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Last Thursday morning, as the reports came in about the terrorist attack at Paradise Hotel in Mombasa, Kenya, the professional level of the Foreign Ministry went into immediate action. Their mission: to fly a medical team to Kenya. These officials usually have to deal with calls from worried parents whose kids have disappeared in the Far East or in Latin America. They are a professional, as opposed to a political group, because if you're in the business of extricating Israelis in trouble it doesn't matter what party the foreign minister belongs to.

The officials quickly organized four senior physicians from Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem and an executive jet to get them to Mombasa. The cost of leasing a plane for this trip is $60,000. A bit of bargaining, conducted in emotional tones, persuaded the owner, a well-known businessman, to make do with half that sum: $30,000 and the proper treatment of the casualties would be a done deed.

The report hit the Defense Ministry like a stun grenade. A small plane? One? From the Foreign Ministry? Wait a minute, isn't Benjamin Netanyahu the foreign minister? The same Netanyahu who was just then contesting the leadership of the Likud? The same Netanyahu who after losing to Ariel Sharon would insist on getting ready for the next round, to take on Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, who has to serve as a Knesset member in order to qualify to become head of the Likud and prime minister? Okay, it's not going to happen. Air force planes will go to Kenya - two, four, six, big, expensive planes that will be able to bring home - at the expense of the defense budget - the holidaymakers who weren't hurt, too, and who would know - along with their travel agents, who saved a lot of money - who to thank.

The transport fleet that lifted off at Mofaz's order burned more than a million shekels from the empty defense budget. Exactly how much more is difficult to calculate, because as usual in commerce, it depends on whether we're talking about the buy price or the sell price. When the IDF asks for financial compensation for activity, it also factors in the cost of the pilots' studies in kindergarten, whereas when the army is asked to explain wasteful spending, it turns out that the cost was negligible and perhaps should even be considered a saving, because the air crews need flight time and training in sudden long-range sorties.

Showtime

As if the air show on the day of the Likud primary weren't enough, Mofaz and Sharon recruited the commander of the air force, Major General Dan Halutz, to stand by their side that same evening. The ideological background in which Halutz was raised, in Moshav Hagor, as well as opinions that he did not hide during his years as a civilian, during a break from the career army, marked him as being close to the Likud. Of everyone in uniform, he is the favorite of Omri Sharon and his dad. If it was up to them, Halutz, and not Moshe Ya'alon, would now be chief of staff; and if they believed that the Israeli public would accept a flight from the headquarters of the air force into the government, they would have appointed him defense minister rather than Mofaz immediately after Benjamin Ben- Eliezer's resignation.

However, until a week ago, and despite his provocative tendency to hone his public statements about the military missions in the territories, Halutz was the general of broad consensus. Support for his candidacy to become commander of the air force crossed rotating ruling parties and rivalries at the decision-making level. In the air force and in the General Staff as well, where he was head of the Operations Branch, he is considered a first-class commanding officer, less involved in personal and professional disputes than others, and a worthy - and, as air force chief, precedent-making- candidate for chief of staff.

When he took his seat behind the table of Sharon and Mofaz - Sharon's declared supporter - for an event that was gea red to improve Sharon's chances against Netanyahu, Halutz lost his innocence; the only question that remained is whether he gave himself willingly or was coerced.

Par. 1 of General Staff Order 33.0166, of August 1990, which was updated in June 1996, states that "All activity bearing a party or political character is prohibited in army bases and military installations." The Rabin Base in the Kirya (the military compound) in Tel Aviv houses the General Staff, the air force headquarters, the Navy headquarters, the Defense Ministry (the show in question was held in its dining room) and the Little Tel Aviv branch of the Prime Minister's Bureau. Even if the Prime Minister's Office and the Defense Ministry are subtenants of the IDF, military police are stationed at the gates of the base. If this is not a military base as defined in the order, the order can be rescinded. Par 43 of the order "Ban on Election Advertising," warns that "no election advertising, written or oral, in any form, shall take place in IDF units and IDF installations." Sharon's serial call, "Go to vote, go to vote," was in flagrant violation of the language of the order.

