Loose lips

The foot-in-mouth syndrome has been making the rounds within the IDF General Staff.

yair naveh 298 88 idf (photo credit: IDF [file])
yair naveh 298 88 idf
(photo credit: IDF [file])
Though concern is spreading about avian flu, the malady that seems to making the rounds within the IDF General Staff is the foot-in-mouth syndrome. In separate recent instances, Central Command chief Maj.-Gen. Yair Naveh and Deputy Chief of General Staff Maj.-Gen. Moshe Kaplinsky have questioned the stability, respectively, of the Jordanian and Egyptian governments. Naveh, speaking at a forum of diplomats and journalists sponsored by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, said "Hamas is gathering strength and a dangerous axis starting in Iran, continuing through Iraq and Jordan, is in the process of formation. ... I don't want to be a prophet but I am not sure there will be another king after King Abdullah." Also this week, Kaplinsky said, "even in Egypt we see initial signs of a possible undermining of President Mubarak's solid regime." In defense of these generals, it should be stated that neither was advocating the destabilization of the Jordanian or Egyptian governments; on the contrary, both were clearly speaking in a context of concern that such scenarios might come about, and warning against them. Both seemed to be speaking as analysts and, given the context of the Hamas victory, were well within the realm of common speculation. Both Jordan and Egypt have been concerned about the threat of Islamic fundamentalism for perhaps longer than Israeli generals have been. Moreover, Naveh has apologized to his Jordanian counterparts, and the government and IDF chief of General Staff Dan Halutz have reiterated their confidence in the Hashemite kingdom. Both Jordan and Israel seem eager to repair the damage and move on, which is itself a message of the resilience of the relationship. Yesterday, Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert expressed his regret over the incident directly to King Abdullah. The two leaders reportedly agreed to meet after and pending the results of the Israeli elections. Still, it is a shame that a general, particularly one whose command includes the Jordanian border, would gratuitously question the longevity of that kingdom. It was an undiplomatic act that at least temporarily harmed an important relationship. There is, of course, nothing new in generals making inappropriate remarks. They more often get in trouble for issuing impromptu security or diplomatic assessments that contradict government policy. According to the standard ritual, each indiscretion is followed by condemnations from the political party whose position has been slighted, while politicians from the other camp rush to defend the duty of military leaders to convey their frank assessments. In this case, the military slips of the tongue did not just reverberate internally, but internationally. This not only raises the level of impropriety, but also highlights a less noticed but probably more serious distortion in our military-civic culture: our reliance on the IDF for strategic and diplomatic analysis. The Naveh and Kaplinsky incidents should, but generally have not, raised a deeper question: Why do we look to generals for their interpretation of our geostrategic reality? Does being a general bring qualifications as an analyst of the future of Iran, of the currents of Islamic fundamentalism, or how we should interact with the Quartet? We, as a culture, seem ready to ask our generals about everything but their ostensible expertise - how to defeat the enemy on the battlefield. Granted, defeating the enemy in this day and age has a tremendous political-diplomatic component. Many have pointed out, with much justification, that the struggle between Israelis and Palestinians will be determined more in the realm of ideas - of hearts and minds - than through the barrel of a gun. But the fact that this challenge goes beyond strict military considerations does not mean that we should look to our generals for non-military advice. Just after the Hamas victory in the elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council, the government hid behind IDF recommendations when it released PA tax funds, and then again when it more recently decided to cut off these funds. Both decisions legitimately required military advice, but were fundamentally non-military decisions. Our political leadership relies too heavily on the security apparatus for strategic analysis. It is the job of the political echelon to synthesize the advice from the military, diplomatic, and intelligence spheres and apply its own expertise, and then bear the responsibility and the consequences. And the military brass should know when to speak out, to whom, and where.