Ehud Barak should have maintained his self-imposed silence, for we already have reason to regret his breaking it. On Tuesday, in his first encounter with military reporters since taking office, he expressed surprise at the poor state of the IDF inventory, the order of battle and, as he put it, "the IDF's shortness of breath." Well, we can only be surprised by his surprise.
Anyone who has taken even the slightest interest in the state of national security knew what was going on. There isn't a single Israeli citizen who hasn't followed the cutbacks in the defense budget with concern in recent years. This should certainly be the case of Barak, who did not lay down his marshal's baton even when he became a citizen. He was and remains Mr. Security, disappointing in hindsight and still promising in foresight.
How did it happen that the marshal, of all people, did not know, had not been briefed and did not take an interest? Perhaps this is what happens when a man goes into private business and starts observing from the top floor. Perhaps this is what happens when a man spends his time overseas and declines to wade in the local pool.
I went over the list of shortcomings the defense minister presented this week, and was shocked. Barak's eyes are not merely discerning, they are as wide as his appetite is big. He wants a three-layered defense system to intercept missiles and rockets in flight. He wants to increase the order of battle; he wants new divisions, more tanks, more ammunition, more protection, more training. On top of all that, he wants advanced long-range aircraft to develop a complex "long strategic reach." In brief, Barak wants it all, and then some.
Anyone who knows anything about budgets and costs can do the math and see that everything we have in the coffers and everything we don't have will not suffice to fill these enormous needs. Israel would have to mortgage its children's education, its senior citizens' welfare (including Holocaust survivors and refugees) and its citizens' health in order to satisfy the defense minister even partially.
Recently, Barak was chanting social platitudes - now even they are dropping like shot birds off a roof. Even the voice of the old woman in the hospital corridor is fading. Her fate was sealed when her bed slipped under the poverty line. There's no longevity under that line, especially for exhausted people who fall sick.
The defense minister, preparing for the next war, is still mouthing the concepts of previous conflicts. He speaks of "clear and unequivocal victory" and "deterrence, warning and decisive action." Barak has not yet grasped why we didn't win "unequivocally" in the first Lebanon war, before the cutbacks, and if we did, why we fled. And why we didn't win the second Lebanon war despite our decisive military supremacy; and why we didn't win even in Gaza, which is continuing to fire Qassam rockets at us. Or why the Americans are not triumphing in Iraq and Afghanistan, as they didn't triumph in Vietnam and as the Russians failed in Afghanistan and Chechnya.
When has any country won a war by clear, decisive action lately, anyway? Are we to be forced to conclude that Barak is a man whose time has passed?
I have a suggestion that could reduce the gigantic expenses: Perhaps it would be best to lay aside the calming-yet-alarming announcements and instead make a more serious effort to talk with Syria. Perhaps, after all, it is possible to make peace with it and bring peace upon us and the whole region. That could save us a great deal of money, hundreds of billions, not to mention a lot of blood.
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