’occasion – du moins pas jusqu’à maintenant.

J’étais donc enchanté de parcourir – dévorer serait un qualificatif plus juste – le dernier ouvrage de Georges Ayache, Les douze piliers d’Israël : Theodor Herzl, Haïm Weizmann, David Ben Gourion, Vladimir Jabotinsky, Menahem Begin, Golda Meir, Moshe Dayan, Abba Eban, Yitzhak Rabin, Ariel Sharon, Isser Harel, Shimon Peres. Ces hommes et cette femme ont non seulement permis l’avènement de ce pays en 1948, mais ils et elle en ont assuré la survie, l’épanouissement au prix de sacrifices exceptionnels – l’un d’entre eux, Yitzhak Rabin, ayant même consenti au sacrifice ultime en 1995 en tombant sous les balles d’un extrémiste alimenté par la droite religieuse.

À plusieurs reprises, Georges Ayache revient sur une qualité ayant habité la plupart d’entre eux, soit le pragmatisme. Pensons notamment à un Begin faisant la paix avec Sadate ou à Sharon qui décrète un retrait israélien unilatéral de la bande Gaza. Ou encore à Shimon Peres revêtant les habits de la colombe après avoir consacré des décennies à construire les forces armées israéliennes.

Il met également en évidence le fait que, dès avant sa naissance, Israël doit composer avec le double-standard réservé à un pays qui « […] avait commis le péché de survivre. » C’est ainsi que, durant le mandat britannique, « peu soucieux d’interrompre les violences perpétrées par les Arabes, ils [les représentants de Sa Gracieuse Majesté] semblaient en revanche obsédés par la recherche d’armes chez les sionistes. » Des années plus tard, après la guerre des Six-Jours, « […] personne, à l’étranger, ne se souciait des violations permanentes du cessez-le-feu par les Égyptiens; en revanche, chacun scrutait à la loupe les réactions israéliennes, qualifiées mécaniquement d’« excessives » ou de « disproportionnées ». Comme quoi rien n’a vraiment changé…

Cela dit, le livre nous permet de constater à quel point l’esprit de plusieurs de ces figures fondatrices était empreint d’une anglophilie surprenante, si l’on prend en considération l’attitude de Londres par rapport au Yishouv. Que ce soit en apprenant que Jabotinsky s’est vu remettre la prestigieuse distinction de Member of the British Empire (MBE) « […] pour services rendus » for king and country, en lisant que Menachem Begin avait offert du thé aux policiers du NKVD venus l’arrêter chez lui à Wilno, en se régalant de lire que Abba Eban était accouru à la librairie Foyle’s sur la rue Charing Cross à Londres (un endroit mythique et légendaire pour tout bon féru de lecture qui se respecte) pour dénicher des livres à propos de l’ONU ou en s’étonnant de découvrir que Ben Gourion « […] préférait les méthodes classiques de l’armée anglaise ». Le britannophile en moi était très heureux de recueillir ces perles déposées à plusieurs endroits entre les couvertures.

Inévitablement, la question se pose à savoir lequel de ces douze piliers retient ma faveur personnelle. Bien que je sois pris d’une affection historique pour plusieurs, pour ne pas dire presque tous, je dirais que Moshe Dayan est celui qui m’a le plus marqué.

Après qu’il eut perdu un œil en Syrie en juin 1941, à la tête d’une compagnie spéciale au service des forces britanniques, « sa mise à l’écart et, surtout, sa nouvelle apparence physique, défigurée par un bandeau noir de pirate lui barrant le visage, le démoralisèrent. » « Sa traversée du désert dura de 1941 à 1948 », mais il persévéra et parvint à surmonter son handicap pour devenir une véritable légende, transformant un point faible en une force redoutable. De quoi faire sourire Sun Tzu.

Au final, les éditions Perrin doivent être remerciées d’avoir publié ce livre, qui fait non seulement partie des meilleurs au sujet de l’histoire d’Israël selon moi, mais qui permet également de mieux comprendre ces onze hommes et cette femme qui ont posé les fondations de l’un des pays les plus fascinants – et résilient – du monde.

