Former IDF chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. (res.) Dan Halutz has good
reason to be afraid of interviews. He gained a reputation for being insensitive
to human life from an August 2002 interview with Haaretz in which when he was
asked how he feels as a pilot when he drops a bomb, he said: “I feel a light
bump to the plane as a result of the bomb’s release.”
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So it was not
surprising that Halutz chain-smoked throughout an interview with The Jerusalem
Post at his office at Tel Aviv’s Kamor Motors Company, the local importer of
BMWs, which he recently announced he would leave to “seek new
But what was surprising was that contrary to the image that
infamous interview and others gave him, Halutz comes across as someone who
genuinely cares – about Israel, its image and its soldiers. At 62, he could have
decided to retire and spend time with his two grandchildren.
intends to announce that he is entering politics after his legally mandated
post-IDF cooling-off period ends in January. He says this next tour of duty is
intended to help the country, not to redeem his image.
There is no
guarantee that the voters will allow him to do that after the Winograd
Commission judged his leadership in the Second Lebanon War a failure. Halutz has
not said openly that he is going to Kadima, but his criticism of Binyamin
Netanyahu and his views on diplomatic issues are good hints he is headed in that
Kadima leader Tzipi Livni said last weekend that Halutz “is
worthy for Israeli politics” and “worthy to enter Kadima.”
But she did
not say specifically that she wanted him on the list, and she left open the
possibility that she would prefer he go elsewhere.
A new party that might
be formed by journalist Yair Lapid would be an easier option, because then he
would not have to sell himself to Kadima activists. But either way, he has an
uphill fight ahead when he enters the political battlefield.
born in Tel Aviv in 1948 to a family with origins in Iran and Iraq. He served in
the IDF for 40 years, culminating in stints as commander of the air force and
chief of General Staff. He quit following the Winograd Report in January
In the interview, he is cautious because he is not yet a
politician. But he speaks openly about his past, the country and where it is
headed.So why do you want to be a politician?
The word “politician” has
developed a negative connotation in Israel, so that’s not the word I would use.
I have lived in Israel my entire life, and I devoted 40 years of service to
Israel. After looking at our current reality and a lot of contemplation, I
realized that it would be right for me to try to help Israel however I can,
based on my experience. There are many things that I have done to help the
country that are known, and some that are not.
Subjectively, I think I
have what to contribute. I want to be part of the decision-making that impacts
Israel’s fate. But to do that, I know I will have to pass the test of the
public. I will have to cross that river, but I have crossed scarier rivers and
the fact that we are sitting here today means I crossed them safely.Do
you think the public has forgiven you for what the Winograd Commission called
I will only know after the test. People realize now that the Second
Lebanon War improved our situation strategically against our enemies. The public
is not monolithic. There might be those who like or hate someone and some who
don’t decide their opinion until decision-time. I have accomplished a lot, and I
have made mistakes. I believe there have been more successes than mistakes. But
at the end of the day in a democratic system, I am not the one who will be
asked.Would you be a political asset for a party?
I have no idea. I
haven’t taken any polls myself. The press has and the positive numbers are going
up.Winograd Commission member Yehezkel Dror gave an interview to Israel
Radio Monday in which he said: “The fact that leaders make mistakes and don’t
take responsibility is unacceptable. A leader who fails must do the requisite
public soul searching, admit his mistakes publicly and explain to the public why
he is nevertheless worthy to continue.” Have you done that?
I don’t know
anyone in Israeli politics who implemented responsibility the way I did. I don’t
remember others who took responsibility when facing a big test. Most politicians
try to shift responsibility to others. I didn’t shift blame to anyone
else. I decided to resign from my post as IDF chief of General Staff after
compiling an organized work plan to deal with deficiencies and mistakes that
occurred in the defense system that I commanded.
I say implemented
responsibility, not took responsibility, because it’s not something you take or
shift away. It is part of your job for better or worse. Many people with key
positions see responsibility as only credit, but responsibility is also debit.
Being in charge, no matter of what, involves responsibility.There are
bereaved parents of Second Lebanon War soldiers who say they will protest
outside your press conference when you enter politics and do everything possible
to prevent your election. What do you say to them?
In a democracy, people have a
right to elect and get elected and to protest. I will never say a word to
bereaved parents beyond joining them in their pain.Do you approve of the
mass campaigns of the Schalit family?
The family must do everything possible to
work for their son’s freedom and the country must do everything possible
bringing about the freedom of its son Gilad won’t do irrevocable damage
Israel. Both sides are right. I have nothing against what the family has
done, and I would do the same as a father. But two prime ministers
national responsibility and decided [against making a deal]. You can
them. But you can’t say they are not acting according to their authority
Every moment Gilad is in Hamas captivity pains me. But the
leaders of a state have other obligations in addition to the obligation to do
everything possible to bring their citizens home. I want to let the leadership
decide. I don’t want to say what I would do, because I don’t know all the
details, so it would not be responsible and would do more harm than good. But I
would say the term that has been used, that “every price” should be paid, can
lead us to the wrong places. I say every effort not every price, because there
are other diplomatic and security considerations for a leader that don’t have to
be considered by the parents.Is Binyamin Netanyahu doing a good job as
I don’t want to answer that yet. I respect him as prime
minister, and I have know him for many years. I separate between the person and
the policy.OK, let me put it this way: Do you approve of Netanyahu’s
policies on the diplomatic issue?
