The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

How a top Israeli commander sees the Arab uprisings

This post, contributed by Paul Mutter, illustrates the evolving Israeli strategic thinking towards the Arab Spring and its consequences. Personally, I can understand this: the Arab uprisings means that Israel can no longer continue the same behavior as before. That must sting for the war criminal in charge of Cast Lead. [I.E.]

Some strange comments in a speech at the Institute for National Security Studies by IDF Major General Eyal Eisenberg, former commander of the Gaza Division during Operation Cast Lead and newly appointed Home Front Command Chief, seem to be throwing everyone in the defense establishment into a tizzy. Although Ynet reports that the remarks were approved by military censors before the speech, the defense establishment is moving quick to denounce them and demand that IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz reign in Eisenberg.

Much of what Eisenberg apparently said is it not new and has been expressed before by Israeli officials: the Arab Spring is a catalyst for disorderEgypt is facing total national collapseTurkey needs to tone done its rhetoric over the flotillaHezbollah is further entrenching itself in LebanonHamas and Iran are plotting their next moves against Israel.

There are two new items in the remarks, though, that triggered controversy. One is a bizarre allusion to Hamas possessing new weapons (rockets?): "we discovered a new weapon, and as result of this we instructed the public to hide under two roofs, rather than only one," Eisenberg said. Eisenberg is being criticized for making this statement because officials claim that knowledge of the weapons is still classified. A more disconcerting remark was this:

"This [all] raises the likelihood of an all-out, total war, with the possibility of weapons of mass destruction being used."

Further quotes from Eisenberg's speech (via Ynet):

"It looks like the Arab Spring, but it can also be a radical Islamic winter."

"In Lebanon, Hezbollah is growing stronger within government arms, but it has not lost its desire to harm Israel, and the ties with Turkey aren't at their best."

"Iran has not abandoned its nuclear program. The opposite it true; it continues full steam ahead."

"In Egypt, the army is collapsing under the burden of regular security operations, and this is reflected in the loss of control in the Sinai and the turning of the border with Israel into a terror border, with the possibility that Sinai will fall under the control of an Islamic entity."

No one has yet advanced any explanation for why Eisenberg's pre-approved remarks are now being treated as those of a loose cannon. Despite a controversial record that includes playing a leading role in Operation Cast Lead -- a role that makes him potentially guilty of war crimes -- he has continually been entrusted with increasingly significant responsibilities by the IDF.