Chief of Staff Dan Halutz seeks to warn aggressors that they will not win much glory from a surprise attack, because the victim will be able to strike back
"A second point that appears among our war goals," said the senior officer in a General Staff discussion, "is our desire to dictate a settlement and not to aspire to peace. I am afraid of peace. I think that from the point of view of the Jewish and Israeli people, peace in the coming decade will be fraught with many dangers. I talked about this even before I saw that Jews were entering the West Bank, but given the demographic composition that exists today, half of the Jewish people in Israel are from the Second Israel, with a Levantine background. If we can travel to Beirut for a vacation - there will be many dangers in regard to that. We have to get there, but not in order to dictate peace - to dictate a decision. To break the enemy's capability and topple them. We did not finish doing that in Sinai, we will do it in Cairo, but if they will have another 1,000 tanks on the west of the canal, I have to create the new field of battle located between Cairo and the canal. Not because I am interested in Cairo, because that is where the special nation is with which peace can be signed. Peace of the kind that prevails between Japan and the United States. We have not yet reached the [stage of] thinking about the form of the coveted peace, but as I see it, it is a very dangerous peace and it is best not to get into it."
This illuminating passage was recently extracted from the archives by Avi Raz, a doctoral student at Oxford University and a former journalist. The senior officer who is quoted as being against peace with the Arabs, and against "the Second Israel, with a Levantine background" is Rehavam Ze'evi, who was then (August 7, 1967) deputy chief of the Israel Defense Forces' Operations Branch, followed by five years as GOC Central Command. This is the person who intervened in the appointment of major generals, even while Shaul Mofaz was serving as chief of staff. The IDF honored Ze'evi by naming a base for him - the Home Front Command camp in Ramle - an honor usually reserved for former chiefs of staff or for a major general who is killed during service. This is the person to whose assassins the government of Israel - from which Ze'evi resigned on the eve of the assassination - attributes supreme importance, declaredly greater than that of the murderers of a thousand other Israelis.
In explaining the policy of targeted assassinations, the IDF and the Shin Bet security service say that wanted individuals are not a target of arrest and punishment for past murders, if they have forsaken such activity and are no longer involved in terror attacks. The message is clear: A politician's life is worth more. Restraint can be shown if an ordinary Israeli, Levantine or otherwise, is killed, but if the miscreants raise a hand against a minister, other ministers will be very angry and will decide to risk the lives of soldiers in an arrest operation based on the past, not the future. The successful execution does not make the motive kosher.
The remark of Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert about restoring Ze'evi's "honor" are extremely worrisome: Will he send the IDF so effortlessly into such bloodletting adventures for the sake of someone's honor? His efforts to present himself as a supreme commander are ludicrous.
Contest of determination
As a military man, and maybe as a human being altogether, Dan Halutz is the opposite of Ze'evi. As chief of staff he inherited the plan to raid the Jericho prison should it emerge that the Palestinians intend to free Ze'evi's assassins. The decision was born in the government of Ariel Sharon and translated into an operational plan during the tenure of Moshe Ya'alon as chief of staff. One of the plan's main proponents was Avi Dichter, who is anguished by the foul-up in protecting Ze'evi, and views his assassination as one of the Shin Bet's greatest failures during his five years as head of the service. In the contest of determination not to allow Ze'evi's murderers to get away, Mofaz must not allow himself to lag behind Dichter - as Dichter is his major threat on the Kadima list in the battle to obtain the defense portfolio in the next government.
As a senior military commander, Mofaz was tested at least three times during unplanned events in the West Bank - and was unsuccessful in each case: as a division commander at the time of the massacre of the Muslim worshipers in the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, on the eve of Purim 12 years ago; in the same capacity during the attempted rescue of the kidnapped soldier Nachshon Waxman; and as chief of staff during the incident in Joseph's Tomb in Nablus, when a Druze soldier bled to death. The comparison is not altogether fair, because Halutz's mission in Jericho this week was easier and followed months of preparation, study and training. Nor is it right to infer from an operation in luxury conditions, against a scarecrow, how the IDF will operate in a complex war situation against a bold enemy that is far more cunning and much better armed. Still, from the what - and the how - of the events in Jericho this week, it is possible to learn something about where Halutz is leading the army.
In a period of political uncertainty, which will continue in the post-election period, too, during the sparring involved in forming the next government and assigning the defense portfolio, the chief of staff will have even more strength - personal and organizational - than usual. All signs indicate that Halutz intends to use that strength in a manner that is both judicious and decisive. Not to be trigger-happy, not to draw first or to fire every which way, but to respond to an attack instantly and with maximum force. This is the second-strike approach - though this time not in the usual sense of global nuclear deterrence - which warns aggressors that they will not win much glory from a surprise attack, because the victim of it will retain the capability to strike back. Halutz's second strike involves waiting for the first strike of the enemy (Hamas, Hezbollah), thus sparing a clash if it does not come. But if it does, to mount a devastating response.
