When the army saves the government

The IDF has a history of saving the day for befuddled politicians.

IDF tanks gaza 298.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
IDF tanks gaza 298.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Fortunately for Israel, its army is strong enough to save its citizens from their illusions, and sometimes from the mistakes of its leaders. And fortunately, its air force kept its attack files of Hizbullah targets in Lebanon updated, which is what made it possible to launch an aerial offensive immediately after the government woke up in horror from its sweet dreams of a misguided realignment to the painfully successful ambush of Israeli soldiers carried out by Hizbullah. In the summer of 1967, Israeli politicians were preoccupied with the economic recession and social-welfare problems, and with illusionary peace plans - in the "spirit of Tashkent" - being woven by the Kremlin. Suddenly, a war was forced on Israel when Egyptian and Syrian armies concentrated their forces on Israel's borders. Who saved the hide of Israel's politicians? They were frightened and surprised by events but adopted a pose of being in the driver's seat. Fortunately, the IDF did what had to be done. Since then, history has been rewritten until it bears hardly any resemblance to what actually happened. But one fundamental fact cannot be changed even now, almost 40 years later - that the IDF's soldiers and commanders are the ones that gave Israel one of its most brilliant victories ever, in a war that was forced upon it in surprise. IN THE Yom Kippur War in 1973 too, the fighters and officers of the IDF fought and saved the country from the diplomatic and security blindness of its government, and even its General Staff. For in 1973, Israel's top leadership was engrossed in celebrating our 25th anniversary and preparing for upcoming Knesset elections when the Egyptians suddenly crossed the Suez Canal and the Syrians began to pour down the Golan Heights, taking the nation by complete surprise. IN RECENT months too, especially on the eve of the election, illusions and promises were scattered about. Some of those politicians sowing illusions actually believed their own fantasies. The election slogans regarding a "social-welfare horizon," and "we don't need any more generals and admirals" and "cut back the defense budget," along with all that bravado about "drawing permanent borders" and "turning Israel - by 2010 - into a country that is fun to live in" are all still reverberating in our ears. There is nothing wrong with politicians spreading positive visions of hope and prosperity. Except that it was all paid for in the coin of denial of reality. It is exactly that reality that has just blown up in the faces of the amazed Israeli public - first in the Gaza Strip and the second time in the north or the country. THE CURRENT government is still new. It has not even had time to learn how to manage a conflict on one front, let alone on two or three fronts at the same time. Only the IDF General Staff knows what to do - and all the government can do to save the state from Hizbullah's choke hold is to rubber-stamp the proposals presented by the army. Don't try to sell me any tall stories about how the blow that the IDF took from Hizbullah in the morning was enough for it to come up in the evening with a detailed and first-rate plan to attack the terror organization in Lebanon from the air. The target files have been ready for years, since the days when Dan Halutz was commander of the air force, or perhaps before, up until the plans were meticulously prepared and carried out by the current air force commander, General Eliezer Shkedi. The thousands of aerial sorties that we have been seeing in Lebanon in the past week are testimony that the fine soldiers that Israel has recruited into its air force and the billions of dollars invested in it are delivering the goods. Like in 1967, and once again in 2006, the air force has bailed out a confused government. When the current confrontation in Lebanon is over, the government will once again go back to debating the defense budget. True, Halutz needs to streamline the army just as he streamlined the air force. He must compel the entire army to undergo the same revolution. However, the process that was forced upon the army due to budgetary constraints - to close down flight squadrons and shut down entire divisions, a reflection of lack of respect for the importance of the armored and mechanized forces - must be reversed. The IDF has been undermined as a result of these budget cuts. Dangers of an aerial and land war are only increasing. At the same time, we have no way of knowing what further illusions Israeli politicians will harbor and what other mistakes they will make. The surprise war in the north reinforces the long-standing thesis that Israel needs a strong army to permit its politicians the luxury of making egregious mistakes.