There is nothing new in pressure being exerted by civilians on Israel's government to order the army to move. What has changed is the direction of the movement - out rather than in. On the road that began in 1967, when representatives of the Jordan Valley Regional Council bursted into a session of the Eshkol cabinet with a demand to take the Golan Heights, through the supplications of Kiryat Shmona's elected representatives, which had been under Katyusha fire from Lebanon for two straight weeks, that the Begin government agree to a cease-fire with the PLO in 1981, to the withdrawal in stages from accursed Lebanon (in 1983, 1985 and finally in 2000) - the direction of the wind has changed.
The country's civilians, who themselves, or their relatives, are reservist soldiers, have the right to have their say - even over the protection that the Israel Defense Forces provides so tight-fistedly to its combat soldiers - and not be intimidated by the professional arrogance of its top brass. If civilians had intervened in the dispute over the defense doctrine in the Sinai, the price of the Yom Kippur War might not have been so great. The IDF command, which opposes a withdrawal from Gaza prompted by military blunders, brought upon itself the blow of the civilian demand to do so. The General Staff was struck by paralysis for 36 fateful hours last week, between Tuesday morning and Wednesday afternoon, similar to the way the Americans reacted between the time of the two airplane crashes into the World Trade Center on 9/11.
A horrific, yet discreet, event in Gaza's Zeitoun quarter was duplicated on the Philadelphi route in the form of a very costly mistake of its own, in which five soldiers were killed. This incident had an even more costly outcome, because two additional soldiers who were providing cover for troops searching for the remains of the five soldiers were killed. It was also costly because of the human and political shockwaves it caused - the destruction of the houses in Rafah. And it was even more costly from the perspective of the senior command, because it awakened in the public, unlike in the elected and authorized echelon, a desire to force the army to behave completely against its desires.
Under the baton of Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon and (for a few hours, the acting chief of staff) Deputy Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, the IDF failed as a learning organization that must speedily draw conclusions and disseminate its knowledge to the length and breadth of the army. (Luck was smiling on the next deputy chief of staff, Dan Halutz, because he has yet to take over his new position, and therefore, was not accused of having a pilot's lack of expertise in ground fighting.) This time, it was not a matter of intelligence or the specific state of the forces - to prevent them from shooting at one another - but rather professional expertise.
As soon as he learned of the first armored personnel carrier's (APC) explosion in Zeitoun, the chief of staff should have ordered an immediate halt to the transport of explosives in heavily manned vehicles. However, he continued to maintain that it was necessary to seat the six soldiers in the explosives-laden APC. The difference between APC 1 and APC 2 is the difference between two training accidents that were quite similar in many ways - Tze'elim 1 and Tze'elim 2. Both were infuriating, with five casualties in each incident, but if the first could be swallowed, the second was indicative of deep-rooted negligence. In Tze'elim 2, it became clear that the IDF special units take enormous liberties when safety is concerned, ignore orders that apply to the rest of the army, and simply do not share their secrets with one another - even when it can prevent mishaps from being recycled.
In the field, the territorial brigades accumulate local expertise. The territorial commands (center and south) and divisions must make the most of this expertise, and learn how to distinguish between the area-specific knowledge and knowledge that applies to the entire territory. A checkpoint is a checkpoint, and if a large number of casualties are caused in an attack on a checkpoint in the Binyamin sector, the command and division must quickly prepare for a similar attack in the Menashe or Yehuda sectors. The chief of staff, who is free of the burden of ongoing combat duty, stands above the command level, and has planning, coordination and administrative tools at his disposal - the Ground Forces Command (which includes the Engineering Corps, which is involved with the transportation, and use, of explosive devices), the Research and Development Unit, and the Operations Branch. It is the General Staff that is supposed to think about how to separate the explosives from the combat vehicle, as in the case of the American half-tracks that transport hazardous ammunition alongside self-propelled guns.
In 1973, the air force claimed that one squadron after another had to learn unnecessarily, through its own experience, the same behavior when facing ground-to-air missiles, because air force headquarters passed on the conclusions too slowly. Between Zeitoun and Rafah, it turned out that the General Staff of 2004 is suffering from a similar deficiency.
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