unmanned AFV 298.88.
(photo credit: Tsafrir Abayov)
On Friday The Jerusalem Post led its front page with a story which should have sent shivers down all our spines - not because it reported any disaster but because it exposed the symptoms of a potential, if not inevitable disaster.
AFV left unguarded on Gaza border
Right on the border with Gaza - hardly a peaceful demarcation line - Post correspondent Anshel Pfeffer discovered no less than 17 armored combat vehicles left unattended, with quantities of ammunition and electronic equipment. Our reporter actually started one of the vehicles and began driving it. No guard so much as inquired about the movement.
The sad fact of the matter is that this incident is hardly unique, though its venue in an active hostility zone is particularly scandalous. Last Monday Channel 10 filmed two armored vehicles ostensibly abandoned on the way up to the Golan Heights.
Last week a soldier was sentenced to a year's imprisonment for not preventing the biggest arms heist ever last January from an army base near Hatzor. He was privy to complete details of the entire scheme but didn't report them, so as "not to get involved." The inquiry into that incident revealed insufferable negligence at some IDF bases and encampments.
The bottom line is that the Hatzor arms stockroom was left unguarded for most hours of the day, every day. The purloined weaponry had since made its way to the underworld as well as to terrorists.
The vehicles abandoned literally steps away from Gaza could have just as easily fallen into enemy hands. Something is clearly very wrong here. It should especially deprive us of sleep after this summer's fighting in Lebanon demonstrated the calamitous consequences to which seemingly small operational failures can lead. Logistical laxity cost lives and severely damaged Israel's deterrence.
The popular outcry against demands for full judicial inquiry was that it was motivated by the vengeful desire to "see heads roll," rather than by the need to fix what went amiss. But if those who owe us accountability - both in the civilian and military upper echelons - were quick to repair often glaring shortcomings evinced by too many IDF components, then there should not have been 17 armored vehicles within enemy grasp on Gaza's outskirts - especially not after what we've just been through in Lebanon.
If ever there were an argument for demanding personal accountability of all ranks involved -from highest to lowest - in any incident regardless of its gravity, then the 17 unwatched vehicles on the frontlines of a war zone provide it amply. They are touchstones.
Chief of General Staff Dan Halutz appointed one of his predecessors, Dan Shomron, to investigate what went wrong in Lebanon. Besides the ethical question of Halutz appointing his own investigator, Shomron was quick to let his appointer off the accountability hook by asserting that his "brief isn't to find culprits but to examine processes." This may sound good, save for the fact that processes are triggered by individuals.
There may be no way of getting rid of mediocrity without ridding the IDF of its mediocre, complacent career officers. The army is no place for compassionate lenience, because leaving the wrong personnel in the wrong positions must undermine the residue of discipline in what was never a properly disciplined military structure. Without a deep sense of personal responsibility we are all in very real danger.
We see too many officers investing too much of their energy in shirking responsibility and pinning it on others. If the IDF exonerates ineptitude and patchy performance, there will be no deterrence to persist in pernicious patterns of incompetence and no incentive for improvement.
It would be one thing if, shocked by the revelations produced by the recent war, the existing IDF hierarchy was busy cleaning up incidents of sloppiness, negligence, and inefficiency. This, indeed, might be the best outcome. But if, as our report indicates, this is not happening, then it is the IDF itself that is proving the case of those who argue that senior officers must be replaced for the message to sink in that change is necessary. One way or the other, we must absorb and act upon the lessons of the previous war, or pay an even higher price in the future.