Ya'alon is not our savior [p. 16]

But, properly guided, he'd make a good defense minister

The crisis of leadership in Israel is so serious that people are turning every which way in search of an incorruptible leader. "Thou hast a mantle, be thou our ruler," the Prophet Isaiah aptly describes a similar period of national confusion in biblical times. There are those who have started to pin their hopes on the previous chief of staff, Lt.-Col. (res.) Moshe Ya'alon. Is he going to throw his hat into the political ring? Which party will he join? In an interview last week, Ya'alon called upon those responsible for the war in Lebanon to resign. But the Messiah is not coming. And Ya'alon is not our savior. Ya'alon is a fine person, but those who look upon him as a national leader capable of extricating the country from the predicament it is in simply do not know what they are talking about. Ya'alon is a very responsible man in the area of army and security, and has devoted most of his life to it in campaigns in which he has risked his life. More than four year ago, my friend, prime minister Ariel Sharon, was debating as to who he should choose as chief of staff - Moshe Ya'alon or the brilliant commander of the air force, Dan Halutz. I told him - in light of the terrible war that Sharon had been waging then against the suicide terrorists - that an experienced soldier like Ya'alon coming from the ground forces was preferable, and that the talented Halutz could serve as his deputy chief of staff and gain experience in the area of operating ground forces too. We cannot forgo Ya'alon's experience in special ops at this stage of the war against the suicide terrorists that you are waging, I told Sharon. Ya'alon and Halutz will make an excellent team; they will complement one another. A FEW weeks later, prime minister Sharon called me and told me with some dissatisfaction: "Ya'alon will be the next chief of staff. Don't expect any changes in the Israel Defense Forces." In other words, the prime minister did not believe that Ya'alon was capable of introducing a revolution into the IDF, which was so much in need of one. Sharon was so disappointed with the IDF's level of performance that he repeatedly told me: "I wish I could be a company commander today in the IDF and take part in the siege on Arafat's Mukata." Another time, when the IDF had miserably failed in the war on the Palestinians' smuggling tunnels on the Philadelphi Corridor, Sharon told me with a bitter smile that Ya'alon wanted to destroy 2,000 or 4,000 homes in Rafah in order to fight the tunnels, and was looking for legal support for this move. "Who would be willing to provide the IDF with legal support of this kind when our legal system cares primarily about Arabs' rights?" speculated Sharon. The tragic abduction of Gilad Shalit and the killing of his comrades is not the only terrible reminder of the failure of the Southern Command and of the General Staff in the war on the tunnels. Even before that, we had the handing over of the Philadelphi Corridor to the military supervision of Egypt. We recently heard Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin describe the vast amounts of arms and ammunition being smuggled into the Gaza Strip - as Egypt turns a blind eye. I asked prime minister Ariel Sharon on the plane on our way back from the AIPAC conference in Washington in May 2005 how it was that he was willing to hand over the Philadelphi Corridor to Egypt, placing it at the mercy of the Palestinians. Do you believe them, I asked. Will the Egyptians put an end to the smuggling? "Since when do you believe the Arabs?" Sharon responded, short and to the point. What Sharon's plan was we will never know. But he had one. He certainly never imagined, even in his worst nightmare, that he would be forced to exit the stage in the middle of the play, which is why he did not appoint anyone to succeed him. Ya'alon and Sharon parted ways bitterly: Sharon did not extend Ya'alon's term as chief of staff beyond the minimum three years. Ya'alon hurled very serious accusations at Sharon at the time. I was sorry about that and sorry for Ya'alon's dignity. No matter what you say, he spent days and nights on the battlefield. But I also remember that serious budget cuts were made in the IDF field units and in the training of the excellent reserve soldiers during Ya'alon's term as chief of staff, cuts so deep that danger is now posed to Israel not only from the Iranian bomb, but also from the conventional armies of the Arab countries. Of course, Shaul Mofaz as defense minister also bears responsibility for this situation. Various strategic "witch doctors" appeared before Ya'alon's General Staff, people like Haim Asa and others who concocted a mumbo-jumbo of tricks to fight the enemy using "moleculal" and "decentralized" methods - all drivel. Only in the current conceptual chaos could someone like Dan Meridor - who in my opinion lacks any understanding at all of what state defense involves - wave about his "strategic plan." That is why Ya'alon, with all his drawbacks, is still the lesser of all evils. In a good government, under Ehud Barak or Binyamin Netanyahu, or in an emergency government consisting of the two of them together - and under their supervision - Ya'alon, bringing his worthy experience, could make a good defense minister.