Pars. 5 and 7 of the order forbid soldiers "to express themselves publicly, orally or in writing, on political or military subjects." Similarly, they are barred "from appearing as the army's representative before anyone outside the IDF and from taking part in any assembly, reception of other public event as the representative of the army" without authorization from one of three officers: the chief of staff, the head of the Human Resources Branch or the IDF Spokesperson.

Par. 26 makes participation in a press conference conditional on receiving the authorization of the IDF Spokesperson. (The press may be approached for the purpose of "solving crosswords and quizzes, questions in health matters or in matters of science and technique," provided the definition in the crossword or the query to the physician is not related "directly or indirectly" to security or political subjects.)

Mofaz, who until quite recently was chief of staff, has a vivid memory of the procedure that subjected him and his generals to authorizations; although they, as well as Sharon when he was a general, were not known for their disciplined silence. One of them, or someone on behalf of them, lured Halutz to take part in a political event.

In the absence of Chief of Staff Ya'alon, who was then on the last leg of his Washington junket, they did not ask the chief of staff's authorization - in practice, that would have meant asking Major General Gaby Ashkenazy, the acting chief of staff and the second representative of Moshav Hagor on the General Staff. The IDF Spokesperson was not informed. The head of the Human Resources Branch - Major General Gil Regev, from the air force - is not asked to authorize public appearances by generals, but only supervises the chief education officer and the IDF's communications media.

The official IDF declined this week to answer questions that were generated by Halutz's appearance in a Sharon-and -Mofaz show: Was his participation authorized as required, and if so, by whom? The refusal is unfortunate but not surprising, in light of the fact that Ya'alon has refrained from making a clear and unequivocal statement about the IDF's involvement in politics.

As a footnote to Ya'alon's visit to Washington, it turned out that he has not yet learned from his hosts in the American capital the first lesson in Introduction to Utterances by Senior Officials: do not give interviews, lectures or speeches without a recording and a transcript in order to remove later doubts and avoid the need to issue clarifications, denials and explanations of context (the second lesson is to initiate publication of the full text on the IDF Spokesperson's Web site).

That is how the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Richard Myers, goes about things, and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, too. This is Rumsfeld's second tour of duty in Washington. The first time around he was secretary of defense in the Ford administration, and in order to rebuff criticism of political, personal or party use of the defense and intelligence systems, neither he nor George Bush Sr. - the head of the Central Intelligence Agency at the time - entered the race to become Ford's running mate in the 1976 elections.

Someone has to put both politicians who misuse the IDF and officers who are tempted into infractions in their place. That is the job of the attorney general, Elyakim Rubinstein, and of the military advocate general, Major General Menachem Finkelstein - but their feebleness encourages disdain for the law and for military orders.

In wake of the use of air force planes to promote the interests of senior officials in the ruling party during the haywire period of the election season, we have every right to doubt the sincerity and the judiciousness of the heads of the defense establishment when they speak about the money shortfall in the army. The situation is in fact grave and even lethal - for example, there are not enough protective vests or drones (unmanned aircraft): a drone that follows a terrorist squad on the way to a suicide bombing attack in one sector will not be available to watch a second squad in another sector. The shortage is real, the motives are dubious, and those who do not distinguish between the private and the state spheres, between politics and the army have only themselves to blame if they are not believed and if they are suspected of allowing a lust for power to undermine their judgment.

Experts in airline security from friendly Western states convened recently in Israel for two rounds of briefings. Their hosts: the protection branch of the Shin Bet security service and the section of the branch that deals with aviation security. Even as they were going about their studies, two scenarios were realized: a hijack threat on a flight to Istanbul and the missiles fired at an Arkia plane as it was lifting off from Mombasa.

