Bailing out? Not likely
In all his combat sorties and thousands of hours in the air, the chief of staff never had to abandon his plane, and he won't throw the switch on the ejection seat now
On a shelf in the chief of staff's office, behind Dan Halutz and to his left, lie, one on top of the other, four volumes of documents. In them are filed transcripts, summaries, commands and operational plans from the 15 months of Lieutenant General Halutz's tour of duty, since June 1, 2005. Today he has been chief of staff for a year and a quarter, and the volumes already look as though they have been prepared for handing over the position to the next chief of staff.
The appearances, or the wish, are deceiving. There has been one chief of staff who served for just one year - Mordechai (Motke) Makleff, the third chief of staff, between Yigal Yadin and Moshe Dayan. Halutz does not intend to be Motke and a quarter. In 250 combat sorties and thousands of additional hours in the air, he never had to abandon his plane and he is not looking for the switch on the ejection seat now. Anyone who is wishing for Halutz's resignation, or a submissive acceptance of his ouster, is dismissive of his capacities for maneuvering, perseverance and endurance. He is prepared to investigate everything, even and perhaps first of all himself. He just won't agree to put exclamation points before the question marks.
Halutz will aspire to stabilize the military system, which is in ferment and at various levels is sending out signals of personal resentment toward him. What he does not want to be done to him, he has no intention of doing to his subordinates. There is no expectation of accelerated transfers of senior officers who do not want this. Even Major General Udi Adam can, if he so desires, remain as GOC Northern Command until the summer of 2007, close to the completion of two years of his service there, and the announcement of his replacement will be only one of a series of appointments that are planned for the coming year. GOC Central Command Yair Naveh, for example, might well be asked to extend his service for a few months. It is expected that a new head of the Operations Directorate will be appointed to replace Gadi Eisenkot, who will be named GOC of one of the commands that will be vacated, Central or Northern. In due course, this will be a suitable context for replacing a deputy chief of staff.
Even according to Halutz's personal measures, the Israel Defense Forces' action in the war does not deserve a high mark: It can be guessed that it would receive a grade of "7 plus" from him, less than what he had estimated before its start (between 8 and 9). Not good enough for an army that must at any moment produce a maximum achievement from within itself.
He is now under attack from all sides - from the other side of the 14th floor of the double tower in the Kirya, defense headquarters in Tel Aviv, the side of the defense minister and his closest aides; from within the army; by civilian voices, reservists and others. The attacks are biting into him. Deep down, he was quoted as having said this week, he "is bubbling lava" and sometimes he lights a cigarette on it, in a respite from quitting. But the pendulum is swinging. Amid the hostile barrages, he is also receiving letters of support, and those who are keen to succeed him are not united around a single candidate. He has an appointment for three years, and the mechanism has yet to be created that has the power to push him out.
Such a mechanism would have to be one with judicial powers, not a political one. It would deal with the test of results and not only with the test of expenditure, and would therefore stress documents more than feelings. It would appear that Halutz's cartridges are fuller than those who want to depose him. The conflict between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss this week hints that Olmert is more vulnerable than Halutz. And it is conceivable that this is only the beginning: A possible scenario is that the comptroller's findings will implicate Olmert even further. In that case it will be possible to expect the selection of a new prime minister on behalf of Kadima, new breakups and alignments in the current Knesset and new elections. The durability of a chief of staff in such a period of shocks is greater than that of politicians.
If he is given space to rehabilitate the army, Halutz is expected to act to increase the budget for the ground forces, revoke the cut in the length of compulsory service, establish companies of fighters in the career army and restore the ceiling for the age of retirement from compulsory service to what it used to be (instead of 40, closer to 45 - and for officers, in effect with no limit). He will also establish a special forces command that in a war would draw into itself the Sayeret Matkal from military intelligence, Shayetet 13 from the navy and Shaldag from the air force. These units, it emerges, are so special that they cannot talk to each other in a joint operation. Each of them has its own communications systems and exclusive security measures.
"Halutz," said one senior officer at the General Staff this week who is not one of his disciples but is also less than enthusiastic about the heirs presumptive, "did not excel in this war. It caught him before he managed to generate knowledge for himself, and after all he was excellent as air force commander because he produced such excellent professional information. As chief of staff, he was not attentive enough to different voices, to other alternatives. That's with respect to the past. Now there is no one more suited than he is to fix what needs fixing. All the others are more problematic."
"The others" are his predecessor, Moshe (Bogey) Ya'alon, with whom Halutz finally found time to meet on Wednesday; or Major General (Res.) Gabi Ashkenazi, Halutz's rival to succeed Ya'alon last year; or the serving majors general, from among whom the next chief of staff is usually selected. All of these majors generals are tainted, just like Halutz, by the ills of the war. If Halutz is set aside, it will be hard to justify the advancement of his deputy, Moshe Kaplinsky, who for a year and a half now has been responsible for building up the military force and who was in effect in charge of the northern front during the final ground attack of the war.
Also delicate is the situation of the other senior major general, Benny Ganz, commander of the ground forces since last autumn and before that GOC Northern Command, under whose nose Hezbollah's underground fortifications were built. The idea of the fortifications was discovered and documented, but the command and military intelligence did not manage to locate, map and become deeply familiar with what they contained and where.
Halutz has often spoken out against seeing the deputy chief of staff as "a necessary transition" on the way to the chief of staff's bureau, and made the commitment in advance that he would have two deputies because otherwise he would have had a hard time putting together the general staff at the start of his term. But recent weeks have revealed a new benefit of the idea: It enabled him to move Kaplinsky in favor of Ganz. The honeymoon between Halutz and Kaplinsky, including cozy dinners at home with Pnina and Kaplan and Irit and Danny, ended somewhere between Maroun al-Ras and Aita al-Sha'ab. In no way was it possible to form the impression that Kaplinsky will fling himself down over the threshold of Halutz's office and bodily prevent his departure, or will threaten to resign together with him.
But even in the famed brotherhood of the Golani Brigade, cracks have appeared. Ever since Ashkenazi's resignation from the General Staff, Kaplinsky has been the senior Golani graduate in active service. Suddenly Ashkenazi has re-entered the picture, as director general of the Defense Ministry, and has even received the blessing of his predecessor in the dynasty as chief of the Golani tribe - Major General (Res.) Uri Sagi - who has called for deposing Halutz and the appointment of Ashkenazi in his stead. This is an expression of no confidence in Kaplinsky, and one of the reasons for the strain in his relations with Ashkenazi.
By appointing Ashkenazi director general, without a separation of forces with the chief of staff, Defense Minister Amir Peretz declared war on Halutz during a time of war. Ashkenazi did not conceal his negative opinion of the operational plans Halutz brought for Peretz's approval. Halutz saw this as an expression of authority without responsibility. Even when the plans were approved, in the form of terse comments aimed at intercepting the plans, an atmosphere of warning against failure was created.
This is a phenomenon that characterizes the flaws in Peretz's functioning. He is a problematic defense minister. Not because of the defense, but because of the minister. The conflict Peretz created between Halutz and Ashkenazi could have happened even if he were the finance minister placing before the governor of the Bank of Israel a director general who had previously competed for the governorship and lost.