Analysis: Halutz's job is safe - for now

Labor primaries, Winograd report will ultimately decide fate of IDF chief.

halutz 88 (photo credit: )
halutz 88
(photo credit: )
A week and a half ago, during an interview on the occasion of the annual Sherutrom telethon on Army Radio, Chief of General Staff Lt-.Gen. Dan Halutz refused to say whether he would still be in uniform when the next fund-raiser comes along in a year's time. Halutz's reticence, despite the fact that he has at least 18 months to go until the official end of his term at the army's helm, only served to fuel speculation that he will resign in the coming weeks. The completion of the final internal report on the IDF's conduct during the second Lebanon war marked the end of a long and painful process for the army, its top brass, and Halutz personally.
  • The second Lebanon war: special report It was a process he initiated, though he was well aware that he would take much of the fire generated by the 50 investigative teams, 10 of which assessed the General Staff itself. He realized, however, that it was an atonement he had to undergo if he wanted to begin to regain the confidence of his soldiers and the public as a whole. The relatively benign conclusions of the final report into the decisions taken by Halutz and his staff reflect the character of the man who compiled them, Lt.-Gen. (res.) Dan Shomron. Unlike some of the other retired generals who handed in reports, Shomron doesn't have the frustrations of an officer who failed to reach the pinnacle; he was chief of General Staff himself two decades ago and his perspective takes in the joint responsibility of the military and political leadership. As IDF commander in 1987 during the first Intifada, he was the first to say that the solution is a diplomatic one, and he won't be the man now to place the main weight of blame on one of his successors. While faulting some of Halutz's decisions, he stopped short at making any recommendations regarding him personally. Halutz knew what he was doing when he asked Shomron to head the most sensitive investigative team. Since neither Prime Minister Ehud Olmert nor Defense Minister Amir Peretz have the public credibility necessary to sack an IDF chief, Halutz has a window of opportunity of a few months. The two events that might force his hand are the interim report of the Winograd Committee, expected in two or three months, and the Labor primary at the end of May. If Winograd delivers damning findings on Halutz's conduct, he will find it extremely difficult to stay on in the face of a renewed public storm; Halutz knows his officers are waiting breathlessly for the report and his authority to command hangs to a great degree on the severity of the interim findings. If he weathers that storm, his future will be in the hands of whoever is defense minister in five months - the winner of the Labor race and almost certainly not Peretz. A new minister, especially if it's an ex-general such as Ami Ayalon, might well want to make a fresh start with a new IDF chief. Halutz has two conflicting ambitions. Despite all that has happened, he still believes he is the best person to lead the radical change and the fundamental reforms that the IDF so urgently needs. In his opinion, he learned the bitter lessons of Lebanon better than anyone else, and only the pilot can rise above the petty squabbles of the ground forces commanders to find the way out of the quagmire. On the other hand, the last thing he wants is to be humiliated by being forced out. If his fate has been sealed, he would prefer to decide the timing, announcing his resignation. He would say that he has prepared the ground for the IDF's resurrection and is now handing the reins over to a successor who will get on with the job. Still, he believes the job is his, and over the next few weeks he's going to have to figure out whether he will be allowed to hold on to it.