Analysis: A second chance for generals

The IDF decision not to dismiss division commanders was unavoidable.

November 1, 2006 00:27
3 minute read.
Analysis: A second chance for generals

gal hirsch 88. (photo credit: )


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The General Staff decision this week not to dismiss any of the four division commanders who directed the ground battle in the Lebanon War - and appoint two of them to new, prestigious posts - was unavoidable. Naturally, it caused a furor in the Knesset and the media, who immediately began quoting unnamed, critical "senior officers."

  • The second Lebanon war: special report But it's impossible to imagine Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz and his senior team deciding otherwise, especially since Halutz has steadfastly refused to take responsibility himself and even consider resigning. Each of the division commanders had his fair share of the blame - missed objectives, uncoordination between their different units, unclear orders and disrupted chains of command - and the various debriefing teams inspecting each division have their hands full. But the interim reports make one thing clear: while there were individual episodes of glory and heroism, and a few units performed outstandingly, the four divisions as a whole fell short of the army's expectations. The IDF's leading spearhead proved an across-the-board mediocrity. Singling out any or all of the division commanders for punishment would have been unfair when those directing the overall picture - Halutz, his deputy Moshe Kaplinsky and new OC Northern Command Gadi Eizencott, head of the operations branch during the war - are carrying on as before. The emerging picture as more and more is published about the war's management at every level is one of a total system failure, not just that of a few components. But the message going out from the very top is that, while lessons should be drawn, we mustn't allow ourselves to be dragged into a ruinous blame game. That was Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz's policy, and they aren't about to resign their posts despite obvious mistakes and miscalculations in the decision-making process. So why should anyone else? In the angry weeks after the cease-fire, there was a lynch atmosphere. Everyone was convinced that, very shortly, senior heads would roll. Two and a half months later, Avigdor Lieberman has joined the government, ensuring Olmert and Peretz's political survival - at least for a few more months - and, in a new spirit of understanding and forgiveness, everyone from the politicians to the officers is getting a second chance. The only exception to this rule might be commanders directly linked to severe mishaps, such as the missile attack on the INS Hanit off the coast of Beirut. Of course, there is also a rather perverse logic behind this decision. Most of the current generation of division commanders, the IDF's senior officers in the field, missed the first Lebanon war and have no real experience of fighting in large formations against a fierce, well-equipped enemy. Now that four of them have that kind of experience, the army should have better use for them than putting them out to dry. Brig.-Gens. Gal Hirsch, Guy Tzur, Erez Zuckerman and Eyal Eizenberg didn't pass this summer's test with flying colors, but by merit of their failures they are invaluable now. That's why Hirsch, perhaps the most reviled of all the army's officers during the war, will move to the prestigious post of head of the Planning Branch's Strategic Division and Tzur - who was criticized for losing control of his armored brigades, which took a hammering from Hizbullah missiles - will command the IDF's main training base in the Negev. Both will be in a position to afford their experience to the entire fighting force. As for Zuckerman and Eizenberg, who commanded reserve divisions, they will remain in their posts for the time being. Both were successful brigade commanders with a future on the General Staff, but now they're tainted. Another year in the same job should allow them to repair at least some of the damage and get back into the promotion race. "Sources" close to Amir Peretz were quick to promise that the minister wasn't prepared to be the General Staff's "rubber stamp," and that he would look closely into each of the appointments. This is an ineffectual flexing of underdeveloped muscles. Peretz is the last person who can allow himself to start dismissing officers involved in the war. He also received an undeserved second chance.

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