Everything's (also) personal
Arafat, they worry in the army, has decided that he should not die an old man in bed; and would prefer to ignite a flame that will devour him so he goes down in the history of his people and the region as dying a hero's death.
About two weeks before he rose up against the danger of illegal and immoral orders being given in the air force, Yiftach Spector paid a visit to his friend Dan Halutz, the air force commander. The subject wasn't how the occupation corrupts, nor the fear of the influence of attacking Palestinian populated targets on the pilots' souls.
Spector presented Halutz with a much more down-to-earth request: a recommendation that would help Spector market a product used in flight training. After all, there are bunker-busting bombs and door-opening letters. After the other letter - the refusenik letter with Spector's name at the top - became public knowledge, the draft of the recommendation letter remained unsigned on Halutz's desk. Spector said, "it's none of your business," when asked about the tardiness of the recommendation. Spector was blunt - and right. It is his business. Morality is one thing, business another.
The defense establishment also has a "Spector" - Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, who has no love lost for Halutz (who could yet compete with Mofaz for leadership of the Likud). Like Spector the pilot, paratrooper Mofaz became a daring combat officer who risked his life on the other side of enemy lines. And his resume as a combat officer and an efficient executioner of instructions from his superiors says nothing about his ability to formulate policy.
Until recently, Spector enjoyed an advantage over Mofaz when it came to patronizing sermons. "In principle, since I left the army, I refrain from lectures and programs that `educate fighters,'" he once wrote to flight squadron commanders. "I think only active service commanders should be allowed to teach, delivering with their words a personal commitment - this is how I do it, this is how my people do it - and everything else, war stories, etc., is just old men blathering." If Spector's business is business, Mofaz's business is politics. His goal is to increase his market share in the Likud and build a base in the broader public.
Last week, Mofaz came up with a pincer movement; one arm was political and seemingly progressive, "Peace Now," in its outlook, as one officer said after hearing Mofaz's speech about the Yom Kippur War and the missed opportunities. Mofaz did not drill deep into Israeli-Egyptian relations in the 1970s, and ignored the unnecessary investments in Sinai for five years after the war, before the negotiations with Anwar Sadat and during them, but the general message was moderate, flanking Benjamin Netanyahu on the left: political vacuums invite military actions.
The other arm in the Mofaz pincer movement was military, an order for a special call-up of reservists. The general staff and central commander had reservations about the lack of a practical reason - the forecast for Sukkot was no worse than what has been on the army's platter for the last few weeks. There were suspicions that, after the Maxim restaurant massacre in Haifa (which wouldn't have been foiled, even if an entire reserve corps was called up), Mofaz wanted to demonstrate that protecting the civilians and citizenry is his top priority and that he is prepared for a major effort - by the reservists - to save lives and prevent the anticipated escalation in the wake of another large attack.
Conventional practice is for the chief of staff to request reserve call-ups - Ya'alon is very cautious about it, for social and economic reasons, among others - and the minister approves or denies the request. But that procedure was turned on its head and the minister intervened to impose a call-up. That's his authority, so he should be responsible if the demonstrative call-up - as opposed to the recommendations of the professional echelon - results in foul-ups, even if rare, isolated, pinpoint foul-ups tend to have an aggregative, hidden negative effect.
If Spector and Mofaz are sinning a little by blurring the boundaries between private and public, Yasser Arafat certainly overshadows both. The medical and political folklore about his illness does not amuse those who track the influence of his physical condition on his mental condition and how both influence his behavior. Arafat, they worry in the army, has decided that he should not die an old man in bed; and would prefer to ignite a flame that will devour him so he goes down in the history of his people and the region as dying a hero's death. The secret operation that Sayeret Matkal, the General Staff's elite special-operations force, should be planning is how to save Arafat from himself.