Drawing conclusions

Should officers who fail be forced to resign or encouraged to learn from their mistakes?

halutz fadc tough 298.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
halutz fadc tough 298.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz "is now going through a very difficult time and I feel his pain," said Maj. Gen. (Res.) Doron Almog in an interview in Ma'ariv on Thursday. "We were friends and we are still friends. I feel empathy for him - but professionally and as a commander, he made mistakes." Almog, who produced the scathing IDF report that prompted Brig.-Gen. Gal Hirsh to resign, was expressing the combination of admiration and concern that many Israelis feel toward the IDF leadership at this time. Almog advised Hirsh to resign because he gave orders that were not carried out, and this resulted in the kidnapping that precipitated the recent war. In Almog's view, officers need to take personal responsibility for major mistakes made under their command. The dilemma, however, Almog went on, is whether officers who fail should "be told 'you failed so badly that you cannot continue,' or that 'it is important that you continue to lead, because today you are more experienced.' In my opinion," Almog noted, "the best learning is done by those who have had experience." Halutz is definitely more experienced now. But as Almog also noted, "as in every large system, what is needed now is leadership, personal example, goals, a work plan - and to get back to work as fast as possible." Most importantly, there is the need to sift through, commander by commander, and decide who has the potential to build on experience, who must go, and how to deliver the best from what is already among the best armies in the world. However talented Halutz is, however illustrious his career, however motivated he now is to clear his name, and however much he has now learned from bitter experience, it is hard to see how he can carry out the urgent task of preparing for the next war. To this, Halutz might understandably respond, "Why should I go? What about Defense Minister Amir Peretz and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who took all the key decisions and do not nearly share my qualifications to ensure the safety of the nation going forward?" Indeed, many will probably ask this question if Halutz resigns, as he reportedly may in some weeks - depending on the results of pending investigations into the conduct of the war. Perhaps these investigations will, in the end, shift much of the blame to the political echelon. Even so, it is already clear that there are many lessons for the IDF to learn, some of which, to Halutz's credit, are already being acted upon. That others share the blame, and that some steps are being taken, however, is not enough. We just fought a war that, for all its successes - and there were successes that should not be forgotten - has emboldened our enemies. Hizbullah is rearming, and Hamas is copying Hizbullah in Gaza. And all of this is against the background of the growing threat from Iran. This is not a time when limping along is good enough. It could well be that much of what needs to be fixed in the IDF, and many of the bad decisions made, were inherited by or imposed on Halutz. But the question is not just one of fairness, or who is most to blame, but what needs to happen to enable the IDF to function as effectively as possible and as soon as possible, and to restore popular and internal confidence in the IDF leadership. For Halutz, it seems, the writing is already on the wall. It would be nice if we, as a country, had the luxury of months and years to bring the IDF up to snuff. We do not, and Halutz would do well not to take up more of the precious weeks that his successor will need as he begins the work of recovery in earnest. Dan Halutz is a talented patriot and proud soldier. He no doubt would have much to contribute if he stayed on. But to step aside now would be the greatest contribution he could make to facilitating the necessary overhauls within the IDF, to restoring its internal confidence and external faith in it, and to enabling Israel to gear up as rapidly as possible to counter the intensifying threats it faces.