Who Runs Israel?
Now in the midst of Hanukkah, and having just seen the relationship between the U.S. and Israel fall to an all-time low, there is a need to understand how the American president and the Israeli prime minister can impact the survival of the Jewish state. This is powerfully emphasized with the newly released film, The Prime Ministers: The Pioneers.
The first of two parts, this film focuses on the years former Israeli Ambassador Yehuda Avner spent working with Prime Ministers Levi Eshkol and Golda Meir, as well as U.S. Ambassador Yitzhak Rabin. Avner's recollections bring to light new details about the Six-Day War, the development of Israel's close strategic relationship with the United States, the fight against terrorism, and the Yom Kippur War and its aftermath. American Thinker interviewed the film's director and producer, Richard Trank, as well as Andrew Kaplan, the author of the Homeland and Scorpion series who also was a former military aide to Moshe Dayan, the fourth chief of staff of the IDF, during those years.
There are a number of amusing anecdotes, such as the humorous story regarding Avner's visit to former President Harry Truman's residence, in 1966, to thank him for his support, or how Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol arrived at President Johnson's Texas ranch to plead for American aid to replenish Israel's depleted arsenal after the Six-Day War. He bonded with the U.S. president as they tended to cattle.
A minor critical point is that the film used the voices of well-known actors, such as Sandra Bullock (Meier), Michael Douglas (Rabin), Leonard Nimoy (Eshkol), and Christoph Waltz (Begin). It was somewhat distracting, since many of those chosen do not sound like the real historical figures, but unfortunately, there was probably no other way to verbally present the quotes and thoughts.
The most interesting part of the film was the exploration of the politicians' varied reactions, personalities, and relationships. Levi Eshkol appears to be the forgotten prime minister, yet he was responsible for making the strategic and pivotal decisions during the Six-Day War and its aftermath. It is explained how Eshkol was an underrated figure because he was not physically imposing or a good orator, and many times reverted to speaking Yiddish instead of Hebrew.
Yet Eshkol put Israel above the world leaders' wishes. Up until the 1967 war, France supplied arms to Israel, but as the fourteen Arab armies escalated, both France and America told Israel to stand down. They wanted the Arabs to attack first and threatened to withhold military aid to Israel if it was seen as the aggressor. Because all of his military leaders had advised Eshkol that Israel must attack first, he did not acquiesce to the foreign leaders. This strategy resulted in the historic Israeli victory; however, Israel depleted its military weapons in the process and needed America to help re-supply them.
Trank told American Thinker that he wanted to show how Eshkol "helped to forge a strategic relationship with the U.S. He related the conflict between Israel and the Arab states as part of the same global conflict involving the Cold War. Eshkol played on the U.S. desire to counter Russia. The relationship was solidified between the U.S. and Israel during the LBJ Ranch visit, with Eshkol able to achieve his goal."
The film shows that given the same parameters, Prime Minister Golda Meir did the direct opposite during the Yom Kippur War. She withheld firing the first shot and did not even call up the reserves -- actions that led ultimately to devastating defeats in the first few days of the conflict. Kaplan explains that Meir was provided with many warnings, including one by Jordan's King Hussein. "He actually came to Israel to have a secret meeting, but was not believed, especially since the military intelligence misinformed her. The Israeli leaders were guilty of an overconfident mindset from the success of the Six-Day War. This haunted Meir's career and legacy, but people forget the other part -- that she was able to hold the country together during the war and ultimately pulled through an impressive victory."
Trank is hoping this film shows that there is more to Golda Meir's legacy than the first few days of the Yom Kippur War. He refers to a powerful scene in the movie where she confronted Austrian Chancellor Bruno Kreisky over his decision to capitulate to the Palestinian terrorists during the 1973 hostage incident. She met with the European ministers and blasted them, mincing no words: "What happened in Vienna is that a Democratic government came to an agreement with terrorists. In doing so, it brought shame upon itself. Oh, what a victory for terrorism this is."
Both Kaplan and Trank concur that the movie shows both sides to Golda Meir -- that she could be like everybody's mother or grandmother and yet could be tough and focused. Kaplan explained, "You could go to her apartment when she was Prime Minister and she talked to you like a Bubie [grandmother]. She made coffee and cake for her guests. She would want to know all about what you were doing. Then all of a sudden she would move to policy issues, where she was total business."
Part I of The Prime Ministers: The Pioneers helps people understand the mindset of Israel's prime ministers. Part II, The Prime Ministers: Soldiers and Peacemakers, scheduled to be released sometime next year, will shed a light on Yitzhak Rabin, Menachem Begin, and Shimon Peres. These documentaries show the David-and-Goliath battles that Israel had to face in order to survive. Unfortunately, it is likely that similar battles are yet to come.
The author writes for American Thinker. She has done book reviews and author interviews and has written a number of national security, political, and foreign policy articles.