Security and Defense: A new burden for the next chief

The new demonstrations against Mubarak mean there’ll be another hot potato on the next chief of staff’s desk.

By
January 28, 2011 16:50
Yoav Galant

Galant with flag 311. (photo credit: IDF)

If Maj.-Gen. Yoav Galant becomes the IDF’s 20th chief of General Staff in just over two weeks, he will find a Middle East slightly different than the one his predecessor, Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, encountered when he took office four years ago.

Then, Hizbullah was still rebuilding itself from the damage inflicted upon it during the Second Lebanon War in 2006. This week, it took over Lebanon with a military force stronger than ever and with more firepower, as former Mossad chief Meir Dagan said recently, than 90 percent of the countries around the world.

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When Ashkenazi took office, negotiations with the Palestinians were moving ahead at full throttle.

Today, there is complete disconnect. In 2007, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s regime was strong and stable and the IAF was still able to train in Turkish airspace.

Today, Mubarak’s regime is threatened and the thought of the IAF returning to Turkey seems like a fairy tale.

The Middle East is shifting. Moderate regimes like Mubarak’s and Jordanian King Abdullah’s are increasingly threatened by radical Islamic elements. Turkey is continuing to align itself with Iran and Syria, and Iran this week could claim a victory with the completion of Hizbullah’s takeover of Lebanon through the legitimate political process.

FOR ISRAEL, this is something of a paradox. There is no question that the threats are looming and the challenges are growing, but there is also an unprecedented quiet throughout the country, possibly the quiet before the storm.

What will happen next is unclear.

Will Egypt follow Tunisia or will Mubarak succeed in quelling the riots? Will a Hizbullah-run Lebanon be more aggressive or more restrained? And finally, what will happen with Iran – will it succeed in developing a nuclear weapon or will the new round of diplomacy and sanctions postpone the point of no return by several more years? Galant, or whoever his replacement will be if he is denied the post due to his land scandal, will not have the traditional 100 days of grace to get used to his new position. The IDF is currently at a crossroads and major decisions need to be made.

One decision, for example, has to do with the multiyear plan that needs to be drafted by the Planning Directorate, approved by the General Staff and presented to the cabinet. Since his appointment, Galant has been working on writing the guidelines for the next multiyear plan, which includes procurement plans, new development programs and a strategic analysis of the region.

Some problems are already foreseeable.

The planned 2016 arrival of the fifth-generation stealth F-35 Joint Strike Fighter might be delayed, and the navy, which was supposed to order new missile ships last year, has yet to do so due to soaring prices.

One of the new chief’s first challenges will be in getting the cabinet to increase the IDF’s budget. Under the 2011-2012 budget, the IDF receives NIS 49.280 billion in 2011 and NIS 50.5 billion in 2012.

While it appears to be an increase, it is less than what the IDF was promised by the Brodet Committee, whose recommendations were approved by the cabinet in 2008. The budget also does not take into account the global increase in prices – for food, fuel, raw materials, etc. – for which the IDF was promised an extra budget. It hasn’t materialized, and as a result the IDF claims it is losing another NIS 3 billion.

Without a budget boost, the chief of staff will have difficulty preparing the IDF for the challenges it currently faces. The IDF’s argument is that a strong military benefits the government.

This was proven in 2001 when the economy suffered a loss of half a percent despite 8 percent growth in the previous year. The reason was the beginning of the second intifada which the country did not know how to combat or contain.

In comparison, during the Lebanon War in 2006 and Operation Cast Lead in 2009, the economy was not affected.

But that was then. According to IDF predictions, the next conflict will be nothing like the previous two, and missiles landing across the country will most definitely have an adverse effect on the economy.

As a former OC Southern Command, Galant is intimately familiar with Egypt.

The concern is that if the Muslim Brotherhood one day takes over, it will do what it says and rip up the peace treaty.

By not having to worry about Egypt, Israel has been able to focus on its front to the north – Hizbullah, Syria and Iran.

While the transformation of Egypt from friend to foe will take years if it happens at all, it will be another challenge on the desk of Ashkenazi’s successor.

ANOTHER CHALLENGE was highlighted on Sunday, when the Turkel Committee presented the first part of its report on the navy operation to stop the Turkish flotilla last May. While the report cleared Israel of wrongdoing, the flotilla threat has not disappeared and international NGOs are joining forces to launch the largest-ever flotilla in May, to coincide with the first anniversary to the Mavi Marmara.

In the first report put out by his committee, retired Supreme Court justice Jacob Turkel ignored the media side of the flotilla and the way the various PR teams – in the Foreign Ministry, the IDF and the Prime Minister’s Office – performed.

Some insight into the way the IDF viewed the flotilla was provided this week by outgoing spokesman Brig.-Gen. Avi Benayahu.

In an interview he gave the Ground Force Command’s magazine Bayabasha, Benayahu, who will leave the military on February 14 with Ashkenazi, said that flotillas are a “lose-lose situation” and that there is not much the IDF can do to prevent the diplomatic fallout. He called doing everything possible diplomatically to stop the flotilla from sailing to Gaza, but said that once it departs, it is a lost cause.

Media experts and government spokesmen who read the interview were shocked.

In an era when the country’s very existence is being drawn into question and it is facing growing international isolation and delegitimization, more should be expected from the chief IDF spokesman, they said.

It is no secret that the IDF was caught unprepared and without an adequate response to the reports that nine passengers were killed aboard the Mavi Marmara.

Instead of initiating and setting the media tone, the Israeli PR machine scrambled for damage control.

What led to the major failure was a decision to postpone by almost 12 hours the release of the videos showing the commandos being attacked. The footage was released to the media at around 4 p.m. The navy boarded the Mavi Marmara just before 4:30 a.m.

“The Foreign Ministry pushed for the footage to be released as soon as it came in,” one official who participated in the discussions said at the time. “The IDF hesitated since the footage was not complimentary for the navy commandos.”

The videos show commandos from Flotilla 13 rappelling down ropes from air force Black Hawk helicopters onto the upper deck of the ship and immediately being violently attacked by the armed mob below.

What happened after the flotilla was stopped is well known. Relations with Turkey took another dive and have yet to be repaired, there was harsh international criticism, the government had to establish the Turkel Committee and the UN established two probes of its own.

It is impossible to determine whether a release of the videos earlier in the day would have made a difference, but we will never know since for Benayahu it was a “lose-lose situation.”


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