There are few living Israelis who have more experience in the fields of both war and peace than Ami Ayalon.
He was a decorated navy commando who became the commander of the Israeli navy, then served as director of the Shin Bet security service before ultimately being elected to serve as a Labour minister in Ehud Olmert’s coalition government.
His experience leads him to the gloomy conclusion that the current Israeli-Palestinian peace talks are doomed to failure.
“For these negotiations to succeed, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas will have to promise and deliver more than he did four years ago — and he is much weaker now. On the other side, Benjamin Netanyahu needs to promise more than Ehud Olmert did four years ago — and even Olmert’s offer was not enough. I try to persuade myself every day that there is a chance, but I am finding it very hard.”
However, Mr Ayalon, on a visit to London as the guest of peace organisation Yachad, is convinced that the type of two-state solution that he proposed 10 years ago with Palestinian academic Dr Sari Nusseibeh is still the only option for Israel.
“If we want to see Israel as a Jewish democracy, this is the only way to do it. Time is running against the two-state solution but I cannot agree that time is running out. If I have learned something from history, it is that nothing is irreversible. I also learned that historic events are not the result of a linear process. Most big historic events were not predicted by any of us. So I cannot say it is too late.”
There is another reason why Mr Ayalon believes that progress in the peace process is vital. As he puts it, “the road to Tehran goes through Ramallah. If there is to be a broad coalition to face the Iranians and their nuclear threat, progress on the peace process needs to happen first.”
As former head of the Shin Bet security service, he sees great danger for both Israel and the region in the ongoing war in Syria. “Today in Syria, the most radical elements have been sucked in and that is dangerous because the likes of al Qaeda have no constraints on the kinds of terror they will perpetrate.”
How to counter such a terrorist threat was a constant dilemma for Mr Ayalon when he was in charge of Israel’s internal security service.
It was one of the issues he and the five other surviving Shin Bet directors discussed in the Oscar-nominated documentary The Gatekeepers.
But Mr Ayalon maintains that targeted killing or “targeted prevention” — as it is euphemistically described in the Shin Bet — has a strong moral justification.
“It depends on the purpose. Maimonides discussed what should you do when you saw someone chasing another person in order to kill him. He said it was your moral duty to stop him and to do whatever it took to stop him. But you had to prove to yourself that the threat was imminent, immediate, that your response was proportionate and you did not have any other options. I agree with that and this is how international law sees it too.”