From whence the defense stink comes
The culture of lying in the Israeli army was around in Ben-Gurion's time. The Harpaz affair proves it still exists.
Yaakov Sharett this week reminded us of some things we had forgotten. Writing to Haaretz, he quoted directly from the documentation in the diary kept by his father Moshe Sharett, Israel’s second prime minister.
“Sharett: ‘In the army there is no truth.’’’
And David Ben-Gurion confirms: “That’s the worst of all.”
Neither Sharett nor Ben-Gurion managed to root out the culture of lying in the Israel Defense Forces. Or maybe they didn’t even dare try.
That culture makes a mockery of civilian military control, turning Israel into a formal paper democracy.
Not much has changed since that exchange. It's possible that relations between the military and the civilian leadership have become even more distorted.
The so-called Harpaz affair is yet another manifestation of the battle heritage between the civilian and the military echelons. Heads of the defense establishment, be they in uniform or plainclothes, have never dared walk around military headquarters without tall boots, as former Chief of Staff and current Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya'alon once said, for fear of the snakes.
Another story, which was published this week in the daily Yedioth Aharonoth, was told to Yigal Sarna by Azriel Nevo, Menachem Begin’s military secretary. “When I identified the circles of fraudulence in the army and told him about them, Begin got angry at me. How dare I imagine that officers are lying to him?” Nevo said.
And Aryeh Naor, the government secretary, recalled a meeting between Begin and the American envoy Philip Habib.
“Habib reported that IDF troops had entered Ba’abda [in the Mount Lebanon District]. Begin asked to be connected to the defense minister. [Ariel] Sharon promised him there wasn’t a single soldier of ours there. Habib insisted and Begin asked his aides to get [Chief of Staff Rafael Eitan] on the line. He too promised that the IDF wasn’t in Ba’abda. Begin said Raful wouldn’t mislead him but Azriel made a few more phone calls and discovered that Habib was right.”
Begin was a man of integrity; Sharon and Raful were habitual liars. Instead of Begin preemptively dismissing them, they cast him into his dotage. “I can’t do this any more,” the prime minister said, and shut himself into his house.
One prime minister reaped a whirlwind that had been left behind by a previous head of state. David Ben-Gurion was “the first to identify” (as the current prime minister is fond of saying about himself) Lt. Col. Arik’s character: “If he [Ariel Sharon] were weaned of his fault of not telling the truth, he would be a sterling military leader,” he wrote in his diary. But Sharon went from strength to strength, because it's not just the thief who is taken down from the gallows, the liar, when he is needed, is too.
And Israel was needy. How would it have justified its action in the Palestinian town of Qibya, in which 70 men, women and children were killed when a select Sharon-type unit bombarded their homes? And Ben-Gurion declared in the Knesset that the massacre was not carried out by soldiers but rather by angry civilians from outlying locales. That was the state’s first official lie, in the wake of which a thousand lies have bloomed, all of them in self-defense.
In the fullness of time another prime minister served here, who koshered white lies “for the sake of the country.” His name was Yitzhak Shamir. And what would we have done if bereft of the aid of lies after the massacre at Kafr Qasem, or after the bus number 300 incident, which scattered by the roadside all the Shin Bet’s lies in court and the commissions of inquiry? Or during the course of the Lebanon War when the IDF pounced on it as though it had found a great treasure? Or during the second intifada when Chief of Staff Shaul Mofaz the Innocent thumbed his nose at the prime minister and the cabinet behind their backs as he waited for their fall and for the rise of Sharon, with whom it was easy to steal horses and pull wool over people’s eyes? And we haven’t even totted up the everyday lies on the heels of the occupation.
The cashiering of Erez Weiner is justified but there is no justification for the sense that there has been a purification. And our camp was purified – but when? For how long will the lie serve as a no-longer-very-secret weapon that is pulled out of the arsenal as we depict ourselves as victims in every act of injustice?
Wiener is a minnow and the stink doesn’t come from his head.