Plane talk

The abundance of warnings about concrete dangers facing Israelis abroad shows that the only method to protect them is to impose a closure on Israel, and preferably house arrest - in itself something of a problem, because the most dangerous country for Israelis remains Israel. In light of the suicide bombers, it is possible that by the end of 2002 more than 700 Israelis will have been killed since September 2000.

Like Jewish terrorism in the early 1980s, which also helped make the reputations of those who were fighting it - Rafi Peled as the national police chief and Carmi Gillon as the head of the Shin Bet - world terrorism is a sphere that holds out the potential of advance for those who are dealing with it on both sides. In the Arab branch of the Shin Bet it grew to the size of a department, and within it a branch the size of another section for the world jihad.

The deputy head of the Shin Bet is coordinating inter-branch discussions, with the participation of Military Intelligence and the Mossad espionage agency, to thwart attacks by Al-Qaida and its offshoots in Israel. Abroad, the Mossad is responsible for external relations, through which the local security services and the police supply it with deterrent information. The Shin Bet was surprised this week to hear that Military Intelligence had a specific warning about terrorist intentions in Mombasa. A clarification revealed that it was only one of those general warnings that refer to large chunks of the planet and do not allow for prevention or even for rescinding the warning, because Al-Qaida type attacks are never canceled, they are only suspended.

A retrospective look at the terrorist attacks that have already taken place is based on an optical illusion: They took advantage of certain breaches of security, but even without those breaches the attacks would have been perpetrated, because the planning would have found ways around the breaches. The attacks of September 11, 2001 did not need an underground. It was enough to arrive at the airports in an orderly manner, with visas and passports, without the need to slip into the country along the coast or via the land borders with Canada and Mexico. We can assume that people who are able to make their way from the peaks of Afghanistan to the mountains of Pakistan will also be able to navigate the territory between Alberta and Montana.

U.S. law hampered, and continues to hamper (albeit not quite as strictly) police and intelligence agencies in their attempts to carry out surveillance of American targets - citizens, permanent residents or companies. The citizen continues to have the right to immunity from the prying eyes of the authorities, though not from the desire of some Muslim to send him and thousands like him to kingdom come in small pieces.

The economic prosperity in Europe rests on appearances: low security expenditures, thanks to reliance on American power or on an illusion of security. Airlines are not in the security business but in the business of business. Installing antimissile devices to protect planes against all threats will cost tens of millions of dollars and will oblige the airlines to rip out many passenger seats. The flights will be more secure but not profitable; and in fact they will not be totally secure, because there is no perfect defense against the lone bomber.

The security system will prevent the high-flying suicide bomber from bringing explosives or sharp instruments aboard, but not his hands, if he is an expert in contact combat, and when the stewardess smilingly wheels the cart of duty-free items to his seat, he will fork over $20 and get a weapon in the form, say, of a bottle of whiskey, whose contents will be spilled into the aisle and lit with a match, while the bottle is smashed and turns into a dagger.

And then, after counter-ploys are concocted - the passengers will be lashed to their seats from liftoff until landing with short, escorted forays to the toilet - the pilot of a light aircraft will ignore the warnings he is getting and deliberately collide with a passenger plane.

A study conducted by the Rand Corporation, published this summer, tries to subsume the world's terrorists into two categories: Type A, who are fanatics and love action, like the pirates of centuries ago (who disappeared only after they were deprived of safe havens); and Type B, who is ideologically motivated and is susceptible to influence to stop his activity.

The authors of the study conclude that there is nothing to talk to Type A about - he has to be eradicated. Palestinian terrorism, they add, is divided between the two types; but Al-Qaida and its derivatives belong strictly to the first type, and only a lengthy, expensive war to the death will be of any avail against them.

That's a gloomy conclusion; it's more pleasant to close one's eyes and hope that all this is only a passing nightmare, but the truth is that it is the melancholy reality that is going to accompany Israel and the rest of the world in the years ahead.