"Every Jewish mother should know that she has entrusted the life of her son in the hands of worthy commanders.”
This famous quote was uttered by David Ben-Gurion in July 1963, just days after he had stepped down as Israel’s prime minister. It was part of what became known as the “Farewell Address,” a speech Israel’s founding father gave as he bid farewell to the IDF’s top brass.
It is an adage that can be found throughout IDF bases, engraved on walls and buildings. In the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv, it appears on the 14th floor in gold letters on the wall behind where the chief of staff sits when he convenes his top generals.
It would be interesting to hear Ben-Gurion’s take on what is happening today in Israel. What would he think of the state he established nearly 70 years ago? After learning of the ongoing police investigation into the submarine deal – also known as Case 3000 – would he still stand behind what he said 54 years ago?
Are Jewish mothers really entrusting their sons into the hands of worthy commanders? Or would the arrests of the former head of the navy, the former commander of Shayetet 13, and the former deputy head of the National Security Council change Ben-Gurion’s mind? Would he stand by the iconic quote?
Over the years, Israelis have grown accustomed to seeing their politicians come and go through courts, interrogation rooms and prison cells. Ehud Olmert, Moshe Katsav and Arye Deri are just some of the more recent examples. Getting used to this sad reality has created low expectations among Israelis that ensure little chance for disappointment.
However, the IDF was meant to be, and has always been portrayed as, Israel’s modern version of the ancient “Holy of Holies.” It was supposed to be a place where this type of culture did not exist. Yes, there was the occasional rotten weed like Elor Azaria, who recently started his 18-month sentence for manslaughter, but they were immediately uprooted, punished and removed from service.
When it came to financial corruption, the only big case was of Rami Dotan, the former air force brigadier-general convicted of a long list of corruption charges in 1991. Besides Dotan, the cases were few and minor.
The hedonistic culture that seemed to have overtaken the political system in recent years appeared to have failed to penetrate the military. There, at least we all thought, the system was pure, the decisions were objective, and the considerations were interest free.
Based on what is happening in the ongoing investigation into the submarine deal, that might not be the case. The arrest of reserve admiral Eliezer Marom, V.-Adm. (res.) Avriel Bar-Yosef and Brig.-Gen. (res.) Rami Brosh – all for allegedly taking bribes – brings into question all of the decisions these three men took as commanders. What motivated them? What was the real reason they chose one course of action over another?
The mere suspicion that the submarine sale was tainted with corruption is a stain on the country. Submarines are not just Israel’s most expensive military platform, but also its most strategic one. Israel’s Dolphin-class submarines reportedly serve as the Jewish state’s second- strike capability, meaning that even if the homeland were attacked by nuclear weapons, the subs would still reportedly be able to retaliate with nuclear-tipped cruise missiles of their own.
For now, the investigation will have short-term as well as long-term ramifications. In the short-term, the IDF will need to ensure that safeguards are put in place to prevent possible acts of corruption in the future. This could mean a closer review of senior officers’ decisions as well as their financial records. It could also mean the appointment of comptrollers and auditors throughout the military’s different branches who will have access to all nonoperational decisions to ensure transparency, accountability and honesty.
In the longer term, this could impact Israel’s ability to sign arms deals overseas. Israel has built up one of the most technologically advanced militaries in the world, and is known for its sophisticated weaponry – especially drones, armor, intelligence systems and cyber weapons.
If because of Case 3000 Germany now decides to freeze the sale of three submarines to replace the first three received in the 1990s, the decision will resonate throughout the world. Israel will have difficulty closing other strategic arms deals, and the entire defense industry – which in recent years reached about $6.5 billion in annual sales – will be in jeopardy.
What, for example, will the Indians think the next time the Defense Ministry comes to New Delhi to close a billion-dollar deal? What will the Pentagon do the next time Israel asks for a boost in aid for the Arrow or Iron Dome missile defense systems? The submarine scandal doesn’t just make mothers question whether commanders are worthy of their sons; it tarnishes the reputation of the entire defense establishment.
IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot should take advantage of the ongoing investigation to clean house. Now is a perfect opportunity to review protocols, and tighten existing measures and restrictions meant to prevent corruption within the IDF and the Defense Ministry. For now, that is the least that can be done.
While this investigation is far from over, the political establishment in the meantime remains on edge. While Netanyahu is not a suspect in the submarine case – Attorney- General Avichai Mandelblit said so earlier this year – the other investigations against him, especially the graft probe, are gaining momentum.
The recent interrogation of movie mogul Arnon Milchan in London, and the alleged discovery by police that there might have been quid pro quo for the cigars, champagne and other gifts he gave the prime minister, has turned this into a case of possible bribery. This is far worse than originally imagined.
What will Netanyahu do? On the one hand, elections are not scheduled for another two years, and there does not seem to be an interest by any of the coalition partners to bring down the government. Bayit Yehudi’s constituents are focused on right-wing political issues. The question of whether Netanyahu is corrupt is not at the top of their concerns. The haredim are enjoying the financial benefits of being in this government, and Moshe Kahlon doesn’t have a single accomplishment to show after two years as finance minister.
Privately, Netanyahu projects confidence. He claims that his government will last its full term, and that if he so desires, the coalition would pass another budget at the end of 2018 that would mean continued government stability.
Ministers who have met with him recently claim that nothing has changed.
“Netanyahu is the same and is focused on what is important,” one senior Likud minister told me. “The investigations take up time, but they don’t influence his work on the issues that are really important.”
Even if that is true, Netanyahu might decide – should he get the impression that Mandelblit is set to indict him – to go to early elections and receive a renewed mandate from the public, to show the attorney-general that the people stand behind him.
Either way, he is already in full campaign mode. His tough talk on Iran and Syria, his visits to West Bank settlements, his sudden interest in the African migrant crisis in south Tel Aviv – including two visits there in the span of three days – as well as his constant and exaggerated attacks against the media, are all a preview of what the Likud’s next campaign will look like.
The Likud will say something along the lines of the following: Netanyahu is needed to keep Israel safe from Iran and Syria, to keep the African migrants out of south Tel Aviv, and to get the truth out about Israel despite the so-called left-wing media.
His visits to Judea and Samaria are aimed at bolstering his strength among his base constituents. Since he returned to the Prime Minister’s Office in 2009, Netanyahu has, for the most part, stayed away from the West Bank. But in recent months, he has crossed the Green Line numerous times. Last week, he was at the 50th anniversary celebrations in Samaria. A few weeks before that, he participated in a cornerstone-laying ceremony in Betar Illit.
As for his next steps, Netanyahu keeps his cards close to his chest. Nevertheless, government officials who feel that the end of this government might be approaching are moving up plans that are important for them, to finalize before they potentially leave office. A number of officials, in several ministries, told me this week that they are under the impression that the end is near. Their prediction: elections will be held sometime in the first half of 2018.
Time will tell if they are right or are simply reacting to the investigations. In the end, Netanyahu will ultimately decide what happens next. But as he knows from 30 years in Israeli politics, sometimes the unpredictable happens.
Sometimes, when the entire political system gets wound up, it springs into action when least expected.