The two elements of this approach, restrained waiting and devastating response, are not self-evident. Israel has already had defense ministers and chiefs of staff - and not only in Lebanon in the early 1980s - who provoked the other side in order to draw it into battle and, when that did not work, created a provocation that generated a response which served as justification for the next stage in the Israeli operation. On the other hand, there were those who held back and entered into battle only when they absolutely had to, but when they did so without a correlation between political goals and military means, paid the price in casualties and international pressure.
Halutz is moderate on the top floor of his worldview and ambitious on the floor below, as a wielder of force. He is a practical person who, if asked, would probably not reject a settlement with any Palestinian body that is truly striving for one, as opposed to a body that is waging an eternal war with tactical truces. He is not captive to the cliche that there is "no one to talk to," but regrets finding out that those who are ready to talk to Israel can only talk. Halutz is also not one of those who is so frightened by the growing strength of Hamas or Hezbollah that they would recommend terminating that phenomenon by means of a preventive strike at a convenient time. Should there be a genuine reason to take such action (as opposed to an artificial pretext), it is a reasonable assumption that he will recommend delivering a blow so powerful, and not only from the air, that the face of the arena will be changed in the wake of the campaign.
Judging by his past statements, Halutz will try to persuade the government - and perhaps also the Israeli public - that volleys of hundreds and thousands of Hezbollah rockets on Galilee, Haifa Bay and even the southern Carmel, necessitate a comprehensive and patient reply. Such persuasion will be required, because a systematic military plan to destroy Hezbollah's means of combat (which the organization will have a hard time renewing in the conditions that will be created on the ground, and in the delicate political-diplomatic situation of Syria and Iran) will necessitate the methodical uprooting of the forest and not putting out the fires there. In the first days of a campaign like this, the home front is liable to be dealt a painful blow. Public pressure on the government to come up with a hasty improvised response, in the hope of alleviating the suffering immediately, is liable to interfere with the implementation of the plan. As a declared opponent of the conquest of territories, he will have no inhibitions about also proposing land raids directed either inward or outward.
From disadvantage to advantage
On Monday Halutz visited the "Castle," Northern Command's war-room. His meeting there dealt with the operational plans in the event of a Hezbollah-initiated escalation, and with determining the relationship between the various command posts. Halutz's style of command turns his disadvantage - a paucity of experience in ground operations - into an advantage. He is not a division commander from the infantry who will never free himself of the memory of his experience as a platoon commander, and will choose to multiply them accordingly. Halutz instructs the echelons below him in general policy and in the key points, then steps aside and lets them work.
He came to Jericho, to the forward command post of the GOC Central Command, Major General Yair Naveh, together with the head of the Operations Directorate, Major General Gadi Eisenkott, the key person in his General Staff. The chief of staff reviewed the plans drawn up by Naveh, by the commander of the 162nd Division, Brigadier General Guy Tzur, and by the commander of the Jordan Rift Valley Brigade, Colonel Motti Almoz. Halutz also spoke with Mofaz and Olmert. He then went into a side room and followed the events from there, so his presence would not exert pressure on the commanders who were managing the operation.
As the liaison between the military forces on the ground and the political level, Halutz influenced the course of events by obtaining more time for the operation - in light of the assessment that a swift and brutal assault was liable to exact a price in the form of Israeli casualties - and by persuading others that to avoid injuries and deaths, it would be better to move into the night and even to continue the siege until the following morning, while at the time there was also pressure from countries whose nationals had been kidnapped by the Palestinians. Halutz also agreed with the suggestion of the commanding officers to release the Palestinian policemen who were detained in the operation.
The Jericho prison was the first episode in a series of Israel's dealings with the Palestinians in the Hamas era. Before the prison affair, the IDF assumption was that the renewed confrontation with the Palestinians would be deferred until the formation of the Hamas government. Then the chief of staff would recommend severe action against the Hamas leadership - in the government, in the parliament, and outside them as well - if they allowed terrorist attacks produced or directed by Islamic Jihad, the Popular Fronts or Al-Qaida.
The IDF stance is that accepting a two-headed Palestine - Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) as the good guy and Ismail Haniyeh as the bad, evil guy - will thrust Israel into a trap, and that even if Hamas itself maintains restraint initially, it will not wrangle with its camouflaged personnel, or with the other organizations, in an effort to thwart attacks. The line that Halutz is pursuing confronts Hamas with a dilemma: to act as a responsible, rational government, or to take the risk of losing its assets. Halutz is now waiting for Haniyeh, and for Hassan Nasrallah, and for the elections, and it will be a sorry day for Israel if in their wake, the decisions are made according to the hollow terms of restoring the honor of politicians.