There are two ironic twists in Chief of Staff Dan Halutz's resignation. One is that the person responsible for picking the next chief of staff is the defense minister, who is unlikely to still have his post after the Labor party elections. The candidates currently topping the public opinion polls and Labor party surveys, Ami Ayalon and Ehud Barak, are knocking on his door. One way or another, Amir Peretz will nominate Halutz's successor, and this may be the most important decision he makes as defense minister.
When it comes to appointments, Peretz has shown a tendency toward foot-dragging, and that has done him harm. Appointing Gabi Ashkenazi as his ministry's director general was an exception to the rule. Hopefully, consultations will be completed without delay, and Peretz will inform the government of his choice. The quick appointment of a new chief of staff is a step toward rehabilitating the army. If Ashkenazi wins the race, Peretz will also have to find a new ministry director general.
The other irony is that had the second Lebanon war not broken out, and Peretz were asked today to name a chief of staff capable of dealing with the ominous threats on Israel's horizon, he undoubtedly would have picked Halutz - because of his qualifications and his aerial combat experience, which are critical for handling the growing Iranian threat.
The next big threat is not from Bint Jbail or its neighbors in South Lebanon. It is not from the Syrian army in the Golan Heights, or Qassam rockets from the Gaza Strip. Even if there are several components to the Syrian threat, including land incursions and terror, Israel is now facing a strategic challenge that goes beyond the borders of Lebanon and Syria. It needs a chief of staff with a keen understanding of military operations involving planes, missiles and long-range strategic weapons. This will be the primary issue facing Israel's 19th chief of staff; of course, having a defense minister who is not a complete security greenhorn would also be desirable. The chief of staff must be apolitical and professional. He must radiate leadership, and be able to apply the lessons from the recent war.
Timewise, Halutz's resignation may be surprising, but it is also understandable. Until recently, he had said it was up to those who appointed him to decide whether he should stay. Now he has changed his tack. The military probe of the Lebanon War is over, and for that he deserves a pat on the back; this closes an important chapter for him. But the matter does not end here. Putting what has been learned into practice is an important - and even harder - step. For that, someone else is needed - someone who has the power to overturn earlier decisions.
Perhaps Halutz concluded he could not reverse the army's loss of faith in him. But the problem seems to be broader than that. It is not just loss of faith within the army. Large sectors of the public have lost their faith in the Israel Defense Forces' top brass. The second Lebanon war instilled a pervasive sense of failure in the public. This time, the feeling goes deeper than it did after the Yom Kippur War and the first Lebanon war.
Some are adding fuel to the fire and fanning the flames of animosity against the army. This is coming from the media, as well as extremists on the right and left. Various parties at the Finance Ministry have added their voices to the chorus of criticism, calling the IDF corrupt and saying it is milking the public coffer with its exaggerated needs when the treasury is already inundated by excessive wage demands.
Meanwhile, with these arguments still ringing in our ears, the police have begun investigating corruption charges against senior treasury officials, and have found that this is where the real junta of corruption lies.
Even if the hatred toward the IDF does not dissipate, the army has little chance of recovery. Once its reputation has been harmed, good people will no longer be interested in linking their fates to it. Perhaps that is what Halutz was referring to when he wrote in his letter of resignation: "The strength of the IDF comes from the public support it receives. Unfortunately, this support has eroded over the past few years."
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