I don’t think his policies are clear to me. By
saying he would agrees to another freeze if the Palestinians recognized Israel
as a Jewish state, he revealed that [whether he would freeze construction] is
just a question of price. I think Israel’s fate will not be decided in two
months of a freeze. Two prime ministers drew borders at least in a general
sense. The borders are basically known. But I don’t want to comment about
what my borders would be.Do you expect another war with Hizbullah and
would we fare better this time?
I don’t know. The Middle East is unpredictable.
The past has proven this. There is always potential for war when there is
conflict. There is no such thing as a war that goes well. War is always bad,
because there is always damage and there are always casualties. So to say it
would go better or worse depends on expectations. I don’t think casualties
should be the test. A war is tested based on what we achieved that we intended
to. I believe that every war in the Middle East will have worse results than
what preceded it, because both sides learn lessons.Has UN Resolution
1701 that ended the war proven to be a mistake in light of the rearming of
Hizbullah along the northern border?
The reality in the North changed due to the
war. Since then, we have had four and a half years of quiet in the
That is one test. I didn’t know this would happen. The stature of
Hizbullah changed in Lebanon, not necessarily for the better. It became a
political force, but it is also seen as a terrorist group that took over the
land. Looking back at Resolution 1701 through the perspective of decisions made
over Israel’s 62 years, I would say that many were not carried out as
written.Do you have any regrets?
No. It pains me that prices were
paid. We acted justifiably. I hope that if we are challenged again in the
future, we respond with full force.Is that still possible amid the
changing nature of warfare within civilian populations in an age of global media
with nonstop coverage, when public relations matter so much?
image over the past two years has not been great. This can have an impact [on
how a war is waged]. We cannot ignore the international community. It was easier
for Alexander the Great because there was no press or Internet back then. He
either came back with the head of his enemy or he didn’t. Now things are
different. There is press in real time, and the other side manipulates
In fights between democracies and those that are far from being
democracies, there is a basic asymmetry in culture and norms that make it harder
for the democracies, especially Israel with its image. For example, the same day
as the Gaza flotilla, 45 civilians were killed in Afghanistan. This got one line
in the newspapers and we got five commissions of inquiry, not because we were
more or less right but because the State of Israel is seen
What the Americans, Russians, and Chinese can do, we can’t
because they have nothing over them but God and we have 200 countries and God.
It is not just. It’s frustrating, but we have to understand that it’s reality,
so we have to do the right things to be able to act where we need to without
getting the world against us.Was the Gaza disengagement correct in
I didn’t decide to do it. I was the chief of General Staff, and the
army carried it out it in the best way an army could, in Israel or anywhere
else. I think the disengagement was right even now looking back. Operationally,
it enabled the IDF more freedom to act in Gaza. After the disengagement, I think
we should have reacted with full force to the first rocket, and we
But I was a soldier, not the decisionmaker.Would you
support further unilateral withdrawals?
Experience has proven that they are
questionable. They must be accompanied by the implementation of clear diplomatic
policies. If they are not, it erodes the goal of a unilateral step of shifting
responsibility from me to someone else. If you don’t demand that responsibility
from the first time, the impact erodes. It must be done from the first time. You
must stand up for security every time it is violated, because if you don’t, you
give the other side the chance to find cracks in your policy. But on the other
hand, security is not the only way to solve problems. It must be accompanied by
diplomacy.Is that what you think about Iran as well?
A nuclear Iran is a
threat to the world, so the world must deal with it and not Israel.Last
year, at an academic simulation about Iran and the day after it goes nuclear,
you said the following: “I am not underestimating the significance of a nuclear
Iran, but we should not give it Holocaust subtext like politicians try to do.”
You also cast doubt that the US and Israel could ever agree to cooperate on a
military strike against Iran. Would you still say such things?
I don’t think
every time there is such a threat, the model of comparing it to the Holocaust is
relevant. The US is Israel’s most important friend and the relations are not
unilateral. In any relationship, there is give and take. If you anger the other
side on one thing, it is hard to expect it to be your buddy on something else.
Only computers don’t have emotions. People are harder to deal with. The US sees
Iran correctly as a threat to the entire world.Are you implying that
Netanyahu harmed efforts to prevent the nuclearization of Iran by turning down
President Barack Obama’s request to extend the settlement freeze?
All I will say
is that leaders are people. In the balance of interests, if we want them
to think of our interests, we have to think of theirs. I don’t place the
Palestinian and Iranian issues on the same level. They have different solutions
and decisions. Based on what the Americans are saying, they understand the
Israeli view on Iran more than they did before. I don’t know whether this will
lead them to take action.Is Israel ready to act alone against Iran if
I don’t answer that question.Do you have a message to
The unity of the people of Israel is essential and ahavat hinam
[unconditional love] wouldn’t hurt. To survive, we need to be united. We don’t
always have to agree on everything, but disagreements can be articulated
politely.And to the voters in Israel?
We will talk again when I am a