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Fabled Yom Kippur War commander set to tackle Netanyahu and other ‘professors of no’

An illustrative image from the Yom Kippur War, October 1973. Photo by IDF Spokesman’s Office
An illustrative image from the Yom Kippur War, October 1973. Photo by IDF Spokesman’s Office

Former IDF general Amnon Reshef wants to build on momentum of recent ‘generals’ petition’ to persuade Israelis to support regional peace

Former IDF general Amnon Reshef wants to build on momentum of recent ‘generals’ petition’ to persuade Israelis to support regional peace.

By Chemi Shalev | haaretz | Nov. 20, 2014

A 76-year-old former IDF general who blocked the Egyptian army’s advance in the crucial opening hours of the 1973 Yom Kippur War is now seeking to push Israel to embrace Cairo and other moderate Arab partners in order to bring peace.

Retired IDF Major General Amnon Reshef, who organized the unprecedented petition signed earlier this month by 106 retired generals and spy chiefs that urged Prime Minister Netanyahu to seek a “courageous” regional peace, says that he now plans to commission “top security experts from Israel and other countries” to formulate and publish a detailed plan for regional security arrangements “within a few months.”

Speaking to reporters in New York Wednesday, Reshef said that his ultimate goal is to “very aggressively” change Israeli public opinion “which has been brainwashed for over 40 years with settlements in the West Bank and the Golan Heights.” And while the generals’ petition that was published in Yedioth Ahronoth earlier this month was careful to present its signatories as representing “neither left nor right,” the plain talking Reshef did not try to conceal his disdain for Israel’s current right-wing leaders, whom he described as “professors of ‘no’.”

“They reject everything,” Reshef said in a briefing that was organized by the centrist Israel Policy Forum. “I haven’t heard any program or vision from them.” Mocking Netanyahu’s reputation as “Mr. Security,” Reshef referred to his co-signatories and said “We have more than 3000 years of experience among us. No one should ignore our experience.”

He described 2015 as “a crucial year, a state of emergency.” He said “If there is no takeover by moderate parties, Israel will go to an unknown place. I am really worried about the future of Israel. We will become a minority in our own state.”

Reshef, who shaved off his trademark handlebar moustache over 15 years ago – “in order to be less conspicuous” – was commander of the army’s 14th Armored Brigade on October 6, 1973. With less than a hundred tanks under his command, Reshef and his soldiers were all that stood between four Egyptian divisions and the conquest of the heart of Sinai and possibly Israel itself. Known as a strict disciplinarian, Reshef and his soldiers held the line until the reserve forces arrived and later participated in the costly battle over the Chinese Farm, near the Suez Canal; the brigade suffered more casualties than any other IDF unit in the war.

In what sounded at times like naïve daydreaming about his ability to change the political landscape in Israel, Reshef said that he hopes to sign more officers and security chiefs to his original petition – “as soon as I get the lists” – and to start raising money in order to finance his plans. He said that his group would target the young, women, Russian immigrants, residents of the Israeli periphery, and minorities such as Christians and Druze. He hopes to enlist “40-50 generals” who would tour the country espousing the security and economic advantages of regional peace.

Efforts to achieve peace through bilateral negotiations have failed, he said, but moderate Arab countries are willing to show flexibility on issues such as the 1967 borders, Jerusalem, and the right of return. Not only do they know that Israel is not their enemy, they also know “how to talk” to Palestinian leaders such as Mahmoud Abbas, Reshef noted, citing the famous 1994 signing of the Cairo agreement in which then Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak told Yasser Arafat “Sign, you dog.”

While acknowledging mistakes made by the Obama administration in its relations with these Arab moderates, Reshef nonetheless lambasted Netanyahu’s relations with the Obama administration and his “dangerous” steps that could ruin Israel’s relations with America. “Obama has given us complete political support while relations on the military level have never been better – so what do we have to complain about?”