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People who have followed developments in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) for years don't recall such a high level of bitterness among middle-ranking officers as there is now. Battalion and brigade commanders are not satisfied and they are making no effort to hide that fact. The source of their unease does not lie in complaints about the behavior of politicians - who, supposedly, are not permitting the army to take action - but in relations between themselves and the military high command, and in particular IDF Chief of Staff, Shaul Mofaz. Many officers contend that a serious problem of leadership exists.

Not only do commanding officers - especially the reservists - feel the senior level is not ensuring they get the conditions they say they deserve, but they feel the failure is infiltrating the operational level, too. More and more commanders on the ground have objections to the way the IDF is being used in the territories: war planes and tanks are committed as though this were a battle against the Syrian army and not against guerrilla fighters. It is inconceivable, say officers who are coping with the situation in the field, that to this day there is not a senior commander on the General Staff whose sole job it is to coordinate the fighting in the territories and update the combat doctrine. As things stand, each commander in each sector is fighting his own private war, using his own methods, with units that have not been prepared for combat against guerrillas, and above them the high command occasionally sends in planes and helicopters.

The IDF is a heavy, awkward army, and its senior commanders are apparently unable to divorce themselves from modes of thought relating to the deployment of forces in large frameworks. Even though quite a few members of the General Staff did service in elite reconnaissance units, their experience is hardly evident from the IDF's activity in the territories. Immediately after the eruption of Intifada II, the chief of staff boasted that the IDF had been well prepared to deal with the situation. However, the events of the past few months would seem to challenge that conclusion. After more than nine months we would expect the army to have an updated combat doctrine that is appropriate for the events on the ground. But in practice the IDF appears to be behaving like a fire brigade, rushing to the scene of the blaze long after the arsonists have departed.

On any given day, there are probably no more than a few dozen Palestinians throughout the entire West Bank who shoot to kill. Yet the strongest army in the Middle East is almost helpless in the face of the violence. Sometimes, officers say, the impression we get is that the senior command level simply doesn't want to take action if it is possible that soldiers will be hurt.

But what should be of even greater concern to senior General Staff officers, and the chief of staff in particular, is the increasingly common complaint by commanders in the field feel that they are not getting backing. The case of Brigadier General Yair Naveh - who stated, when IDF troops entered Area A (under Palestinian control) in the Gaza Strip, that they might remain there for months, only to see them pulled out within hours - has had more of an impact than is widely thought. Quite a few officers thought that the chief of staff crossed a red line in that case, in terms of the commanding officer's responsibility toward his subordinates. Not only did he not defend the officer - the commander of the IDF's units in the Gaza Strip, who had briefed the media at the request of his superiors - but he also ordered the IDF spokesman to condemn him for ostensibly speaking out of turn. That is not the way to build leadership, officers say, pointing to the complaints of reserve forces as symptomatic of the problem.

For more than four years, representatives of the reservists have been engaged in exhausting and frustrating negotiations with the Defense Ministry over their insurance (so that they can claim funds in the event they are wounded or killed during reserve duty), yet the chief of staff is not bringing the whole weight of his office to bear in the talks. To demand that advanced new jeeps be purchased for battalion commanders in the regular army, but to ignore the fact that reserve soldiers do not get the same insurance as career army soldiers, is hardly a sterling display of leadership.

Reserve officers, fighting to prevent a massive evasion of duty by their soldiers, can't understand how their senior commander can distance himself so from the needs of reservists. To illustrate his characteristic approach to the whole question of the reservists' claims, these officers quote his response to a petition submitted to the High Court of Justice by the widows of two pilots trying to get the same terms for insurance payments as those operating in the career army: "The reservist differs from the member of the career army in that the IDF is not `his place of work' and instead of an IDF pension he receives various financial benefits deriving from his occupation in civilian life (a civil pension, life insurance and savings)." Either the chief of staff is not aware that most life insurance policies do not apply to reserve service, or he is aware but chose to ignore it. And what about students, for example, who have neither savings nor a pension?

The latest round of senior appointments is also a cause of bitterness. The chief of staff explained that it is impossible to replace the brigade commander in the Nablus region - even though an investigating committee found that he had failed badly in performing his duties - by stating that commanders are not switched while fighting continues; then he replaces Brigadier General Benny Gantz, the commander of the IDF units in the West Bank, shortly after his appointment to the post.

Most worrisome of all, senior officers on the General Staff seem not to understand the depth of the crisis developing between them and the middle-ranking officers leading the units in the territories. Otherwise, it is difficult to grasp their disregard for the bubbling lava that is now building toward an eruption.