Two dramatic statements by former Supreme Judges have been made public, attempting to exonerate Brig.- Gen. Gal Hirsch, after nine years of injustice.
After Brig.-Gen. Hirsch assumed command of the 91st Division (also as the Galilee Formation) in 2005, new contingency plans were written and rehearsed, and the division adapted new patterns which proved effective in thwarting several abduction attempts.
But under extreme operational conditions and crippling resource constraints, no plan is fail-safe. On July 12, 2006, Hezbollah conducted a cross-border raid, killing three soldiers and abducting two.
The Second Lebanon War had begun.
Although nine years later the strategic effect of the war in stabilizing the northern arena is unquestionable, the public’s perception has been shaped to view it as a failure, and responsibility has been diverted from senior echelons to the tactical level.
Probably the gravest mistake made by senior Israeli leadership was their inability to transition from “routine security” to “all-out-war” mode. This difference of mindset was a source of constant clashes throughout the war between Brig.-Gen.
Hirsch and his superiors.
Due to his decision to keep disagreements with higher echelons firewalled from his subordinates, Hirsch took the heat for decisions imposed on him from above, and was seen as responsible for inconsistencies with the division’s plans and doctrine.
Various hypocritical opportunists acted behind the scenes in subversive and manipulative ways, spreading disinformation and slander. Even before the war was over, the media were fed distorted information, shaping public opinion to perceive the war as a failure of the 91st Division under Brig.- Gen. Hirsch.
A committee established by Northern Command to investigate the abduction acted tendentiously, mainly criticizing Hirsch’s “over conceptualization” stemming from his employment of state of the art operational methodologies. The committee also outrageously concealed the fact that sensitive intelligence had been withheld from Northern Command. Had it been revealed, a decision to relax the state of alert would not have been made, and this most certainly would have prevented the abduction and the war.
The cover-up is still upheld to this today.
After the war, the committee’s amateurish report was rejected by the chief of the General Staff, Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz, but another committee was established to review the abduction, led by Maj.-Gen.(res.) Doron Almog. This appointment was probably made in order to deflect criticism from the General Staff and the government toward the fighting units.
The good old Israeli tradition of sacrificing scapegoats was at play.
Almog was determined to make Hirsch take the fall, as a “wake-up call” to the IDF, as he himself put it. He set out to oust Hirsch and was allowed to run wild, including staging pompous and grotesque media stunts.
Almog’s report was a sham, with no correlation between facts and conclusions.
A ridiculous recommendation was concocted, disqualifying Hirsch from command positions. For Hirsch this was, of course, unacceptable. Depriving him of his lifelong mission was a trick aimed at pushing him to resignation. No negligence was found in his conduct and such a harsh step was totally inappropriate for someone who had never been accused of moral turpitude.
Left with no alternative, Hirsch announced his resignation from the IDF, but he also exposed the flawed process which had led him to resign, so Halutz summoned a hearing in which Hirsch shredded Almog’s allegations. Halutz confirmed Hirsch’s arguments and commended his conduct, yet strangely remained vague on the matter of removal from command positions, and continued to push Hirsch out.
On the media front, deliberate disinformation kept nurturing a false narrative relating to Hirsch, even by the IDF Spokesman.
On the national level, “the Commission of Inquiry into the Events of Military Engagement in Lebanon,” chaired by retired Supreme Court justice Eliyahu Winograd, also negated Almog’s allegations.
But since the commission was forbidden, by a Supreme Court restraining order, to incorporate personal conclusions into its report, it was also unable to publish its unanimous recommendation to recall Brig.-Gen. Hirsch to service.
The conspiracy to oust Hirsch from the IDF had succeeded.
Although Hirsch and his family have been deeply affected by brutal injustice after a life of dedicated service, he continued to serve as a reservist, and in 2012 was assigned to establish, and serve as deputy commander of, the new Depth Command (ironically – a pivotal command position).
Across the board there was an understanding that Hirsch had been terribly wronged and that correction was due. Ministers of defense and chiefs of staff have expressed sympathy and vague promises, but nothing has been done in practical terms to return Brig.-Gen. Hirsch to the ranks of the IDF.
Former Supreme Court justice Mishael Cheshin independently concluded that Hirsch had been terribly wronged. He labored tirelessly toward corrective action, but time and time again his appeals met with idleness and carelessness.
In January 2014, justice Winograd met with the chief of staff, Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz. Pangs of conscience led him to ask – almost demand - to correct the injustice he felt was done to Hirsch. As he sees it, Hirsch has suffered condemnation instead of commendation, and abandonment instead of backing up by his superiors. Gantz feels that his committee should have acted to reinstall Hirsch immediately.
But even after this dramatic plea, other than expressions of appreciation of Hirsch and words of support for returning him to the ranks, nothing has been done.
Justice Winograd’s moving letter to Lt.- Gen. Gantz has now been made public, allowing us to see in perspective this deeply troubling affair.
The suffering imposed upon Gal Hirsch and his family reflects a troubling breakdown of values. This was not a one-time incident that happened back in 2006, but a malicious and painful betrayal from which they have never recovered.
Gal Hirsch has been used as a “human shield” by politicians, both in suits and in uniform. The source of this injustice was, and still is, lack of leadership and lack of a fundamental expression of leadership – loyalty and backing those you lead.
Besides finding a way to set the record straight for this outstanding, patriotic and devoted officer and leader, we have an obligation to ensure that this never happens again.The writer is a former IAF pilot who has known Brig.-Gen. Hirsch for 25 years, and privileged to call him a friend.