Je sais que l’actuel Premier ministre d’Israël ne correspond pas aux critères de Georges Ayache dans le portrait qu’il brosse des 12 piliers, parce qu’il n’est pas associé au moment charnière de 1948 (il est né en octobre 1949), mais je serais quand même curieux de savoir ce que Georges Ayache aurait à dire et écrire au sujet de Benjamin Netanyahou.

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Georges Ayache, Les douze piliers d’Israël : Theodor Herzl, Haïm Weizmann, David Ben Gourion, Vladimir Jabotinsky, Mehahem Begin, Golda Meir, Moshe Dayan, Abba Eban, Yitzhak Rabin, Ariel Sharon, Isser Harel, Shimon Peres, Paris, Perrin, 2019, 429 pages.

Je tiens à exprimer ma plus vive reconnaissance aux représentants de Interforum Canada qui m’ont généreusement offert un exemplaire de ce livre, ainsi qu’aux gens des éditions Perrin pour leur précieuse collaboration. Un blogueur ne pourrait espérer mieux.

The Rehabilitation of Ehud Olmert

ShadowStrikeReading Yaakov Katz’s book Shadow Strike, one literally feels in the midst of security briefings or witnessing military preparations. The political and military climates detailed are just surreal, as the main character walks a treacherous tightrope. I once was told that a good author can describe a situation or person in a convincing manner, but an excellent one will sweep you up in the action, making you feel as if you were there. In the case of Shadow Strike, I was so engrossed by the story that it was almost impossible for me to put the book down, so anxious was I to know how it would unfold.

Sandwiched between two larger-than-life figures – Ariel Sharon and Benjamin Netanyahu – the career of Israel’s 12th Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, would seem to many observers as a footnote in Israel’s political history. Yet, Olmert took a fateful decision in September 2007. A decision shrouded in secrecy, to preserve the security and survival of his country. The genesis and evolution of this decision is masterly explained by the author, who is also the editor-in-chief of the Jerusalem Post, in this gripping book.

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Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Source: https://www.calcalistech.com/ctech/articles/0,7340,L-3759710,00.html

After learning from the Mossad of the existence of a nuclear reactor in Bashar al Assad’s backyard, the Prime Minister took the decision to take it out before it could prove harmful to his fellow citizens. To this day, too few people realize and understand that Israel cannot gamble with its security.

Along the way, he could not afford the diplomatic option favored by the Bush administration.  He also had to cope with the opposition and difficult temper of his own Defense Minister, former Prime Minister Ehud Barak. Every step of the way, secrecy was of the utmost importance in order to ensure the mission’s successful completion but also not to provoke the retaliation of the Assad régime. From the get-go, Olmert was ready to soldier on, showing that his political spine was made of steel.

The fact that Ehud Olmert carried the day against all odds is a powerful testament to the fact that his mandate has not only been successful, even though it will definitely have been marked by humility. He might not have the persona of those tenacious fighters who, like Ariel Sharon, protected Israel in the unit 101 and 202 in the early years of the State, nor the unique eloquence and intellect of Benjamin Netanyahu, but Ehud Omert did what he had to do during these fateful days of 2007. He safeguarded Israel and its future at a very crucial moment.

If only for that, I’m thankful for Yaakov Katz not only because he is one of the most gifted writers I have had the pleasure to read, but also for convincing me that this man has been an underestimated statesman. It’s about time we express some sort of heartfelt gratitude – no matter the fallout of his premiership.

Personally, I hope I will someday have the opportunity and pleasure of telling him in person.

P.S. I’d like to express special thanks to Mr. Joseph Rinaldi, from St. Martin’s Press, for his precious assistance, which proved very helpful in the preparation of this review.

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Yaakov Katz, Shadow Strike: Inside Israel’s Secret Mission to Eliminate Syrian Nuclear Power, New York, St. Martin’s Press, 2019, 320 pages.

How King Bibi Conquered the Throne

CoverBibi2In May 2007, I had the privilege of meeting with former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was then leader of the opposition in the Knesset.

During the conversation, I mentioned to the soon-to-be longest serving Prime Minister of Israel that I had recently penned an op-ed comparing him with his hero Winston Churchill and predicting his return to power eventually.

“Keep that article preciously, because I will indeed come back and I will prove you right”, he said with his legendary deep voice.

2 years later he was back at the helm of the country.

Three days ago, on April 9th, “Bibi” contradicted those who were already drafting his political necrology by winning a fifth term.

