by Dan Margalit
American sources told CNN that Israel was behind the recent strike on a Syrian missile depot near the Port of Latakia, where sophisticated Russian-made missiles were stored. If this information is true -- and there is no proof that it is, so this is a theoretical debate -- then Israel is living up to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's pledge that the Israel Defense Forces will not allow Syrian President Bashar Assad's weapon stockpiles to fall into Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah's hands.
Assad, for his part, issued a threat of his own, saying that if Israel struck Syria again he would launch missiles at Israel. One good threat deserves another.
Under these precarious circumstances, the wise thing for both Netanyahu and Assad to do is to hold their ground. The IDF will not allow the missiles to be moved but will deny striking them, thus affording Assad a way to circumvent his pledge to attack Israel. This could be a win-win situation that serves both parties' interests.
Assuming -- again, for the sake of the game theory -- that sources in the Pentagon leaked the information to the U.S. media, as they did over the two previous attacks, then they obviously wish to see Israel embroiled in a military conflict with Syria, to hasten Assad's fall and spare the U.S. the need to intervene. That could lead to a myriad of complications and that is not how allies and partners should treat each other. It also constitutes, to some extent, a breach of trust.
The diplomatic-military situation mandates a vehement denial on Israel's part even if it was behind the attack, for Israel's sake as well as for Assad's convenience. This is the classic example of a case where former Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir's famous saying, "It's okay to lie for the Land of Israel," comes into play.
The violent international arena has no places for lies, only for tricks and ploys, baits, schemes and deceptions. Those are the rules of the game. Anyone who employs them, however, must do so in measure and realize that embarrassing scandals may ensue. He who falsifies a friendly nation's passports may end up losing its support. It is a matter of profits versus losses.
This does not mean the government can employ internal deception. This pattern of behavior is reminiscent of the Shin Bet's behavior in the aftermath of the 1984 Bus 300 affair. Then-deputy Shin Bet chief Reuven Hazak never claimed that the organization should not find ways to hide or circumvent the truth, only that its head, Avraham Shalom, could not direct such tactics inward and compromise the Shin Bet's ranks, since one bad apple does spoil the barrel.
The government should share the truth with a small parliamentary body, the kind that operates clandestinely as part of the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, as well as with the head of the opposition. The government must also carefully consider what version it decides to share with everyone else in Israel and worldwide, and be willing to face the consequences should it be caught in an unwise lie.
One should take a page from the book of Israel first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, who, after the disastrous events of the 1953 Qibya operation, declared in the Knesset that no IDF unit was unaccounted for during the time of the incident. It was the unfortunate truth -- save us from such truths -- and an acceptable answer.
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