TORONTO - The students in the Canadian armed forces' joint command and staff program are being introduced for the first time to thinking on the command level. These future majors come from the ranks of the ground forces, air force and navy. In their ethics classes they look at a case study from a foreign army on a distant front - the case of Eli Geva, a commander of an Israel Defense Forces armored brigade, who had to decide how to proceed in Beirut knowing that civilians would be hurt. The instructor had his students put themselves in the position of a career officer like Geva, who couldn't take the pressure and quit. Would they do the same?
In discussions at the Center for National Security Studies at the Canadian Forces College here, as well as at the Canadian Security Intelligence Service in Ottawa, a lot of curiosity was expressed about the decision-making process in Israel - how senior IDF officers think and act, relations between the ranks of the political and military leadership, and internal decision making when it comes to the Iranian nuclear issue.
The Canadian Army has completed its mission in Afghanistan and feels slightly uncomfortable with the army's traditional lethal role. It prefers to be portrayed, as its recruiting slogan states, as "serving Canadians at home and around the world" - as medics, not fighters, a Boy Scout troop, one of its officers said. From here, territorial disputes in the Middle East look as out of context as a snowplow in a spring heat wave.
Young people and professionals here get proper monetary remuneration as an incentive to enlist and stay in the army. A master corporal in his fifth year makes about $6,000 a month. Majors get $9,000, and specialist medical officers with the rank of colonel earn $24,000 per month - $4,000 more than the Canadian Forces chief of staff.
When senior officials at the Canadian Security Intelligence Service are asked if they are the counterpart of Britain's MI5, which deals with internal security, or MI6, which deals with intelligence functions abroad, they say they are really an MI "5 and a half." Combating terrorism is the agency's responsibility even outside of Canada's borders, but without the offensive capabilities of Britain's MI6, Israel's Mossad or the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. It's an antiquated policy that is about to be changed. And in the interim Canadian passports have been doing reserve duty in the operations of a certain Israeli organization.
Despite the well-known complexity of Canada's relations with its American neighbor to the south - of which the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812 is a reminder - Canada is above all the U.S. defense establishment's closest partner. It is also an important player in the "ABC" trio of Australia, Britain and Canada - countries that are treated as members of an extended family in Washington. The Americans keep them in the loop, except when it comes to things that would be secret even within the family.
Last week Gen. Walt Natynczyk, chief of the Canadian defense staff, hosted IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz on a stopover the Israeli made on his way to Washington for a third meeting in six months with the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey. Gen. Dempsey carefully packaged Gantz's U.S. visit. Three days before the Israeli's arrival, Dempsey was interviewed on PBS television's Charlie Rose show and distilled the disagreement between the United States and Israel over the Iranian nuclear program as one of timing. He also noted that the U.S. military had been simulating possible scenarios involved in an Iranian response to an Israeli attack - a reference to the "Internal Look" war games conducted by the U.S. Central Command.
By the time Gantz arrived from Canada, The New York Times had learned that Iran's response was projected to included hundreds of American war dead, which of course would be chalked up to Israeli haste. As soon as Gantz's visit was over, Dempsey quickly informed anyone who was interested that he had informed his Israeli visitor about the facts of life. In diplomatic speak, it was a "regular and candid dialogue" of crucial importance in light of the "common threats and challenges."
If such a hint was not enough to encourage hope that the IDF and the Israeli intelligence community would restrain Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, a week ago, on St. Patrick's Day, Dempsey celebrated with a 69th infantry unit - the descendant of the so-called fighting Irish Brigade, whose traditional motto is "gentle when stroked, fierce when provoked." America is just like that unit, Dempsey seems to indicate. Better not to provoke it and witness its friendly demeanor replaced by firm determination.
From serene Ottawa to tense Washington, Gantz was accorded a lot of attention, because the folks there know that without his explicit recommendation there won't be an attack on Iran. In the current Israeli reality, when it comes to Benjamin Gantz and Benjamin Netanyahu, the right Benny is the one in uniform. On this issue, the prime minister is dependent upon the Benny at the chief of staff headquarters. In the Canadian military, the question has not yet been raised over whether, 30 years later, when it comes to the crunch, Gantz will find himself facing the same pressures as Eli Geva.
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