As the IDF conducts a small-scale operation in Gaza, it is in the midst of a different kind of battle back at headquarters - to rehabilitate itself like the US Army after the Vietnam War.
By YAAKOV KATZ
Several months after the first intifada erupted in the Palestinian territories in 1987, Israel Prize Laureate poet Haim Gouri met with Hamas spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin at the IDF Liaison Administration offices in the Gaza Strip.
Gouri asked the wheelchair-bound Yassin how he viewed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. "Look," Yassin responded, "throughout history, there have been many empires and kingdoms; but where are they all today?"
Citing the downfall of the Romans, Persians, British, Ottoman-Turks and Nazi Germany, Yassin said he was convinced Israel would meet the same demise. "It is just a matter of time."
This meeting is described in a new book, Vatimaleh Ha'aretz Hamas ["And the world was filled with wickedness (a play on words with 'Hamas')"], written by Col. (res.) David Hacham, the defense minister's adviser on Palestinian affairs.
Prior to his current post, which he has held since 1998, Hacham headed the IDF's Arab Affairs Division in the Gaza Strip, and was a member of the Israeli negotiating team for the Oslo Accords. In these capacities, Hacham met with Yassin on many occasions - both in Gaza and in Israel, during the period the Hamas leader was imprisoned as a terrorist.
Asked by The Jerusalem Post this week to predict the outcome of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Hacham gave a gloomy forecast, recalling the "surreal meeting" between Yassin and Gouri.
"There is no doubt that we are headed toward further escalation," Hacham said. "The Kassam rocket attacks are continuing; the IDF is operating inside Gaza; and Hamas, the governing party, remains obstinate in the position it has held since the days of Yassin not to recognize Israel's right to exist."
Familiar with all past and present major Palestinian players, the senior defense official said he did not see how Fatah and Hamas could join forces to establish a unity government. "Each party will pull the other in a direction it doesn't want to go," he asserted. "Fatah will want a moderate government - one accepted by the world - and Hamas will continue to refuse to recognize Israel."
This assessment is shared by OC Southern Command Maj.-Gen. Yoav Galant, who this week launched Operation "The Right Combination" - deploying small infantry and armored contingents throughout northern Gaza, outside Beit Hanoun, Jebalya and Beit Lahiya - in an effort to curb Kassam rocket fire on the western Negev.
This week, the Security Cabinet gave the army the green light to operate against the Kassam infrastructure, though not yet to take steps against what the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), the Mossad and the IDF view as an even greater threat - the incessant smuggling of weapons from Egypt into Gaza.
The diplomatic echelon, for the moment, is opposed to a large-scale operation that would include reoccupying parts of Gaza. Not only would such an operation be expensive financially, but it would also be costly in terms of soldiers' lives. And it lacks the support of the international community, which is more interested right now in seeing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert sit down and talk with the Palestinians.
Olmert wants to give Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas time to try and establish a unity government, which could be thwarted by a large-scale military operation in Gaza. A technocratic government, some Israeli officials believe, could grant the Palestinian leader the mandate he needs to obtain a tahadiyeh (Arabic for "temporary truce") in the terror factions' war against Israel.
The cabinet's reasoning is that the combination of Low Intensity Conflict (LIC) with the Palestinians in Gaza and diplomatic moves that constitute more than mere phone calls to Abbas (one such call caused a rift between Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz, after the latter phoned the PA chairman to plead for a ceasefire) can stop the Kassams.
All this could easily change, however, were a rocket to cause the kind of disaster that would leave Olmert with no alternative but to launch a massive military operation.
One person who enjoyed a little quiet this week - ironically as a result of the deadly Kassam attacks in Sderot - was IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz. Under earlier fire to resign, Halutz was ignored for a few days while the media shifted their attention to other stories: the rift between Olmert and Peretz; Russian billionaire Arkadi Gaydamak's Sderot rescue plan; and the IDF operations in Gaza.
Halutz's respite, however, is only temporary.
At the end of the month, the remaining military committees are scheduled to submit their findings on the war in Lebanon, and Halutz will have to rule on his own future. Estimations in the IDF are that if the committees hold him responsible for the failures of the war, he will have no choice but to resign. If they don't hold him responsible, he will be able to continue in his post, and do what he says he intends to do: rehabilitate the IDF.
"Rehabilitation" and "revolution" are words often heard these days in the corridors of Tel Aviv's Kirya military headquarters. Officers have been comparing the IDF's breakdown during the Lebanon war to what happened to the US Armed Forces in Vietnam. Some field commanders are even recommending to their colleagues that they read Certain Victory - by Major General (ret.) Robert H. Scales, former commander of the US Army War College - which chronicles the US Army's remarkable regeneration in the two decades after Vietnam.
"This is what we need," said one IDF officer who has read the book. "We need a revolution and a leader who can make that happen."
Halutz is hoping that he can be that leader - the chief of staff who, on the one hand, made mistakes during the war in Lebanon, but who, on the other, was also the one who lifted the IDF out of the mud and brought it back to its previous glory.
Knowing that Northern Command chief Maj.-Gen. Udi Adam and Galilee Division Commander Brig.-Gen. Gal Hirsch will not be the last to leave the IDF as a result of the war, Halutz is determined to combine his fate with that of Olmert and Peretz, whom he believes are really responsible for what went wrong. Nor does he plan to sacrifice himself on their behalf.
In the meantime, according to several high-ranking officers, the IDF has become an uncomfortable workplace. Its mood has raised concerns that young career and non-commissioned officers will begin jumping ship and looking for other jobs in the private sector.
"Officers are backstabbing each other and even members of the General Staff are collecting evidence against their colleagues for when they appear before the committees," one officer said, describing the gloomy atmosphere.
While the second Lebanon war might be over in the military sense - soldiers are no longer fighting Hizbullah beyond our northern border - it has brought to life a whole new "battle of generals," which is far from finished.
In Plato's words: "Only the dead have seen the end of war." â€¢
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