Moshe (Bogie) Yaalon made headlines in the spring when, after being replaced as Israel’s defense minister, he stepped down from the Knesset and announced his future intention to run for national leadership, saying he lacked faith in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The former chief of staff of the IDF, highly respected for his integrity and candor, was upset when some national leaders, including Netanyahu, appeared to empathize with an Israeli soldier who was videoed shooting and killing a Palestinian terrorist who had been wounded and was seemingly incapacitated. Yaalon was in New York this past week to speak at an event sponsored by the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs, and Beit Morasha of Jerusalem, a center for Jewish studies and leadership where he has played an active volunteer role. The following is based on his remarks and on an interview conducted prior to the program.
Q. What is your connection to Beit Morasha?
A. I became involved in 2002 when I was chief of staff of the IDF. I knew Beit Morasha dealt with issues of Jewish education and values. I saw a need for a program to educate soldiers in the area of Jewish values, identity and purpose. They sometimes face profound ethical issues in the heat of battle, with roots in our tradition. The Bible tells us clearly, “You shall not kill.” On the other hand, the rabbis of the Talmud instruct, “If someone comes to kill you, rise up and kill him first.” So we partnered on a program that dealt with such issues and it grew and became successful, making better soldiers and commanders. I have been involved with Beit Morasha ever since.
Did the issue of maintaining Jewish values in the military play a role in your resignation as minister of defense?
Yes, one of the reasons I resigned was over this issue. I felt there had been a clear violation of our rules and values regarding extremism, violence and racism in Israeli society, which is trickling into the IDF, hurting it already. [Yaalon had encouraged his officers to speak out against unnecessary violence after the videoed shooting of the Palestinian terrorist.] I support settlements but not illegal ones. I am bound by the rule of law. If you ignore illegal activities, you lose control. I believe in checks and balances. In the end I understood someone wanted to get rid of me. [Netanyahu offered Avigdor Lieberman of Yisrael Beiteinu the post of defense minister; Yaalon resigned.]
How can one achieve military victory while maintaining national and personal ethics?
Complex military dilemmas can be resolved through a measured consideration of both moral principles and reasoned logic. The three battlegrounds for legitimacy are personal moral legitimacy – can I look in the mirror after the operation; national legitimacy – does the society view military action as legitimate; and international legitimacy – are the actions acceptable in the international arena. Our military edge can only be maintained if we preserve our ethical superiority.
You plan to run for national leadership. What is your platform based on?
I am a hawk. I am ready to compete, and hope to find those with a shared common vision who will cooperate with me. Our divisions are not right or left; they are between right and wrong. The fact is that we won’t conclude a peace with the Palestinians soon so we must keep Israel as a Jewish democracy. I am not looking for peace conferences, I am looking for common interests. The Israel-Palestinian conflict is irrelevant to many in the Arab world, who created the Palestinian issue as a weapon against Israel. I don’t want to govern the Palestinians. We can manage the situation. Land for peace gets land for rockets [aimed at Israel]. The Palestinians are dependent on us for water, electricity, security, etc. If we cut ties with them, we would bleed but they would die. I propose we make progress from the bottom up, based on economy and security.
Does concern about Iran create new alliances for Israel?
For us and for states like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and Qatar, we have a common enemy in Iran. I believe the Iran nuclear deal was a historic mistake; it only achieved the delay of a nuclear Iran.