halutz fists 298 AJ.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Five and a half weeks after the war's end, Dan Halutz finally gets down to giving his version of events. At least when it comes to his media offensive, the IDF's chief of General Staff has perfect timing.
The briefing to military correspondents Wednesday afternoon, followed by his first post-war television interview on Channel 1, will dominate the Thursday newspapers. After that its already the long Rosh Hashana weekend, and none of Halutz's opponents will dare shoot back at him during the festival.
Halutz admits he thought about quitting
Over the past month, Halutz closed his cockpit canopy and just waited while almost everything was thrown at him. He was accused of mismanagement of the war, of his basic unsuitability for the job, of being aloof and not giving the necessary backing to his officers in the field. And if that wasn't enough, there was his personal probity that was questioned when Ma'ariv revealed the awful timing of the liquidation of his investment portfolio.
Everyone lined up to tear a strip off Halutz - his predecessor, unnamed generals within the army, right-wing politicians still angry at him for carrying out the disengagement plan, and leftwingers who wouldn't forget his flippant remarks about bombing Palestinian targets. He faced angry ex-generals in two tempestuous meetings that immediately leaked to the press, and he took it all stoically. His silence now seems to have paid off.
All the ammunition against him has been spent, the nascent protest movement of reservists and bereaved families seems to have run out of steam, and Halutz is talking once again.
His message to the media and to the public has been carefully crafted: He is the responsible grown-up whose job is pick up the pieces after the children have finished bickering, and make sure the IDF will be ready to fight another day. That's why Halutz is presenting the post of chief of General Staff not as the most coveted job in the country but as a heavy and onerous responsibility.
"I have decided to bear the burden and continue, the easy thing is to go," he solemnly told his interviewers. And of course the subtext here is pointed at OC Northern Command Maj.-Gen. Udi Adam who preferred to resign, setting the required example for Halutz, many believe.
But Halutz prefers to continue nobly suffering and shouldering the load for the rest of us. Of course, he stressed, "We're going together," referring to his loyal colleagues on General Staff, denying all reports of infighting.
The image Halutz is projecting now is of a humble man, willing to take all the criticism and learn his lessons. But throughout the interview, he didn't really give any ground and admit to any mistakes, despite acknowledging that mistakes were obviously made. Halutz's line of defense in any future commission of enquiry is clear: The only misjudgment he was prepared to disclose was the delay in calling up the reserves. But even that came with a qualification: No one realized at the beginning that the war would drag on for so long. And anyway, he added, there was also the opposite argument that calling up the reserves and not using them also carries a cost.
Halutz was also extremely loyal to his soldiers and officers, rebutting charges that senior commanders had become addicted to their plasma screens, preferring to direct the fighting from their headquarters instead of joining the forces out in the field. But on the other hand, he promised that all the lessons would be drawn, issuing the veiled threat that everything would be examined, including where each commander was during the war and whether he should have been there.
Halutz resolutely refused to give names or specifics, but the threat was there. The one failure he did mention was the fact that not all the intelligence had been made available to the fighting forces, which means that the culprits in IDF Intelligence have been found and they know it.
Halutz was also fully supportive of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, complimenting his widespread experience and saying, when asked about their disagreements, that "the decision maker has additional considerations that I might not be aware of." He was also adamant that his relationship, "to the best of my knowledge," with Defense Minister Amir Peretz was fine. On that front he can still be calm: The survival pact among the triumvirate that managed the war is still intact.
Halutz is playing for time. He has managed to survive the war's aftermath and now that we've reached the festival period, he can hope for a few weeks of peace.
The last soldiers still in Lebanon will come home next week and hopefully the deal for the release of Gilad Shalit will be finalized. Halutz will use this interim period to rebuild his image as a figure of consensus and shore up his support within the army, politics and the public.
He'll need all the help he can get after Sukkot, when the Winograd Committee and the other investigating teams will get down to business and the accusations will start flying again.