“Just looking at the demands they have made now that are part of the [coalition] agreements, I think we have a big problem”
High-ranking officers who retire from the IDF take many different paths. Some capitalize on their name recognition to enter politics. Others leverage their experience and connections to build new careers in high tech, or in the defense and energy industries.
Brigadier General (ret.) Amir Avivi took a different course when he retired in 2017 after 30 years of service, which included stints as commander of IDF forces in Gaza and as aide-de-camp to Moshe “Boogie” Yaalon when the latter was chief of staff.
Avivi founded a nonpartisan defense and security forum — “Habithonistim” — whose membership includes some 2,000 former IDF officers, commanders, and field soldiers. Their goals include educating both Israelis and Jewish communities overseas on what Israel needs, long-term, to safeguard its national security and assure economic prosperity.
Habithonistim aims to provide Israeli policy-makers of any stripe with clear security guidelines so they can set red lines and abide by them. Earlier this year, the forum published a 33-page document with recommendations for the Biden administration on navigating the latest incarnation of the “New Middle East.”
Avivi’s top recommendation was to build on the momentum of the budding axis between Israeli and Sunni Muslim states, also known as the Abraham Accords. While the Biden administration may have dumped that designation to differentiate itself from former president Trump, the Associated Press reported last week that the administration is laying the groundwork for a renewed push to encourage more Arab countries to sign accords with Israel despite its stalemate with the Palestinians.
“If for many years the Palestinians were a tool used to undermine and delegitimize Israel, now they have become an entity that is disrupting the process of getting close to Israel,” Avivi told me last week. “The Arab states want an alliance with Israel against Iran. This is a huge change and represents an opportunity for Israel to bring new, out-of-the-box ideas to the Biden administration.”
While building relationships with the broader Arab and Muslim world, Avivi minced no words when warning of land mines ahead for Israel’s new government. Incoming prime minister Naftali Bennett’s coalition is dependent on the four members of Ra’am, an Israeli-Arab party led by Mansour Abbas, whose constituents maintain close ties with Hamas and other radical Muslim elements.
“Their ideology believes there should be no state, certainly not a Jewish one,” Avivi says. “They believe in a caliphate. This is their vision.”
While he concedes that “Abbas himself is a mystery” and “seems to have a different approach,” Avivi adds: “He’s one guy from a whole organization. I don’t think he really represents what they are.”
Avivi says he doesn’t oppose inclusion of an Arab party per se, as long as the coalition has a Jewish majority. “If it did, then we can raise a question whether [an Arab] party is eligible: Do they believe in our values and can they be part of a government?
“That is a democratic discussion. But we’re not only a democracy — we’re also a Jewish state. If [the Ra’am MKs] are the ones who will decide whether this government exists or not, then it goes without saying they have huge political power.
“Just looking at the demands they have made now that are part of the [coalition] agreements, I think we have a big problem.”
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 865)
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