I was personally not surprised at all with this result and, in all honesty, I was happy with the outcome because I always admired the statesman who is now called “King Bibi” by many commentators.

I followed every campaign led by Benjamin Netanyahu (since 1996) with tremendous interest and the last one was no exception. And the best companion during the last couple of weeks was the excellent biography Bibi: The Turbulent Life and Times of Benjamin Netanyahu by Anshel Pfeffer.

Through this real page-turner, Pfeffer offers the key to understand Netanyahu.

In a nutshell, the leader of the Likud comes from a family of political outsider, people who were outsiders not only in the Revisionist family (you can call them the conservatives), but also in Israeli political life in general. Benjamin Netanyahu’s greatest achievement was to have “[…] transformed his father’s ideology into political capital.”

Throughout the years, the young Netanyahu spared no effort to master the art of public relations, networking and political maneuvering to reach the top of the greasy pole. And the ride was everything but smooth, if only because he had to confront and vanquish those we call “the princes” – the sons of the Herut-Likud establishment, of which Netanyahu was never a part. Their importance on the political chessboard was such that Anshel Pfeffer refers to them frequently in his book. But that does not change that fact that, even if Ehud Olmert, Dan Meridor, Ronny Milo, Benny Begin and even Tzipi Livni were all once key figures in Israeli politics, they’re now a footnote in history. Netanyahu outsmarted them all and his name can still be read in the headlines.

Right from the start, Bibi learnt to swim against the current and how to rebel against authority. From his “defiant opposition” to his father – with whom he had a particular relationship and who was against his decision to do his military service – to being yelled at on the phone by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and navigating in the cut-throat and unpredictable environment of the Likud, where today’s friend is tomorrow’s nemesis, Netanyahu conquered the iron throne of Israeli politics and cut himself a place as a dominant figure on the world’s scene, from the Halls of the Kremlin to the Oval Office passing by an official visit with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

I’m realistic enough to know that Bibi’s reign will come to an end one day – even though I will be among those who will be sorry to see him go. No one, after all, is immortal. But if one has to learn only one lesson from last Tuesday’s election, it is that “King Bibi” does not intend to let any prince touch his crown.

Long after the famous HBO legendary series will have ended, the game of thrones of Israeli politics will continue. It will be fascinating to observe and I’m sure we’re in for many surprises.

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Anshel Pfeffer, Bibi: The Turbulent Life and Times of Benjamin Netanyahu, Toronto, Signal, 2018, 432 pages.

Les premiers héros du Mossad

Espions-de-nulle-partJ’ai toujours été fasciné par l’histoire du Mossad. Durant mes années universitaires, je parcourais jusqu’aux petites heures du matin les ouvrages relatant les exploits des hommes et femmes qui ont écrit les grandes pages de cette institution légendaire

Vous ne serez donc pas étonnés si je vous dis que je me délecte actuellement des épisodes de la série Mossad 101 sur Netflix.

Quelques jours avant d’être rivé au petit écran pour suivre les péripéties de Yona, Abigail et les autres, j’avais eu le bonheur de dévorer Espions de nulle part : l’avant-Mossad de Matti Friedman.

Fascinant à plus d’un égard, ce livre se veut également novateur dans le sens où il nous plonge dans les péripéties qui se sont déroulées avec la création officielle de l’ « Institut ». L’auteur nous permet donc de remonter dans la généalogie de l’histoire du renseignement israélien et la trame de son récit se concentre sur quatre individus, des Juifs qui passaient pour des Arabes (puisque « […] nés dans le monde arabe [et] aussi autochtones que les Arabes ») et dont la contribution s’est avérée inestimable durant les vingt mois les plus cruciaux qui ont permis la naissance de l’État d’Israël. Le qualificatif « cruciaux » prend ici tout son sens, si on prend en considération le fait que « […] la Section [arabe] [dont ils faisaient partie] fut l’un des seuls outils efficaces du renseignement dont disposèrent les Juifs pendant la guerre de 1948. »

