Analysis: Unworthy of command?

Attention to personal fortune symbol of arrogance which led to war's failures.

By ANSHEL PFEFFER
August 16, 2006 02:14

 
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Despite severe criticism of the management of the second Lebanon war, IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz had been expected to survive with his career intact. Some generals were expected to pay with their heads for a campaign that ended with 118 soldiers dead and failed to achieve any of its original goals, but not Halutz. He was an inseparable part of the trio - together with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz - that directed the war, and was effectively untouchable. All three knew that their political survival was linked, and therefore they resolutely backed each other when things weren't going according to plan. But now that Halutz's priorities have been revealed for all the nation to see by the report in Maariv on the liquidation of his stock portfolio hours after the war erupted, there is nothing Olmert and Peretz can do to save him. Halutz will now become the focus for all the growing public anger over the sacrifice of so many lives and resources for so little gained. His selfish attention to his personal fortune will be seen as a symbol of the incompetence and arrogance that many believe were at the root of this war's failures. When Halutz took up the post of chief of staff on June 1, 2005, he thought he would be able to bring a new fresh perspective to leading the IDF. As the former head of the fabled Israel Air Force, Halutz believed he could lead the IDF into the new century by developing new gadgets and advanced weaponry. Wars, he said, could be won from the air. Tanks, APCs and ground troops were becoming obsolete, his thinking went, and wars would be fought mostly from above, with infantry playing a secondary role. But as the war in Lebanon proved this past month, that school of thought was wrong. An enemy like Hizbullah cannot be defeated from the air, even after 7,000 IAF air strikes. In the end, the IDF was left with no choice but to send ground forces deep into Lebanon to weed out Hizbullah's infrastructure. The air raids were simply not enough. Last week, with the operation moving slowly and without major achievements, Halutz decided to postpone the appointment of his former deputy from his days in the air force - Brig.-Gen. Ido Nehushtan - as the new head of the IDF Planning Directorate. The appointment of another pilot to the General Staff would not go over well, Halutz was told, at a time when the media was busy speculating that his total lack of experience on the battlefield was the cause for the slow progress in the war. "Halutz never sat in a tank," a member of the General Staff said in the early days of the war. "How can he be expected to lead a war on the ground?" His career as a pilot wasn't the only detail that set Halutz apart from previous army chiefs. He was handpicked by prime minister Ariel Sharon to replace the deposed Moshe Ya'alon and lead the disengagement from Gush Katif and Northern Samaria. Halutz was seen as Sharon's protege and many believed that after his term as chief, the next stage would be the political scene, perhaps even as Sharon's successor. But the plans went awry and Halutz found himself serving under the inexperienced Peretz and Olmert. At the ceremony marking the handing-over of the Defense Ministry from Shaul Mofaz to Peretz, Halutz seemed to be acting as the benevolent patron of the green Peretz. Ever since, he has been acting as the nation's responsible grown-up, making three times more media appearances than Peretz and Olmert, especially since the war broke out. It seemed at times as if they were working for him, instead of being his democratically elected masters. But when Halutz needed to evade responsibility, he was quick to remind everyone that the army only carries out the government's orders. Halutz, senior officers said, tried pinning the blame for the operation's failure on OC Northern Command Udi Adam. With the appointment of Deputy Chief of General Staff Maj.-Gen. Moshe Kaplinsky as his personal representative in the North, Halutz sent a message to the public that he was dissatisfied with Adam's management of the war. Adam, officers said, was being set up to take the fall for Halutz and the rest of the General Staff. But Halutz wasn't only scapegoating his colleagues. Sources close to him have been briefing reporters for weeks about the restrictions placed on him by the government that caused setbacks in the fighting. He also tried to latch on to public dissatisfaction with the media and place part of the blame on critical journalists. On Monday, Halutz sent his first letter to the IDF's officer corps since the beginning of the war. He chose to dedicate it to the dangers of talking with reporters without authorization from the IDF Spokesman. A few hours later, he found out just how dangerous the press really is. Halutz's actions are not deemed criminal. This was not insider trading in stocks and shares. His crime is of a totally different order and it falls within the jurisdiction of a much wider court. Halutz's main excuse on Tuesday morning was that his private finances are his own business. By saying that he only proved that he totally misunderstood the job he's had for the last 14 months. The Chief of Staff of the Israel Defense Forces is not the CEO of the army, and neither is he the commander in chief. He is the man ultimately responsible for the lives of each and every one of the soldiers and officers under his command and he is entrusted with ensuring Israel's physical survival, not only during his tenure but also into the future. In a country still facing existential danger, now and in the foreseeable future, this is a sacred trust. By placing that phone call to his broker, three hours after the capture of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev and the deaths of eight other soldiers, Halutz betrayed that sacred trust. Halutz has given most of his life to the State of Israel. He is considered an outstanding pilot and commander and a man of unwavering principle. But the stock affair has placed a question mark over Halutz and the command of David Ben-Gurion, "Each Jewish mother should know that she has entrusted the lives of her sons to the hand of commanders worthy of that trust." This maxim is on the wall of every dining hall on every IDF base. It is also written in golden letters on the wall behind Halutz's chair in the General Staff conference room. Halutz is not the most corrupt general ever to lead the IDF. There have been worse examples, not least Moshe Dayan, who used IAF helicopters to ferry stolen antiques destined for his personal collection. But Dayan and other chiefs of staff after him were never as removed from the typical fighting-man as Halutz is. Tuesday's revelation proved the accuracy of the image of Halutz fostered by popular satire shows: that of the haughty, know-it-all pilot wearing a never-ending series of "distance" sun-glasses and issuing orders to all and sundry. The criticism of Halutz from unnamed IDF sources that he mishandled the war because he "sees everything from thirty-thousand feet" suddenly took on a new meaning. Halutz really felt that rules pertaining to lesser mortals held no relevance for him. After the Six Day War, IDF officers were regarded as all-powerful demigods, until that hubris led to the terrible disaster of Yom Kippur. Since then a new generation of more realistic and humbler officers have taken over the army. Halutz, though, turned out to be a throwback to that previous age, when combat pilots were princes in the image of the cocksure Ezer Weizman. Officers in the Northern Command were shocked on Tuesday by the news of what Halutz was doing at the exact moment that they were fueling tanks and APCs and preparing soldiers for the fierce battles to come. To think that the man who was supposed to be busy worrying about the loss of life expected in the war was more concerned about his personal financial loss and gain. On Tuesday, Halutz praised the public for its quick mobilization for the war. Reservists dropped everything and headed up north to defend Israel. Commanders spoke of 100 percent turnout. But how can a man like Halutz, who was worrying about his NIS 120,000 while soldiers were dying, relate in any way to reservists who left their businesses and families behind to march into Lebanon, with incomplete and outdated equipment and 40 kilo loads on their backs? How can he ever look in the eyes of the parents, spouses and children of the fallen?

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