Oct 31, 2011


Over the years American Generals and Admirals, certainly those on the joint chiefs of staff, were less ready to go to battle or war than their civilian superiors. They saw all the drawbacks, inadequacy of forces, unacceptable casualty expectations, difficult logistics, disbelief that their civilian superiors would permit them to do everything necessary for victory. This is not only a recent phenomenon.

During the American Civil War (1861-5) Pres. Lincoln suffered from the disinclination of his northern generals to attack rather than stay in their defensive positions. Once he wrote to one of his commanding generals, “If you will not be needing the army over the weekend, I should like to borrow it.”

When he finally found in Ulysses S. Grant, a general who was prepared to attack, others complained that Grant was a drunkard. Lincoln responded, “Tell me what he drinks so I can send cases of it to my other generals.”

For many years, Israeli generals were considered the opposite, more ready to go into battle than their civilian governments. When Prime Minister Levi Eshkol hesitated on the eve of the Six Day War, Ezer Weizman tore off his epaulets and threw them on the floor in disgust.

In 1976 the IDF conceived and carried out the daring Entebbe raid, rescuing over a hundred Israeli and Jewish hostages of an Air France flight kidnapped by bloodthirsty terrorists who threatened to kill them one by one. They didn’t tell Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin that the mission was impossible and he had no choice but to negotiate with the terrorists. They gave him a plan and carried it out brilliantly.

In 1981 when Saddam Hussein’s Osirak nuclear reactor threatened Israel with atomic destruction, the IDF did not tell Prime Minister Menachem Begin that it was impossible to overfly so many Arab countries to reach the target at the extreme limit of the air force’s capability. They made a plan and carried it out.

But in recent years something has changed. In the Second Lebanon War the senior officers commanded from behind their plasma screens instead at the fore with the famous rallying cry, “Follow me!” Second rate officers turned excellent soldiers into second rate troops with second rate results.

Military doctrines which failed for the Americans in various parts of the world were adopted by the IDF and failed here too. Zero casualties became the main aim of military actions, which immediately put victory out of grasp.

Thus for over five years the IDF did not give successive Israeli governments a military option to free Gilad Schalit. Either they were “eyeless in Gaza” or they were afraid of casualties in an action, or both.

Paradoxically, during this time the U.S. armed forces carried out an “Israeli style” raid in Pakistan to eliminate Osama bin Laden.

Junior and middle range Israeli officers, many of them wearers of knitted kipot, are as good or better than ever, but the IDF General Staff needs to reverse its “Americanization.”

Oct 16, 2011

The Gilad Schalit deal

The Gilad Schalit deal has generated tremendous quantities of heat in the Israeli media and public.  I want to try to generate some light.  First, while Israel freed terrorists at a ratio of over 1,000 to one, the Hamas did not get everything they wanted, not even everything they insisted on for most of the five years.  Thus the final result was not 100% Hamas: 0 Israel, but 100% minus something – Hamas, and O plus something for Israel.

The crunch came when Hamas realized that they could not rely on the Gilad Schalit lobby to force the government to give them everyone and everything on their wish list, no matter how many former heads of the Shabak, Mosad and IDF pressed for that.  At that point Hamas began to compromise on some terrorist names and destinations.

Thus it is not true to say this is the same deal which could have been had five years ago.  There was some movement, very little, but important nevertheless.
I find it hard to believe that in over five years the IDF and Shabak could not find any chance to rescue Schalit by a military operation.  I think it is more likely they determined that he would probably be killed in such an operation as would an unacceptable number of the rescuers, and therefore decided not to attempt it.

However, all of this is crying over spilt milk.  It is more useful to look ahead and consider how Israel should react when the next person is kidnapped and held incommunicado by Hamas, which demands thousands of imprisoned terrorists for his/her release.

In such event Israel should refuse to enter into any negotiations or even to acknowledge officially that anyone has been kidnapped until the Red cross visits him and makes a report on his condition.  We learned from Regev and Goldwasser that the terrorists concealed their deaths for years and returned coffins instead of live soldiers.

On the other hand if Hamas publishes a list of terrorists whose release they demand, all those on the list should immediately be denied all privileges usually granted to terrorists in Israeli prisons.

Furthermore Bin Laden treatment should be meted out to one Hamas leader a week, the higher the better, until the person being held is released.

An Israeli media feeding frenzy should be avoided by use of Court Orders banning publication of details.  These have proved very effective, more so than military censorship.  They cannot prevent publication abroad, but nothing is perfect. 

Several years ago a commission was established, chaired by Meir Shamgar, Retired President of the Israel Supreme Court (and a veteran of the Irgun, who was exiled to Africa by the British mandatory authorities), to devise a plan for Israel in the event of a kidnapping after Gilad Schalit.  The commission prepared such a plan, which, considering the quality of its chairman, is probably a good one, but has not been published for obvious reasons.

Therefore, I feel free to chime in with my modest proposals.

Oct 14, 2011

Israeli Democracy

This is an article I originally wrote in 2007.  Nothing changes.

Israel is a peculiar kind of democracy. In practice, ultimate power does not rest with the Knesset, the Cabinet or even the Prime Minister. It is held by a small group of highly paid appointed officials in the Treasury. Every time there is a strike in Israel you will note that the relevant Minister is powerless to negotiate a settlement. Instead, the appointed Treasury official has total discretion.
            Years ago, the Cabinet decided to fortify Sderot against the Kassam rockets fired from Gaza, but almost nothing has been done because the Treasury officials have not allocated the necessary money. Similarly, the Israel anti-missile defense program is years behind, because the Treasury officials have not allocated the funds, as though nothing was learned from the Second Lebanon War. Another example is the “Chok Hahesderim” (The Arrangements Law) which is submitted to the Knesset together with the government budget.
            In the Arrangements Law, the officials can and do nullify legislation and change government and Knesset decisions as they see fit. There are laws which were adopted by the Knesset years ago but their implementation date is postponed time and again by the Arrangements Law.
            The appointed Treasury officials are a tough bunch who are not known for making any concessions. I think we should send them to negotiate with the Arabs while having other government officials negotiate with the Israelis strikers.
            Meanwhile the length of public sector strikes can be reduced remarkably by lowering the salary of the Treasury officials who are negotiating, to the average monthly salaries of the strikers (e.g., NIS 5,000 for teachers, NIS 4,000 for social workers) for the duration of the strike.