“There is no ideal world, and there are no ideal agreements,” says Ami Ayalon, a former director of Israel’s Shin Bet internal security service. “And let me add that there is no ideal Middle East.”
Given the imperfections in the world at large and the Middle East in particular, the imperfect nuclear agreement that was concluded with Iran this week in Vienna is “the best possible alternative from Israel’s point of view, given the other available alternatives,” Ayalon told me in a telephone interview. He finds the agreement “hard to defend,” but he defends it anyway.
His views are worth listening to because they represent the mainstream of Israel’s security establishment. A decorated commando, onetime commander of Israel’s navy, former cabinet minister and sometime peace activist, he’s often been a bellwether, staking out positions early on that other security chiefs are thinking but haven’t yet said.
Ayalon has been out of the security service for 15 years. After a career in the naval commando, ending up as chief of Israel’s navy, he was brought into the Shin Bet in 1996. His job was to rehabilitate an agency that was reeling in the wake of the 1995 assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, which it had failed to prevent.
After a four-year term, which overlapped with Netanyahu’s first term as prime minister, he retired in 2000 and devoted himself to an unlikely second career as a peace activist. In 2003 he and Palestinian academic Sari Nusseibeh published a one-page proposal for two-state peace agreement and circulated it as a petition, gathering about a half-million Israeli and Palestinian signatures.
That November, he initiated a roundtable conversation with the other three living ex-heads of the Shin Bet that was published in the mass-circulation daily Yediot Ahronot. Stretched over four pages of newsprint, the discussion found the four in forceful agreement that Israel’s continuing occupation and settlement of the West Bank was endangering the country’s future as a Jewish democracy.