The ‘Amos Rules’ of Israeli Intelligence

Former IDF Major General Amos Yadlin is optimistic about Israel’s ability to fight various threats, but reminds that “there are no silver bullets anymore.”

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From left to right, in November 2005, Defense Attache at the Israeli Embassy Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin, Israeli Minister of Defense Shaul Mofaz, and U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Credit: Robert D. Ward.

Over the course of 40 years and two weeks in the Israel Defense Forces, including five as chief of military intelligence, Amos Yadlin developed the “Amos Rules”—honed while he manned the cockpit of an F-15 and later applied to his desk job.

Speaking at a recent dinner in Belmont, Mass., sponsored by the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), Yadlin explained his principles as follows: never panic, never be in euphoria, be slightly paranoid, be very suspicious of what you read in the headlines, and understand that “there are no silver bullets anymore.”

With threats like an unstable Middle East, strained relations with Turkey, a unilateral Palestinian statehood bid, and the prospect of a nuclear Iran, Israel could use a silver bullet these days. In the absence of one, Israeli intelligence operatives have the duty “to look into the future, but not as prophets,” according to Yadlin.

“There is so much information today in the world, that the problem is to be able to find the relevant information, the [information] that can help you predict the future,” Yadlin said in an interview with JointMedia News Service. “The good information that will give your assessment strength and knowledge.”

Yadlin said that when he served as chief of military intelligence, he opposed potential deals for Shalit’s freedom because he “thought that justice has a meaning,” and was wary of losing more IDF soldiers to captivity in the future. That would create complex dilemmas similar to the Shalit ordeal for both the Israeli government and parents of soldiers, he said.

However, he told JointMedia News Service that the deal bringing Shalit home in exchange for 1,027 Hamas prisoners was “better than it was a year ago or two years ago.”

Yadlin told the audience that the 550 prisoners to be released in the second phase of the deal are “not important,” as opposed to the first 477 prisoners, where “each one is a problem.” The Shalit dilemma is “tragic,” he said, because the government on the one hand has a system of compulsory military service and therefore owes a “debt” to Israeli society to do “a lot” to bring back imprisoned soldiers. But, on the other hand, there is the question of “What is too much?”

“I will not underestimate the difficulty to decide on such an issue,” Yadlin said of the Shalit deal. “It’s a very tough dilemma with arguments for both sides.”

Yadlin used his address to apply the “Amos Rules” to the various threats facing Israel. After four decades in the IDF, Yadlin said he is “still an optimist” about Israel’s situation, citing that Hezbollah not fired at Israel since the 2006 Lebanon War, as well as a strong Israeli economy.

“If you only read the headlines, you may think Israel has a big, big problem,” Yadlin said.

Still, Yadlin acknowledged that Israel’s enemies are now more sophisticated than ever and are in a “learning competition with us.”

With due respect for the Palestinian statehood bid and the threats posed by Egypt and Turkey, Yadlin said the top issue facing Israel is a nuclear Iran, “because we don’t have the silver bullet to solve it.”

“Iran is the only existential threat to Israel,” he said.

Asked when Iran might have a nuclear program, Yadlin said that reality will come when the country decides it is “going to the last stage.” Iran has the ingredients ready but is moving “cautiously, slowly, step by step,” he said.

“They will break out one day, could be tonight, could be two years from now,” Yadlin said, adding that after they “break out,” it will take 12-18 months to develop the bomb.

While the U.S. strategy of engagement with Iran didn’t work, and sanctions had some success but ultimately proved “like twisting somebody’s arm, but it doesn’t hurt enough that it will change his behavior,” the best possible strategic development to deal with the Iranian threat would be the toppling of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s regime, Yadlin said. That’s a much better alternative than simply living with the prospect of Iran’s future bomb, he said.  

“We can live with Iran. [We can say,] ‘We will deter them, we will contain them,’” Yadlin said. “I hardly agree with this, but it’s a strategy.”

But is regime change a real possibility in Iran? Yadlin told JointMedia News Service “you have to be very, very careful, because nobody predicted the collapse of the Soviet Union, nobody predicted the collapse of [Hosni] Mubarak [in Egypt].”

“Intelligence agencies are very much concentrated on the leadership,” he said. “They cannot see what’s going down in the undercurrent stream in the universities, in the factories, in the mosques. So it is a possibility, but you have to be very cautious to give it a likelihood, a probability. But you can do something to accelerate it.”

Unlike Iran, Palestinians do not pose an existential threat to Israel because when it comes to their tanks, missiles and submarines, the IDF will always have the advantage, Yadlin said. Palestinian rockets, Yadlin said, are missiles with inaccurate guidance systems, and therefore “more of a terror system and less of an efficient military operation.” There is no “silver bullet” to solve the Palestinian threat, but many layers of strategy to fight it, including cooperation with the U.S., he said.

The Arab Spring is a “very substantial issue” not to be underestimated, and is possibly the most important event in the Middle East since the 1970s, Yadlin said. Each country’s circumstance must be looked at differently in what is a “very slow process,” he said.

“It is not a domino effect and it is not going to be one season,” Yadlin said of the Arab Spring.

The “romantics” of the Arab Spring think Facebook is the key to freedom, but in Syria, Bashar al-Assad “understood that the bullets can win the Facebook revolution,” Yadlin said. In Saudi Arabia, the government’s solution to revolution was money, he said—$136 billion, and free education and healthcare. Since Saudi Arabia and Iran control most of the region’s oil, the Arab Spring, at the end of the day, is limited, Yadlin said.

“[Facebook] is changing the way things are done everywhere, but remember my rule, it is not a silver bullet,” he said.

For Israel, while the Arab Spring’s benefit for radical Islamic factions like the Muslim Brotherhood means things will get worse before they get better, Yadlin recommended another one of his rules: “Don’t panic.” The Arab Spring isn’t necessarily bad for Israel in the long run, he said, because Arab countries are starting to share values like democracy with Israel—democracies never go to war with each other.

Europe was not a democracy in a year or in a season, but after two world wars, while not too long ago the U.S. had slaves and women couldn’t vote, Yadlin noted. The development of democracy in the Arab world “will take time, but since I’m an optimist, I think it will be much faster [than it was elsewhere in the world]” because of the Internet, he said. For the first time, Yadlin said, Arabs have “looked inward, to themselves” rather than solely blaming Israel and the U.S. for their problems.

If there is regime change in Syria, Yadlin said “the devil we don’t know will be different,” stopping the transfer of weapons and ideology from Iran to Hezbollah and Hamas.

In Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan is a charismatic Islamist looking to lead the Arab world, Yadlin said.

“How can you be a leader? If you bash Israel,” he said.

However, Yadlin said, the good news for Israel is that Turkey “is not Iran” and is not developing nuclear weapons.

“I think we are at the height of [Turkey’s] hate to Israel and it may reverse,” he said.

Jacob Kamaras is the Editor-in-Chief of JNS.

Posted on September 20, 2011 and filed under Features, U.S..