When Giora Eiland was in basic training in the paratroop unit during the war of attrition, the regimental commander came to visit. He wanted to know if the company staff was meticulously following orders that all recruits get six hours sleep in each 24-hour period. No recruit volunteered a complaint. The brigade commander focused his eyes on Eiland and demanded that he give him a direct answer. Eiland evaded the question. The brigade commander refused to let up. Finally, obliged by a direct order from a commanding officer, Eiland told the red-eyed truth.
His reward came at the end of basic training, when all his friends were given a furlough, and Eiland alone, the best soldier in the company, was confined to the base by his officers, "so you can catch up on all the hours of sleep you lost." A sense of injustice remained with him for the next 33 years.
He remembered the burning feeling as a much-liked commander in the paratroopers, in officers' training school, and in the Givati battalion. He can empathize with how the other side feels - be they young soldiers, Palestinian activists, or foreign diplomats. That is part of the reason why he has been so successful in the political aspect of his job, as head of planning in the General Staff.
And as in the past, in the paratroopers, if he does not get support from above, he will be punished by the National Security Council and told to go and make up for lost sleep. When Ariel Sharon enticed him to come by and talk about a proposal to appoint him as head of National Security Council - and despite the bitter experience of Uzi Dayan and Efraim Halevi - Brig. Gen. Eiland knew that one does not come to talk with the prime minister to say no.
He had given up an appointment as military attache in Washington because he decided that continuing his service to the country could be justified only if he could be at the center of Israeli action, rather than on the sidelines. The gamble is twofold - that Sharon will indeed give him what he kept from his predecessors, and that Sharon will not crush him in his bear hug, making him suspect in the eyes of the ministers. After all, one of them might soon wind up gaining - or regaining - the prime minister's seat, maybe because of the legal outcome of the Greek island case.
The legal imbroglio decrease the chance that Sharon will get to carry out the platform he outlined at the Herzliya conference last week, but the commitment to coordinate with Bush will make this platform the baseline for Sharon's successor. His likely successor, Benjamin Netanyahu, would not dare to launch his term in a confrontation with Bush. After making his reservations with Sharon's platform clear, it would be easier for him to base himself on a commitment to government continuity and carry on his predecessor's policies.
One of Eiland's first tasks, during the transition stage, will be to win the personal trust of some man that did not choose him, so he can function effectively. This is not an impossible mission, and there is a precedent. Prime minister Menachem Begin did not replace any of the heads of the security establishment, all appointed by his predecessors Golda Meir and Yitzhak Rabin.
When Benjamin Netanyahu was prime minister his foreign minister, Sharon, positioned himself to the right of the leader. That was unusual in Israel and a similar case can be found only in the Begin government, when Yitzhak Shamir was foreign minister.
In this government Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom missed an opportunity to position himself at the forefront of moderation. As he dilly-dallied with quarter-daring half measures, Sharon and some of ministers overtook him from the left.
Reservations about Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz that Shalom heard from his American colleagues did not console him for this lost opportunity. Oded Eran, the experienced ambassador to the European Union, managed to stop the hemorrhaging of Israel's identification with the territories - despite Shalom and his ministry rather than with their help.
At the Herzliya conference, Shalom's insipid director-general, Yoav Biran, decried the eternal disparaging of Israel's "foreign policy and foreign ministry" - as if theses were one and the same. In fact Israeli prime ministers, defense ministry and defense forces have always regarded Israel's foreign policy as exceedingly important, viewing international considerations as boundaries that provided vital backing to military activities. This cannot be said of the foreign service or its management.
Eiland's transfer to the National Security Council will weaken the IDF but will strengthen the prime minister's office - not the foreign ministry.
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