L-R: Israel CoS Dan Halutz, Defense Minister Amir Peretz at press conference, June 13, in Tel Aviv. (Gil Cohen Magen/Reuters)
I had a terrifying moment of deja vu this evening over events that took place on the eve of the 1967 Six Day War, while watching Channel 10's 17:00 news show on Tuesday.
Folks, the grave concern on the face of Channel 10's chief military affairs reporter, Alon Ben-David, was clear to see, as he aired several clips of Defense Minister Amir Peretz during recent press conferences on the fast-unfolding events in Gaza, repeatedly stumbling, stuttering, and pausing, glassy-eyed in mid-sentence, as he tried to address the gathered reporters.
Dismayed, I had to get up from the desk, walk away from the tv screen, as the hairs on my arms stood up, and I had this awful, bottom-dropping-out-of-the-elevator-car sense of, “oh no, we've been in this movie before...”
I hurriedly called Carl over at Israel Matzav, to get his take on it, (thanks, Carl) and then, checked two other reputable historial sources to make sure that I wasn't exaggerating to myself about the startling parallels:
Two (of many) pivotal scenes traumatically engraved in Israel's collective memory are of Prime Minister Levi Eshkol stumbling and stuttering on-camera during a press conference on the eve of the 1967 Six Day War, and of IDF Chief of Staff Yitzhak suffering a brief, but incapacitating nervous breakdown during the same period.
As noted author Michael B. Oren writes in his highly regarded "Six Days of War June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East:"
"Israel's military command was alarmed. Waiting while Egypt's strike force was become stronger and stronger and letting Egypt strike first was militarily unsound. It was the Israeli government, under Prime Minister Levi Eshkol, that had the power to decide when to strike, and Eshkol, who was also defense minister, held back, hoping war could be avoided by talking to the Russians and to the Johnson administration in Washington. The pressure was unbearable for Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli army's chief of staff, who had not been able to sleep. And, around the 25th, Rabin had a nervous breakdown - not unlike Moshe Dayan in the approach of war in 1973. Responsibility for Israel's survival was a heavy weight to bear."
L-R: Ariel Sharon, Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres (Photo: Newsday)
And this from “Six Days Remembered” by Anne Lieberman, noted at Boker tov, Boulder!:
“May 28: Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol delivers a speech on Israel Radio that can only be described as disastrous. Oren would describe it as "a stuttering, rambling, barely intelligible reading that listeners interpreted as a sign of exhaustion and panic... Soldiers huddled around transistors in the Negev were said to have burst into tears."
Back to the here and now:
Although I can't readily agree with Carl's conclusions - certainly under the present acute circumstances - he does bring forward a powerful take on the issue:
“At the Israeli ministry of defense, the buck stops with Defense Minister Comrade Peretz. When Peretz, whose highest rank in the army was Captain, was appointed Defense Minister there were fears that he would not be able to handle the position. There was talk about adding another Labor party MK who had been a general (Ephraim Sneh or Fuad Ben Eliezer) as his 'assistant' to actually run the Defense Ministry. But politics won out and no 'assistant' was appointed. And because Ehud Olmert wanted Labor in the cabinet and could not give Peretz the Finance Ministry (which Peretz really wanted, but which would have destroyed the economy), Peretz became defense minister. Regardless, that means the defense buck stops with Peretz. And if what the media are reporting is true, it is time for Peretz to resign.”
"IDF Deputy Chief of Staff Maj.-Gen. Moshe Kaplinsky told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee today that there was a warning over the past 10 days on the general location between Sufa and the Kerem Shalom crossings, but no specific warnings.
"As a result of the warning, both crossings were closed down.
"Senior Shin Bet sources confirmed late Sunday that they had passed specific intelligence regarding the attack to relevant officials inside the IDF.
"The information had included the precise location of the attack and the fact that a tunnel would be involved, but did not specify a time frame.
"Defense Minister Comrade Amir Peretz, however, told reporters that the IDF had only received a general warning."
No matter what the political and media spin docs spew, whether it is a matter of mere lack of sleep, or worse, I am deeply worried about the next few days here.