Halutz salutes 298.88.
(photo credit: AP)
The resignation of an IDF chief of staff, particularly when it ends a career as illustrious as that of Dan Halutz, is never a happy occasion. Under the circumstances, however, it is good that it happened, and Halutz is to be praised for taking this crucial step.
This newspaper has for some time noted that the paramount question is whether our top officer is capable of reforming and restoring the confidence of the IDF - in its own eyes and in those of the public. Even under normal circumstances - and the current situation is anything but - this nation cannot afford the perception that the IDF leadership is not up to the task of providing the best defense possible to its citizens.
Our fear, expressed in this column, has been that Halutz, regardless of his substantial skills, no longer retained the respect and authority necessary to implement the post-war reform program that he worked to devise. Indeed, Halutz resigned just after completing the IDF's work plan for 2007, which does reflect many lessons learned from last summer's Lebanon war.
Former chief of General Staff Dan Shomron, who led the most comprehensive internal IDF investigation of the war, raised eyebrows by not reaching any "personal conclusions" regarding the role of particular generals. Yesterday, however, he told the Knesset that the war was waged "without any clear goal," and that this conclusion should speak for itself.
Next month, the Winograd Commission is scheduled to issue its findings. It is critical that this report, unlike the IDF's investigation and the Agranat Commission that investigated the 1973 war, be openly presented to the public. While it is natural and necessary that portions of the report remain classified, part of the process of restoring public confidence is to present a full, professional, and independent assessment of the conduct of the top military and political echelons. If the public is not told what went wrong, it will have little confidence that the problems are being fixed.
One way or another, the public will soon have a better picture of what happened during those 33 days last summer. Citizen Halutz will no doubt have much to say in his own defense, and this is unlikely to be complimentary to the elected civilian leadership to which he was responsible. It will be impossible for this leadership to escape the questions that faced Halutz, namely what responsibility it must take for its conduct and whether it is fit to fix the problems that the war revealed.
The most immediate task our leadership faces, however, is to appoint Halutz's replacement. While we are not in a position to assess the relative military qualifications of the various candidates among the current and former General Staff, this much can be said: The choice should be someone who is not tainted by the perception that he will be personally distracted by or implicated in the investigation of the war.
This is particularly true since those appointing him, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz, remain under the cloud of post-war investigations themselves. Justifiably or not, the appointment of any general who is under a similar cloud will be perceived as an attempt to find an IDF chief who is "in the same boat" as his higher-ups. Such suspicions would immediately undermine the new IDF leader, as well as further reduce public confidence in the civilian level.
As more information emerges about the war, there will likely be more disturbing revelations. There will also be, for those who pay attention, much reason for pride in the bravery, prowess and professionalism of what remains among our most admired institutions, the IDF.
One source of this admiration is the IDF's record of learning from mistakes and total commitment to the job of safeguarding the nation. We hope that our elected leadership will choose as chief of General Staff the candidate who is best able not only to restore confidence, but to build on this strong tradition and ensure that our nation is readier than ever to meet any eventuality.