Sans ces individus, que je qualifierais sans hésitation de héros, on n’ose à peine imaginer quelle aurait été la suite des choses au pays du miel et du lait. Tristement, cette contribution est cependant peu connue puisqu’elle se perd en quelque sorte dans le fossé qui existe historiquement entre les Juifs du monde islamique (Mizrahim) et les Juifs du monde chrétien (Ashkénazes), les seconds dominant largement les premiers dans le récit national. L’un des nombreux mérites du livre de Matti Friedman est de rendre justice aux premiers pour avoir formé « […] l’embryon de l’un des services de renseignement les plus extraordinaires au monde […]. »

Chaque page du livre de Matti Friedman relate le parcours et les sacrifices à donner des frissons (je pense ici principalement au risque constant d’être démasqué en territoire ennemi au péril de sa vie) de ces héros pratiquement anonymes dont les exploits auraient facilement pu inspirer la célèbre création littéraire de Ian Flemming.

Dans la bibliothèque de tous ceux et celles qui s’intéressent à l’histoire d’Israël, Gamliel, Isaac, Havakuk et Yakuba font désormais partie de ces « […] sionistes [qui] avaient l’art de changer l’humiliation en idéal. »

Pour comprendre l’ethos d’Israël et pourquoi ce pays – la première ligne de défense de l’Occident comme me le déclarait l’ancien et futur Premier ministre Benjamin Netanyahu (il était alors chef de l’opposition) – ne pourra jamais se payer le luxe de la faiblesse devant des adversaires qui représentent autant de menaces existentielles à sa survie, il faut absolument lire Matti Friedman. Vous ne le regretterez pas.

Sous une plume alerte et sensible, c’est le genre de livre captivant qu’on souhaiterait avoir toujours sous la main.

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Matti Friedman, Espions de nulle part : l’avant Mossad, Paris, Éditions Liana Levi, 2019, 312 pages. Continue reading “Les premiers héros du Mossad”

Generals and Prime Ministers in Israel

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Moshe Dayan, Yitzhak Rabin and Ehud Barak.

In his seminal book about the history of Israel’s armed forces, Tsahal, military historian Pierre Razoux writes:

“Even though its influence tends to diminish, the army still occupies a central role in Israeli society. To better understand its importance, we must reiterate that more than 10% of the Jewish population either serves in the army or regularly serves in the army reserves, which makes Israel the most militarized country in the Middle East. (my translation)” (p. 8).

For that reason, many important military figures also played a dominant role in public life. The names of Moshe Dayan, Yitzhak Rabin, Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon are the better known in that category and easily come to mind in any discussion on that topic. All in all, few other countries can count on so many military figures in key civil leadership positions.

Which inevitably brings us to politics. Commenting on the results of the recent legislative elections for the Israeli left, Arik Henig perceptively wrote: “Since the 1977 political upheaval, Labor won the elections only twice, when it was headed by two former IDF chiefs of staff: Yitzhak Rabin in 1992 and Ehud Barak in 1999. […] When will [the people of the Labor party] they learn that the Israeli public prefers to be led by chiefs of staff?”

In other words, the Israel left needs a former IDF chief of staff if it wants to expect to return to success on the electoral battlefield.

Many will be tempted to perceive this observation as military fetishism. But it’s not the case. In a post-election analysis, Daniel Kurtzer, an academic who served as US Ambassador to Israel from 2001 to 2005, summarized the three challenges that must be met by the Labor party, if it wants to leave the opposition benches in the near future:

“First, it must persuade Israeli voters, especially those of Russian origin, that it can handle Israel’s security challenges at least as well as, if not better than, the right. (Former military intelligence director Amos Yadlin was recruited by Herzog’s party to be its security face, but his voice was almost inaudible during the campaign.) Second, the left must induce the Sephardim to put past grievances behind and to vote with their pocketbooks. And, third, it must overcome the perception that support for peace with the Palestinians is akin to appeasement and therefore endangers Israel.”

The Prime ministership of Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu will not last forever and the opposition will inevitably become tired enough with loosing elections that they will decide to introduce a new figure whose presence, values and positions will fill the gap between the expectations of Israelis and the Labor party.

Much like Catholics like to observe various Cardinals to try to find out who might become the next Pope, anybody who’s minimally interested in Israeli politics and its future would be well-advised to keep an eye in the ranks of former IDF chiefs of staff to spot who might trade the image of the olive green military outfit general for the statesman persona.

Tsahal has always been an integral part of Israel’s history. And it will continue to play a determinant role in its future.