By HERB KEINON, Jpost: http://www.jpost.com/DiplomacyAndPolitics/Article.aspx?id=273920
In exclusive interview with 'Post', former US foreign policy advisor Elliott Abrams defends Netanyahu over critical State Comptroller report, says more important than preparation is the right people making the right decisions.
Satellite photos showing suspected Syrian nuclear Photo: Courtesy ISIS
Former prime minister Ehud Olmert decided in September 2007 to bomb the al-Kabir nuclear facility in Syria after George W. Bush told him the US opted to try the diplomatic route and get the International Atomic Energy Agency to close down the site, Elliott Abrams told The Jerusalem Post Thursday.
Abrams, asked about the recent comptroller report chastising the government for a haphazard decision-making process, said that Bush was provided with impeccable options, policy papers and intelligence.
"We took it all to the president – covert options, military options, diplomatic options – and he chose the wrong option," said Abrams, who at the time was the deputy national security advisor in the White House. "It is a mistake to believe that the process itself will provide you with the right answer."
Wednesday's State Comptroller's report was highly critical of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for not fully empowering his National Security Council as mandated by law, and for a sloppy, informal decision making process leading up to the Mavi Marmara incident.
Abrams, however, used the Syrian nuclear facility issue as an illustration to demonstrate that what is more important than thorough preparation and a good process is the right people making the right decisions. He also said that some of the best White House meetings were informal ones where no notes were taken.
According to Abrams, his preferred option in the summer of 2007 when intelligence information emerged that the Syrians were constructing a nuclear facility was for Israel to take it out, in order for Jerusalem to rebuild its deterrence capability following the Second Lebanon War a year earlier.
Vice president Dick Cheney argued for the US to bomb the facility itself, Abrams said, to rebuild America's deterrence capability.
Cheney, in his memoirs In My Time, wrote that not only would a US strike demonstrate America's seriousness concerning non-proliferation, "it would enhance our credibility in that part of the world, taking us back to where we were in 2003, after we had taken down the Taliban, taken down Saddam's regime, and gotten Qaddafi to turn over his nuclear program."
But the option Bush chose, some six weeks before Israel acted, was the one preferred by secretary of state Condoleezza Rice: make the existence of the facility public and then go to the IAEA and UN and build an international consensus to get the Syrians to close the facility.
Abrams said he though the idea was "absurd," and that Syrian President Bashar Assad would defy the IAEA and not do anything.
When Bush informed Olmert of the decision in July 2007, Abrams recalled, Olmert said that the strategy was not acceptable to Israel. It was clear to everyone that from that point on there would be no sharing of plans, and that "Israel would let us know afterward," he said.
Indeed, according to Abrams, Israel informed Washington immediately after the September 7, 2007 strike. A decision was then made not to "rub the Syrians nose in the matter" by making it public, thinking that if everyone was quiet about the attack, Assad would not be compelled to strike back. Indeed, news of the attack began trickling out in the Turkish media a couple weeks afterward when jettisoned parts of Israeli jetfighters were found over Turkish territory.
Abrams, relating to the Comptrollers report which he had only read about, said that in the US the National Security Council serves as a powerful counterweight to the military on national security policy, and that in Israel – where the IDF is a central institution – there is no equivalent counterbalance.
Abrams, here for a conference on US-Israel relations that begins Monday at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, said "no and yes" when asked whether he thought the IDF wielded too much policy-making power in Israel.
"No, in that given the security situation here it would be hard to define what is 'too much'," he said. "It (the IDF) should be a critical factor in most decisions."
The "yes," he added, was because it takes a lot of determination and political strength to disagree with the military "because they may be right, and he (the prime minister) may be wrong."
If the prime minster were to go against the military, Abrams said, he would inevitably be met with leaks by officers asking what he truly knows about security matters, and whether military issues should not be within the purview of the military. This, in turn, could lead to public relations and political problems, with the prime minister asking himself at the end of the day why he needs the headache, and whether it would not just be wiser to go along with the military's position.
In that type of scenario, Abrams said, the prime minister must be extremely determined to want to go against the defense establishment.
|Liveleak on Facebook|