Former IDF chief of staff Moshe “Bogie” Ya’alon resigned his position as Israel’s Defence Minister under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2016. He created his own political party, Telem, in 2018 and joined forces with Benny Gantz, Yair Lapid and Gaby Ashkenazi to create the political list of Blue and White in the hope of ending the 10-year-rule of the Likud party and its leader Netanyahu. I meet Ya’alon in his office in Tel Aviv a week before Election Day.
What was the main reason for you leaving the Likud party?
It was in 2016 when I felt that there were issues between me and Prime Minister Netanyahu. Issues such as checks and balances and democracy; the role of the media and the Supreme Court. But at the end, the clash was about what is known now as the 3000 affair. The prime minister decided to sign a contract with the German government, which I rejected. It was regarding submarines and other vessels which as minister of defence, I knew we do not need. After that, as of February 2016, I understood that he wanted to get rid of me. Three months later, I decided to resign, bearing in mind that something very wrong had happened. I didn’t know the details. Later on, as the 3000 affair investigation began and uncovered the possibility of corruption, I understood the full picture.
When you say that something went wrong, what do you mean by that?
I understood that the decision that was made at that point of time wasn’t based on professional considerations. We’re talking about national priorities. I suspected that money was dominating the decision- making process.
How would Blue and White function, with so many contradicting opinions within the party?
We discussed the options of us leading the country. I am talking about Gantz, leader of Resilience, myself and my party Telem. And then we called on Yesh Atid, led by Yair Lapid to join, as well as Gaby Ashkenazi. We are three former Israeli Chiefs of General Staff of the IDF, with a commitment to the country and it’s future.
From the very beginning, we understood that we might have differences in our opinions, but on the basic elements of our future, namely Israel as a Jewish democratic, secure, prosperous and just state – we agree. For two weeks we sat together to create our plan for the country, prioritizing merging our existing platforms in order to create a joint one, reflecting our commitment to transparency and accountability to the public. And we agreed with about 90 per cent of the issues. The priority is the unity of Israeli society., not allowing to generate hatred by politicians. Jews against Arabs, Jews among themselves, Ashkenazic vs Sephardic, right and left, religious and non-religious. We decided to call for unity. This is the most important element for our country, so we can meet the challenges that are ahead of us.
But you know that Trump is about to put something on the table, in a form of a peace plan. You’re on the record as saying that you do not want to withdraw from Judea and Samaria. What would your position be if the American administration proposes a peace plan?
The issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one of the issues that we can argue until the end of days. But do we really have a partner that’s ready to have any part of a partition plan? A territorial compromise what-so-ever, from the other side? We have never met a Palestinian leader who was ready to recognize our right to have a Jewish state in any boundary. For them the biggest illegal settlement is Tel Aviv – and I’m saying this with my experience. I was the head of the intelligence under prime minister Yitzhak Rabin during Oslo talks. And then you have Abu Mazen, [Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas] when then-secretary of state John Kerry came here calling to conclude the conflict within nine months. Did it happen? Was Abu Mazen ready to come to the table to really negotiate the issues? No. So we can argue among ourselves, but this is not about right or left regarding the Palestinian issue. This is not the case. We do not have a partner. So if Trump will come and put any type of plan – we will be ready to come to the table to discuss everything. Do we have a partner on the other side? According to our experience, no. So why should we argue about this? On the other hand, we don’t want a bi-national state. We don’t want to take land from Area C, like the extreme right. And I believe that in between the rational left and the rational right we can come to an understanding.
What makes Benny Gantz an effective leader in your opinion?
The Israeli people consider all of us as leaders. They are ready to accept Benny Gantz, Yair Lapid, each of us. Benny Gantz, although he doesn’t have political experience, was the Chief General Staff of the IDF. He led the armed forces to the battlefield. He was the manager and commander of the biggest organization in Israel.
But what about Mr. Lapid. We are talking about a rotation agreement in which if you win, he becomes Prime Minister in two years?
It’s the same. He has the political experience. He’s matured to be a prime minister. We sit as a quartet talking about everything. This is the proper way to talk and think about issues. To make sure things work. This is not the case today. You can’t just rely on one person, without the government, the cabinet, the advisors. And while Prime Minister Netanyahu has his rights when we talk about the past, it is too much. Ten years is too much.
As you mentioned you’ve served as the prime minister’s minister of defence and have defended him in the past on a variety of issues. What has changed in and him and what has changed in you?
This is a very sensitive issue. After the elections of 2015 he is a very different Netanyahu. Very different. When it comes to his premiership from 2009-2013, I can give him many compliments. But after 2015 it’s a very different story. Too many lies dominating this election campaign. His only issues are about dividing the people. Jews against Arabs, right against left. This wasn’t the case in 2009. It’s the case today. He builds his political power on hatred; by generating hatred. And the corruption. The corruption is a very big issue. What are his priorities? It’s not the future or interest of the country. I am afraid that Prime Minister Netanyahu is fighting for his political survival and is ready to sacrifice everything for it.
What would Israel look like under a Blue and White rule?
Leaders should serve the people and not vice versa. We have many social and economic challenges. The state of the health care system. The state of housing; everything. We need to plan. Five years ahead, 10 years ahead. Currently the Defence Ministry is the only one that has a longterm plan. We will then deal with corruption. We know how to lead by personal example. So many people tell me that the level of corruption in Israel is a lost case. When I hear it from youngsters – it’s unbelievable. When I was young, I didn’t think that about our leadership. I could identify with our leaders. This is not the case today. The political discourse is led by lies and the level of democracy in our country is deeply affected.
Are you saying Israeli democracy is in danger because of Netanyahu’s leadership?
We have a very vibrant democratic system. But listening to the prime minister attacking what should have been considered by him the checks and balances, he’s saying “they are not allowing me to rule the country.” This is not a dictatorship. It’s not Turkey. We are calling it “Erdoganisation” of the state of Israel. We need the free media, the Supreme Court. We might argue about where and when the Supreme Court might interfere and what are the boundaries of judicial review. But it is unacceptable to delegitimize the Supreme Court and generate hatred, labelling everything that is not according to his interest as “leftist,” in a very nasty way. So, there’s a lot of work. But we know how to bring back the State of Israel to the right track.
Would you call for a Unity government with the Likud party?
We are calling for a unity government led by us, without Bibi Netanyahu. We can not tolerate his kind of political behaviour.
What is Netanyahu’s legacy?
I was his partner in terms of security and economy and I’m proud of it. But it’s like looking at a beautiful skyscraper. It seems very nice. But if the foundation is compromised, as is the case now, this is a danger for the country.
This interview was condensed and edited for style and clarity.