At least three of the reporters who arrived yesterday at the Kerem Shalom area wore the red hat the Israel Defense Forces spokesman had given out to journalists covering the evacuation of the Gaza Strip - the evacuation for which the troops had trained in the nearby kibbutz. At the end of the pullout, the division commander, Brigadier General Aviv Kochavi, shut the gate behind him. But even then, he knew that the gate to Gaza is a revolving one. His officers planned operations in Gaza for any eventuality that may happen, and this week it did.
Kochavi's future is now up in the air. Until Sunday he was considered a sure contender for the post of chief of staff, sometime in 2015. The raid against the IDF position trapped him in the same situation faced by other brigadiers, such as Zvi Gendelman, commander of the Golan Brigade during the abduction of three soldiers at Har Dov in October, 2000. Gendelman was sacrificed in order to save others, better affiliated with the powers that be. The then-chief of staff, Shaul Mofaz, tended to delineate responsibility at the rank of divisional commander, a safe distance from him.
With Chief of Staff Dan Halutz, support for subordinates is one of the fundamentals of trust. To be on the safe side, and before Amir Peretz learns that it is within his authority as defense minister to appoint an investigator, he authorized Major General (res.) Giora Eiland to investigate the incident. Eiland is a good-hearted, mild-mannered man. He tends to uncover structural failures, not recommend individual dismissals.
Eiland's team comprises officers from different corps. The officer in charge of doctrine at the armored corps compared the regulations for tank crew reactions to an attack - stay in the tank and run over the assailants - to the reality on the ground when the shock and the smoke of the sudden rocket blast on the tank drove the crew outside. Brigadier General Guy Lipkin, head of field intelligence, is going through the logs listing the intelligence warnings from the Shin Bet and Military Intelligence.
At Southern Command they said yesterday that the public clash between the IDF and the Shin Bet, over the degree to which early warning had been specific, originated in Tel Aviv. In the field, there is no dispute between the brigade commander, Avi Peled, Kochavi and the head of Southern Command, Yoav Galant, on the one hand, and the local intelligence and Shin Bet commanders on the other.
Presentation of "a possible scenario" was made, including an attack using a tunnel along a 10-kilometer front, one of 50 similar warnings that have been received for months now.
This scenario was presented as an assumption, not as certainty, and preparations to push it forward in the form of an operation (code named "Comes Quickly") was well-thought out and thorough, but in the end came to naught. Questioning of two Palestinians, abducted on Saturday because they knew about "the sabotage-related guerrilla action," as a senior IDF officer lauded it in his professional evaluation, did not lead to timely information, even though the Shin Bet equiped itself with permission to "shake up" the prisoners.
The severe results of the action threw the Israeli side off balance and showed up the government of Ehud Olmert as a paper tiger. Olmert does not know in which direction he is headed - overthrow Hamas or push it toward moderation and dialogue.
In the absence of a policy spelled out by the government, the army does not know what it needs to do to carry it out. It is deploying means with no purpose. No one, not even the most senior officers in the field, is clear on how the entry of battalions into the Gaza Strip is supposed to gain the specific result of bringing back the abducted soldier, Gilad Shalit.
The forests of broadcasting satellite dishes that emerged once more near the Gaza Strip, in view of the rows of Givati Brigade armored personnel carriers, reflected not only nostalgic memories from the evacuation, but also the fundamental nature of the operation: a photo-op, and in this case the "op" stands for operation. This is an operation by process of elimination. Not in a built-up area, no casualties, not very useful, but also no more harmful than doing nothing.
Last summer's pullout, the disengagement from the Gaza Strip, was an experiment, whose results were assessed ahead of time as having little chance of success. In this respect, it succeeded, and the patient is beginning to return to Gaza, step-by-step, carried away by events and unable to stop himself.
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