Military Maneuvering

The military plays an inordinately salient role in Israeli society – do these generals know that?

Benny Gantz 521 (photo credit: ARIEL JEROZOLIMSKI)
Benny Gantz 521
(photo credit: ARIEL JEROZOLIMSKI)
IF ALL GOES AS PLANNED, AND IF the vetting commission headed by retired Supreme Court Justice Yaakov Turkel agrees, and if the cabinet issues a final approval, Maj. Gen. Benny Gantz will be the IDF’s next Chief of the General Staff and will replace Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi on February 14.
It’s likely that Gantz will be approved yet there’s a reason for all these if’s: Despite the growing instability in the Middle East and thepotential threats to Israel from the south, east and north, Israel’s military establishment has been much busier with infighting, ego battles and power struggles than it has with really thinking about who should be responsible for planning for our security, leading our children into battle, and thinking about war and peace.
Gantz is the second candidate named by Defense Minister Ehud Barak in the past six months. The process has been long and ugly.
In the summer, Barak made it clear that he would not extend the term of current Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi. To most of us, it seemed as though Ashkenazi was doing a good job, had implemented important structural changes in the IDF, had set a high standard for personal ethical behavior, and still had more to give. But Barak and Ashkenazi hate each other – and so Barak was determined not only to prevent Ashkenazi (a potential political rival in the nottoo- distant future) from exending his term, but to humiliate him as well.
Barak chose Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant as the incoming top officer. Media investigations had already revealed that Galant had allegedly seized public land to build for himself what appears to be, at least from the aerial views widely published in the press, an ostentatious estate. Barak did not seem to care about this “minor” issue related to the legalities of due process – but the Green Movement party did care, and petitioned the High Court of Justice against the appointment.
Galant had been hastily approved by the Turkel Commission, but given the brouhaha, was called to give testimony before the State Comptroller, who released a report citing grave reservations about the appointment. In early February, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein informed Barak and Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu that the state could not in good faith represent Galant in court against the Green Movement party.
Barak still tried to have Galant appointed in various back-channel ways, but Netanyahu forced his hand and he backed down. Did this put an end to the sordid story? No, because Barak wasn’t about to forget his feud with Ashkenazi. He decided to appoint an interim Chief of Staff until he could find a new candidate, rather than extend Ashkenazi’s term. But Israeli law has no provision for an interim candidate – and so Gantz, one of the original contenders for the position, has been brought back to the slate.
Galant didn’t go down with out a fight. In repeated media interviews, he attacked the media (yes, the same media that was interviewing him), the politicians, and the character of Israeli society, complaining that he had been framed, was the victim of character assassination, and had been judged in a kangaroo court.
And let’s not forget what is referred to as the “Galant Affair.” In an attempt to discredit Galant, a forged document was leaked, apparently by military brass who wanted someone else to get the post, to television’s Channel 2.
The document was supposed to prove that Galant had launched a nasty PR campaign against his competitors. That whole affair is still under investigation by the Attorney General.
According to the usual military pundits, Gantz seems like a fine man for the job. He is the child of Holocaust survivors. He was deputy chief of staff until he retired after Galant was selected over him back in the summer. We have little idea of what his thoughts are about Lebanon, or Iran, or the situation in Egypt – or, for that matter on military ethics, military-civil relations, and the role of Israel’s army in Israel’s fragmented and contentious society with its impending anti-democratic trends.
But these are issues for the politicians, not the military. And anyway, whatever he thinks of these issues, it is clear that Gantz’s first task must be to restore morale to the IDF and to restore a semblance of public trust in the IDF.
Gantz, the pundits assure me, has extensive military experience. And, so, I am assured. But I’m also worried. I worry about military leaders who have spent much of their lives observing discipline, have lived in obedience barracks for decades and have learned to willingly accept hierarchies. Those are, of course, important qualities for an army. But have these military leaders also learned to speak truth to power? Can they appreciate diversity? Do they have experience in original thinking? In teamwork? Do they know how to be both humble and daring? The military plays an inordinately salient role in Israeli society – do these generals know that? Do they understand that this means that they have the responsibility to be models of both civil ethics and military prowess? Do they understand that a nation’s strength is not only measured by the number of tanks it has, but by its own moral and social fiber? Obviously, neither Galant, nor Barak, understand this. They have both been too busy pursuing their own petty skirmishes to worry about the real battles that Israel faces, on its borders and on its home fronts.
And yet, as I fight down a sense of disgust and dread, I realize that we, the Israeli public, we have won a victory. Our battle was fought with (all too rare) investigative journalism, civil society groups, the state comptroller and the Supreme Court.
This is a victory for public oversight and checks and balances over political expediency and arrogant disregard for the public good. It’s only one battle, but it’s an important one in the struggle for the society we all want to live in.