Major Gen. Noam Tibon, a veteran of the Israel Defense Forces for 35 years, a former commander of a paratrooper battalion, and commander of the Northern Formation, meaning he was responsible for the security of Israel’s northern border with Lebanon, concluded a Global Atlanta interview Nov. 15 at The Temple on Peachtree Street with a story about his Boxer dog.
“It was the time of the second Intifada,” he began, referring to the difficult time when thousands of Palestinians and Israelis were killed from late 2000-2005 (though some claim the second Intifada is still ongoing).
He was in the process of moving his family and the dog to the United States where he was to study at Harvard University. Before landing in Boston, however, the family had to stop first in London.
By the time they reached Boston, they were dead tired and utterly dismayed that they didn’t find their dog at the collection point. His wife, he recalled, gave him what he said was a “direct order” to find the dog and he rushed back to the plane, which he was able to board and search without interference.
“No one asked who am I? What was I doing there? It was all open,” he recalled. “Anyone could have concealed a knife or a gun,” he said.
After inspecting the plane and the grounds surrounding it, he returned to his family where they had reclaimed the dog, which appeared in a large crate (much bigger than the one they had put him in in Israel) that had the image of Winston Churchill smoking a cigar on its side. Apparently, he said, a dog lovers’ organization had thought the original cage was too small so they upgraded it to the larger size.
Why the story? For Mr Tibon, the story captures how utterly unprepared the United States was for the terrorist Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center towers in New York, which occurred a few months following his arrival.
A specialist in combat operations and counterterrorism, he has assumed since his retirement in 2015 the position of CEO of Tracense Technologies, which uses nanotechnology to develop threat detection sensors to identify explosives, biological and chemical warfare agents.
On a week tour of the U.S., his main reason for this trip was to meet with American Jews. “I want to bring a message to American Jews that in Israel we love them, we respect them and their voice is very important,” he said, adding, “Unfortunately there is a lot of tension.”
He described the origin of that tension to “religious issues” and “internal politics” among members of the U.S. Jewish communities and wants to spread the word that “at the end of the day the United States is the biggest friend of Israel in the world and we really want to keep it like this in the future.”
“Unfortunately the young American Jew is getting tired with the state of Israel,” he said. “They don’t like the occupation (of the West Bank), and when they go to their campuses they sometimes feel uncomfortable to represent the state of Israel. But it is important we don’t leave them…They want education; they want to make money. It is important that we keep American support and a main reason for that support is because of American Jews.”
A second reason he said for his tour was strategic and to discuss his belief that the current moment provides a propitious moment to reconsider the two state solution for the Israeli and Palestinian conflict. “In my eyes, the biggest challenge in Israel today is to look a little bit beyond. If we want to stay a Jewish democratic state we have to solve the problem with the Palestinians.”
In view of his military career, he said the only option that would appeal to him would be one of realpolitik. “There is an opportunity now, a tremendous opportunity.”
That opportunity is provided by what he called “the situation today in Syria. “Russia, Iran and the Hezbollah have won the war and Iran is becoming a regional power. This is something that is frightening the entire Middle East.”
“Saudi Arabia, the Gulf countries, Jordan, Egypt, Morocco are all afraid of Iran,” he added. “Their strategy now is the same as that of Israel. Israel is no longer the No. 1 bad guy. Iran is No. 1. Syria is No. 2. Lebanon’s Hezbollah is No. 3. Israel is not on the list of good guys. But it isn’t on the list of bag guys.”
He referred to a “Saudi initiative” calling for Israel to make peace with the Palestinians which would normalize relations with their neighbors and provide them with Israel’s resources in high tech, homeland security, water, sewerage treatment and agriculture. “And we could get a lot from them…money, oil, gas.”
In his opinion, if the moment was seized appropriately Palestinians could serve as a bridge to those countries. While the two state solution has been abandoned by many, a peace agreement was reached between Israel and Egypt due to the involvement of former President Jimmy Carter, and a two state solution in his view would take the active involvement of the U.S.’s current president, Donald Trump.
When asked if the president’s son Jared Kushner, who has assumed Middle East peace in his expansive portfolio of responsibilities, could do the job, he said “No.” “The president must be involved personally and bring both sides to the table. Each side will have to get rid of its dreams to create something that we live with side-by-side.”
Although acknowledging that the divide between Israelis and Palestinians can be wide, he said that the Israelis foremost concerns is security. “In the U.S. it may be health care or the economy, but in Israel it is security, security, security.”
He also pointed to the relations between Israelis and Arab Israelis. “For us it is important that they meld into Israeli society. There are very many young, bright people and it is in the main interest of Israel that they move forward, get into high tech and have opportunities. Already we have wonderful Arab-Israeli medical doctors.”
Called away to give his talk to a group assembling at The Temple, he underscored the important relationship between Israel and the U.S. citing all the U.S. companies doing research and development in his country.
And he introduced his son, Amir Tibon, the Washington correspondent for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, who is promoting his book, The Last Palestinian: The Rise and Reign of Mahmoud Abbas.
Mr. Tibon may be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org