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|Efraim Halevy on the world’s current threats and life after Mossad|
Efraim Halevy is a lawyer and an intelligence expert. He served in the Mossad for close to 40 years and was the head of the organisation from 1998 to 2002. He served as ambassador to the European Union and was the Head of the Israeli National Security Council under Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
Halevy was an envoy to five Israeli Prime Ministers (Shamir, Rabin, Netanyahu, Barak and Sharon) and is credited for his part in bringing about the peace treaty between Israel and Jordan. He has also published the book Man in the Shadows: Inside the Middle East Crisis with a Man Who Led the Mossad,
and he has contributed articles to the world’s most recognised magazines and newspapers, as well as appearing on television.
Israel’s Consul General to Hong Kong Mr Amikam Levy, extended an invitation to Halevy to visit, which he did in the middle of October. During his time he spoke at numerous venues.
Halevy has written that the world’s threats in the 21st century include radical Islam, weapons of mass destruction, the rise in the price of oil and the search for new energy sources. “People who live in this world have to be aware of the centre of gravity and the situation in which we find ourselves. This World War III and everything that comes with it is being fought in the Middle East and its origins are there,” he noted.
Today’s threats “are similar in principle, but different in scope” from those 20 years ago. Halevy believes that these threats are constantly developing and growing, but they have not yet hit a breaking point. He said World War III is “probably going to be a generational war” that has been going on for at least 10 years and will continue.
When asked about the role of China in the new world’s order, he said that the aim of the extremist is to disrupt normal economic life including trade. So there will be a joint interest on the part of Israel and China to prevent the terrorists from achieving their goal.
“China is coming into the Middle East a bit late,” Halevy said. “China is a power that Israel has to contend with, to livewith, and to find a way to be with in peace and harmony.” Yet we have to understand the reasons China has adopted the policies it has in terms of oil. “China moved in a big way to secure Iran as a long term source of oil,” as their need is extraordinarily high. However, Halevy doesn’t see this affecting the relationship with Israel.
There is a clear drive internationally to try and lessen the dependence on oil. Prime Minister Netanyahu has set up a special task force to find a solution and see if in the next 10 years Israel can bring relief to itself and to the international community. “I don’t know if this is possible, but we have had occasions in the past where Israeli innovation and wisdom, and Israeli exuberance has produced some astonishing results.”
If this were to happen, then the oil producing countries in the world would go into crisis. Many of them are one-product economies and they have no other resources. “What I’m saying is, the situation is today may not not be the situation 10 years from now. I think there is a chance that the world, under this enormous pressure, will have to get up and say to the oil producing nations, ‘We don’t need you that much anymore’, and this will have a very big effect on the balance of power internationally.
Our conversation turned to the role of the media and how Israel seems to be losing the media war. Halevy feels that the Israeli side has taken the wrong approach. He sees media as a profession and something that should not be dealt with “in an amateurish way. The media is a means of communication and you must communicate to your audience. I don’t believe in following the instructions on what you have to say.”
Before his visit to the Israel- Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, Halevy had prepared his remarks, however after listening to the introduction he decided it would be the wrong thing to say, so he quickly changed and attuned to the environment. Halevy said that when confronted with an unpleasant question he uses facts and other times he turns to humour. “You use all the means and you deal with it.” One must smile and “roll with the punches. If you become angry, and you become authoritative and you sermonize,” you lose.
To Halevy, “Advocacy has to be related to policy. One of the important things of policy is that you have to determine a policy you can advocate. If you can’t advocate the policy, don’t follow the policy. If you have a policy you cannot explain in simple terms, then think of whether you want to carry this policy. If you insist on the policy, don’t kid yourself that if you use a gimmick here or there you’ll get over it - you won’t.You have to roll with the punches and attune yourself to what you are saying.”
Of course the topic of the Mossad came next and he focused on the results the organisation has experienced over the last four decades. Halevy said the Mossad “has been able to analyse the information which was necessary to deal effectively with threats. It has been able to serve the country in furthering its political and strategic aims and creating contacts. Nurturing them and bringing them to fruition. This brings about peace as Mossad has played an important role in the life of the Jewish people. In the last 40 years, Mossad has been in the foreground of launching and executing operations designed to rescue Jewish communities in distress and it has done extremely well.”
Halevy had an interesting road to the Mossad. He started out as a lawyer and moved to the education field before becoming a candidate at the organisation. He was not looking for a position that would give him prominence; instead he wanted to get personal satisfaction from his work. He had no real ambition to become the head of the organisation.
Halevy had capabilities and qualities that the organisation could use with purpose. He says he enjoys working for Mossad for the most part. “Most of the time I did what I liked to do. By-and-large the degree of satisfaction you have in working there is much higher than you have in any other civilian field. You do something and you see the results, you have the immediate satisfaction.”
He believes he had luckmost of the time. He recalled how Napoleon used to choose his generals by the good fortune they had. He strongly believes that luck is a very important element in life.
He was not able to discuss some of the challenges of the job, but said two things affected him profoundly as an individual. The first was his involvement in the peace process and the second was working with groups of young people who were really exceptional and truly out of the ordinary. Some of these people were asked to perform tasks that a normal person can only imagine and this, he said, was “a subject of
As opposed to what many would expect, life after the Mossad has been anything but quiet for Halevy. His life has become a flurry of public activity, he is the Chairman of the Israel Intelligence Heritage and Commemoration Centre (IICC), which is an organisation that brings together all the veterans of the Israeli intelligence community and they have thousands of members.
He is also the Chairman of the Shasha Centre for Strategic Studies. The Israeli Parliament recently passed a law whereby the centre will become a national heritage centre, so it will become a national foundation. This achievement made Halevy very proud and he says his association with Jewish history has enriched him immensely.
Most importantly, Halevy is devoting time to his 5 grandchildren, his children and his wife, which he says, “For many years suffered my continuous and long absences.” He doesn’t take much time to look back, “What I did in the past I did in the past. I received due recognition for it.” Instead Halevy looks forward to living his life to the fullest.
Interviewed by Jessica Zwaiman Lerner
(Issue November 2010)