The Halutz lesson

What his departure may mean for Israel's political culture.

Halutz salutes 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
Halutz salutes 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
January 17, 2007, the day Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz tendered his resignation, will be remembered as a sad yet important day. Sad for Halutz the man, but important for the lesson he demonstrated. For here we witnessed a senior figure being accountable and terminating his position. Former chief of General Staff Dan Shomron, who has investigated the second Lebanon War, said it was managed with no direction or guidance. Shomron did not demand personal accountability of Halutz, and even suggested that he could dedicate himself to the IDF's rehabilitation. Incidentally, Shomron's complete report was never published - but Halutz apparently drew the right conclusions. This is not the first time an IDF chief of staff has been forced to resign. Lt.-Gen. David Elazar quit after the Yom Kippur War, and Lt.-Gen. Rafael Eitan quit after the 1982 Lebanon War. In both cases they were forced to retire after national inquiry commissions tied them to their wars' failures. Elazar was criticized for his handling of affairs both directly before as well as during the first several days of the war. Eitan was forced out in connection with the Christian massacre of Palestinians at Sabra and Shatilla, while the overall area was in IDF hands. The Kahn Commission absolved Israel of responsibility, but nevertheless held that Eitan (among others) could have prevented the killings. Halutz surprised us by not waiting for the Winograd Committee to show him the way out. This decision should be respected. In acting thus he led the way in implementing a concept many Israelis find alien: that of accountability. Try to translate the term and you'll be hard-pressed, and not because Hebrew is an impoverished language. I believe it has to do with the unfamiliarity of the concept in our political culture. I'm not so much addressing this complaint to our present leadership - the Winograd Committee's conclusions will deal with them. In general, our political, military and civilian leaders always look for a scapegoat, someone of rank to attach responsibility to. It's cultural. BACK TO Halutz. Expectations of him when he first took charge were very high, maybe too high. Some even suggested he was a future prime minister. The aura of being a member of the General Staff doesn't hurt in paving the way to the premier's office. But all this talk didn't really help Halutz. Neither did disengagement. And I don't buy the analysis of some settler leaders, who connected his departure to disengagement. Yet the problem with disengagement was that it misled Halutz, the IDF and all of us into thinking the army was prepared for action. It showed us an army that was seemingly prepared for a war, but really wasn't. Turns out it was better prepared for the evacuation of 8,000 Jews from their homes. This task was executed with determination and sensitivity. And neither Halutz nor the General Staff were responsible for the political circumstances that led to it. So there was no direct connection between disengagement from the Gaza Strip and the war in Lebanon in the sense that it was Halutz's comeuppance for disengagement. The main damage caused by Halutz's retirement is in perceptions. Each side wanted to portray the other as the loser and itself as the victor. This was as vital for us as it was to Hizbullah - that the notion of victory in this war be imprinted in the international public consciousness. That's how today's wars operate, the media field being no less central than the one of blood and fire. It's no wonder Hizbullah rejoiced at Halutz's departure. This was also the case when OC Northern Command Maj.-Gen. Udi Adam and Galilee Brigade Commander Brig.-Gen. Gal Hirsch quit. Regardless Israel trying to portray things otherwise, it is hard to convince the world - or ourselves - that the war was a victory for Israel. Perhaps Jerusalem should never have used the word "victory" in connection with the "restricted confrontations" or "small wars" of today. ANYWAY, Gen. Halutz is going home now, 40 years after he first joined the military; tired, exhausted, and sad. It is only fitting that we also remember his better moments: as a pilot during the Yom Kippur War, as air force commander, and as overseer of many accomplishments of our army. It is not fitting to remember him only by the last act. Yet even if this should be the case, Halutz can walk with his head held high. He did what he needed to do, leaving us with with an important precedent: accountability.