There is something frightening about the prime minister's statement in an interview broadcast to the nation: "I'll decide, I'll navigate." A pathetic imitation of Yitzhak Rabin the last time he was elected prime minister. Rabin's words expressed a profound personal rivalry with Shimon Peres. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's words are now aimed at IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz.
According to the Basic Law on the Army, Israel's chief of staff is the government's security adviser. But the conclusions of generations of commissions of inquiry have demonstrated that in effect they accept the norm that although the army has a small role in decision making, it has a great deal of responsibility. When an operation succeeded, the prime ministers celebrated. When it failed, the army was held responsible. But the chief of staff is not just another official; he is supposed to be a full partner in making decisions as to whether or not to attack. His powers and responsibility are equal to that of a prime minister.
On the eve of the 1991 Gulf War, the air force and the commando units prepared for an attack against Iraq to prevent the firing of Scud missiles. The Americans were opposed and Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir canceled the operation at the last moment. The United States compensated Israel by having the British carry out what Israel had planned to do. To the detriment of the British, it will be recalled that they were unable to prevent a single Scud from being launched against Israel. In hindsight we have to thank them for preventing our intervention, which would probably have ended with a commission of inquiry, with the General Staff of the Israel Defense Forces being held responsible.
Bibi Netanyahu no longer compares himself to Winston Churchill, he compares himself to Prime Minister Menachem Begin. "Begin also faced opposition before he attacked the reactor in Iraq," he declared recently. Not accurate. Then-IDF Chief of Staff Rafael Eitan had his own private forum, composed of former chiefs of staff with whom he would consult on sensitive issues. Raful's mistake what that he didn't notice that one of them - Haim Bar-Lev - had become a politician in the interim. He was the one who told Shimon Peres about the plan to bomb the reactor in Iraq, and Peres tried to convince Begin to cancel the operation. It was not the army that was opposed, but the Labor Party. However, Begin stood behind his decision, and supported the army in a successful operation with no loss of life. The day after the bombing of the reactor in Iraq, on June 9, 1981, an editorial in Haaretz surmised that Begin was not particularly enthusiastic about the operation, because "in the long run we provided all our enemies with a convenient public relations basis for their belligerent intentions."
Now the situation is different, as are our surroundings. Iran has become a regional and international threat, but it has specifically chosen the destruction of Israel as its objective. The chief of staff, as mentioned, is not simply an official in uniform but a leading protagonist in the effort to uproot the dangers threatening us. He must express the opinion of the IDF on our ability to deal with the Iranian threat. And not necessarily always in private. The public must know not only whether an Israeli military operation is essential, but also what damage we can expect to the home front in the event that Israel takes action. The 40 measly Scuds that the Iraqis launched at us will look like child's play compared to the Iranian missiles.
Statements from the prime minister to the effect that he will decide and the army will implement sound like the statement of the feudal lord who gives orders to his subjects. The commander of the army is also allowed to assess our diplomatic relations with the United States because these relations are an important aspect of our military power. Our coordination with America is broad and profound, and the army is allowed to take into account the diplomatic implications of an independent Israeli operation against Iran, although of course the political leadership has the last word.
When Bibi says that Israel will act in accordance with its interests, he must take into account the fact that our relations with the United States are also part of these security interests. And when our friend and ally warns us, we have to listen carefully. Especially if as a result of our attack we get America into trouble and Americans are killed because of us. We will both fail and get ourselves into trouble. The commander of the army must assess the damage liable to be caused to our defensive power. Bibi can shout from all the rooftops that he is the big boss, the capo di tutti capi, but neither the army nor the people of Israel are his puppets.
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