A man of war

When was the last time a former head of Mossad lectured in Perth? It’s a question that went through my head during Efraim Halevy’s speech last week in Perth at the University of Western Australia. Entitled ”˜Where do we go from here?’, the former spook spoke to an enthralled, predominantly 400-strong Jewish audience who seemed content hearing the official Israeli government line on the recent war with Hizbollah. He was welcomed like a present-day Moses.

Halevy is in Australia as a guest of the Australian Friends of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and will be speaking in Melbourne, Sydney, Canberra and the Gold Coast. He is the current head of Center for Strategic and Policy Studies at The Hebrew University’s School of Public Policy. After all, it is exceedingly common for former senior public servants to serve out their twilight years in academia (and I was in Perth for a book event organised by Project Safecom.)

Before Halevy started his off-the-cuff remarks, a lone protestor stood at the back of the auditorium waving a BLF-union flag. “Australia wouldn’t let [Holocaust denier] David Irving in”, he shouted, “so why let Halevy in?” A well-built security official soon escorted him from the room.

Halevy’s principal aim was to debunk the currently accepted wisdom that Israel lost the war against Hizbollah. Wrong, stated the former Mossad head.

He claimed that Hizbollah “miscalculated” Israel’s military superiority and “mauled” the militia’s capability. He said the Lebanon war “was not pre-ordained or pre-planned” and “happened by accident.” Syria and Iran were equally chastised, he alleged.

Halevy delivered a solid PR performance. Israel was a “responsible” and “stable” nation at the forefront of international development. He praised the medical and technological advances in Israel. He said that Israel was “setting precedents” in the “war on terror” by teaching the world how to fight Islamic terror. At this point, a lone fist was heard pounding on a side door of the auditorium and the screamed words, “Israel is a terror state.”

Halevy was silent, however, on the occupation of West Bank and Gaza, so I stood up and asked whether he’d like to comment on the ongoing occupation that is contributing to unprecedented levels of anti-Israel sentiment – justified, in my opinion – around the world.

He said that Israel had the right to “every square inch” of Palestine for “strategic considerations.” He said that the Palestinians also claimed all of Palestine as their own (in fact, Hamas now states that that it is willing to accept a Palestinian state on the lands occupied by Israel since 1967.) Although he talked of “mutual recognition on both sides”, he refused to acknowledge that Israel is currently expanding its West Bank settlements and imposing even more checkpoints against the Palestinians.

Despite the obvious gaps in his talk, the audience seemed reassured by his words. As they left, they were greeted by a small but noisy protest that accused Halevy of being a “terrorist” and Mossad a “terrorist organisation.”

Perhaps the life of a former Mossad head is to live out his days speaking to friendly audiences in unlikely places like Perth.