The chief of staff handover ceremony was a stately affair, but it was hardly the state's finest hour. Amid the trumpet blasts, the national anthem and the polished speeches, a spirit of bitterness and score-settling hung in the air.
"The hardest thing for a pilot is to be stabbed in the back by his No. 2," said Dan Halutz, in his farewell appearance at the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. He didn't explain. Was that a jab at the deputy chief of staff, Moshe Kaplinsky, who sat there looking glum throughout the ceremonies? Who knows? On second thought, maybe he was talking about the political echelon, which foisted all the blame on him.
Halutz's parting speech at the state ceremony was also bitter in tone. Take his remark that in Hebrew the words re'a (friend) and ro'ah (evil) were only a vowel apart. Again he said what he said, without clarifying who, in his book, was the good, the bad and the ugly.
In this department, Moshe Ya'alon got there first. When he bid farewell to the General Staff, he said that the reason he wore army boots around the Kirya [military headquarters], where the chief of staff has his office, was because the grass was full of snakes.
Ya'alon did have a reason to be bitter. Ariel Sharon's "ranch forum" wanted Halutz to carry out the disengagement, thereby depriving Ya'alon of a fourth year as chief of staff. Halutz, with his basso profundo voice, was a macho man in their eyes ¬ the kind of guy who would be flexible enough to turn "determination and sensitivity" into "determination and determination." The kind who was tough enough not to play Hamlet in front of the screaming settler women and crying children who would be forcibly removed from Gush Katif.
In his bitter parting speech, Halutz talked about the destructiveness of this culture of "lopping off heads." But between the lines, he got even with the prime minister and the defense minister, who failed to back him, and showed his anger at the generals, active and retired, who criticized him in the media. What the public doesn't understand, he implied, is that the Israel Defense Forces, under his leadership, won Lebanon War II.
Ehud Olmert also spoke with fitting pathos: "History will restore to you what the public mood has taken away." Now, that is a stupid statement par excellence. It wasn't the "public mood" that screwed up. It wasn't the "public mood" that fired 200 missiles at itself every day. It wasn't the "public mood" that sent untrained reserve soldiers with Salvation Army guns into battle, to get wounded and killed in Hezbollah-land. A chief of staff is measured by how well he prepares the army for war and implements the decisions of the political echelon when it's crunch time. Olmert made it clear in his speech that Halutz's decision to retire early was not a reflection of his own thinking. "This war accomplished a great deal," he said. If that's so, then why was he so quick to let him go? And wasn't it the government that put in an order for a large-scale war?
Halutz has always had a very good opinion of himself. When the demand that he quit arose for the first time, during the war, his response was tough as nails: "I am not taking off my uniform unless they tear it off." At some point, however, the inquiries he himself called for, and the IDF ethos of taking responsibility, became too much for him.
After the Yom Kippur War, then-president Ephraim Katzir coined the infuriating catchphrase, "We're all guilty." It didn't apply then, and it doesn't apply now. Halutz's resignation must have another reason, beyond the chivalry of a Prussian officer. My guess is that he was not getting enough backing from the political echelon, and especially from the prime minister and the defense minister. Or even worse, he was afraid that the two of them would pin the blame on him in their testimony to the Winograd committee.
A defense minister who doesn't know which side of the gun you shoot from and a prime minister who says his defense minister is a clown ¬ this is the daring duo that approved Israel's great military campaign and okayed every decision to go deeper into Lebanon and to stay on the battlefield longer. They are the ones who are really responsible for exposing the army's vulnerability during the war and sabotaging Israel's power of deterrence.
They may sneer at each other, but they share an interest in staying in power for as long as they can. Amir Peretz is banking on the idea that he will win the Labor primaries scheduled for the end of May. Olmert is banking on the idea that very few MKs will want early elections.
Cocky and sure of himself, Olmert is convinced that none of the police investigations will harm him, and that he will be left with a block of time, between a year and year and a half, to gear up for the elections. Now there is only one thing liable to halt his career in midstream, by pinning ministerial responsibility for the war on him ¬ and that is the report of the Winograd committee.
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