While the chief of staff, Shaul Mofaz, goes to appease the chief rabbis and heads of the hesder yeshivas (seminaries combining religious study with army service), who are threatening that their students will not serve for fear of female soldiers in their units, the deputy chief of staff, Major General Moshe Ya'alon, is choosing to lash out at the reservist officers - the ones bearing the bulk of the burden of service in the territories. In an interview with Army Radio, Ya'alon blasted the members of the Forum of Battalion and Brigade Commanders [which represents, on a voluntary basis, more than a hundred reserve officers]; and his comments were so damaging that one can only wonder about the judgment behind them.
"This forum is motivated by a political agenda," the deputy chief of staff asserted forcefully, though without elaborating. "Some of them have a personal, private agenda," he added, again without offering any explanation. The reserve officers, he stated are "making cynical use of the issue of life insurance for reservists" and are using it to further their own ends. He also likened them to "a workers committee that was not elected and does not represent the people involved."
According to General Ya'alon, some members of the forum "have no idea what they are talking about," and what is worse, "with the use of partial information" they incited a battalion commander to not mobilize his troops for reserve duty. In other words, this was an attempt at insurrection. Ya'alon also has a firm conclusion: "We will not lend a hand to workers committees. I will no longer cooperate with the forum."
Accusations as serious as these require a thorough examination. Because if there really is a group of reservist officers that is trying, with a political motive, to confront the chief of staff and even to thwart the call-up of a battalion for reserve service, then that group must be dealt with as severely as the law permits.
The truth, though, is very different. The Forum of Battalion and Brigade Commanders was established because of the blunders made by the senior officer corps in dealing with problems affecting reserve soldiers. The officers who head the forum do not belong to any political body and they deal only with problems that they and their soldiers encounter in the course of their reserve duty. They have shown extraordinary responsibility in their behavior, and even though the senior command level, like the senior officials of the Defense Ministry, have often deceived them, they have faithfully continued to turn up for reserve service and have dealt successfully with the efforts of some of their soldiers to evade service.
These officers have to try to explain to their troops why they should go on volunteering when the pressing problems of reserve duty have yet to be resolved - problems such as inequality in the way the burden of service is shared; the universities' disregard of reservists' needs; the lack of suitable recompense for the contribution made by the few who continue to do reserve service; and above all, the problem of life insurance for reservists that has dragged on for four years.
General Ya'alon has not met even once with the members of the forum since he became deputy chief of staff. However, that has not stopped him from leveling these harsh accusations at them. In recent years, neither Ya'alon nor Mofaz has spoken out publicly on the question of life insurance. When it comes to conditions of service for people in the career army, when it comes to cars for generals and boosting the defense budget, the two are very capable of making articulate statements. But when it comes to life insurance, senior officers have left it to the reservists themselves to wage a campaign against the Defense Ministry.
And as for the grave accusation that the members of the forum spurred the battalion commander, Amit Regev, to not mobilize his unit, Regev himself says that no one used incitement to pressure him and that Ya'alon's statement that "Regev discovered his mistake" and then reported for duty, is groundless. The decision to turn up for service together with his battalion was made only after the defense minister undertook explicitly, in writing, "to grant full rights to soldiers serving in the reserves who are hurt during and in the wake of their active service."
The words of the deputy chief of staff are symptomatic of a grave phenomenon that has been developing in the past few months in particular: a constantly widening break between the senior officer corps and reservists. When the deputy chief of staff says that he will no longer cooperate with the forum, he is widening the rift with the hard core of the army's fighting force. It is not clear what made Ya'alon so angry that he felt the need to blast his top fighters. But there is no doubt that we should expect more responsible statements from the deputy chief of staff.
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