James Baker, the secretary of state in George Bush Sr.'s administration, was the smarter of the two, but when disputes erupted between them, it was Bush who used to say: "If you're so smart, why am I the president and you're not."
If the top tier of the security forces were asked to vote to anoint a civilian in charge of them, the landslide victor would be Dan Meridor, who plays the role in war simulation games done by the army. He is the prime minister that a blue-ribbon commission of the type he often heads would recommend, even though no committee would dare predict in the fall of 2005 that Ehud Olmert would be prime minister, Amir Peretz defense minister, and Rafi Eitan minister for the pensioners.
Meridor is also a loyal friend of Olmert's. If not for Meridor's lobbying with Yitzhak Shamir at the time, it is doubtful whether Olmert would have been named to his first government after the 1988 elections. During the period, Meridor served as justice minister, and perhaps under his inspiration, the state prosecution made the strange decision regarding the Likud's campaign financing invoices to postpone Olmert's prosecution until the end of the trials of the others who were accused: they were convicted, he wasn't. The end result is that Olmerts survive and become prime ministers, while Meridors remain outside and create blue-ribbon reports.
The latest Meridor report was handed to the outgoing defense minister, Shaul Mofaz, this week. It is possible that its secret details contain instructive insights, but at the headline level, as published yesterday, there is nothing more than a repetition of the obvious. Measuring the damage of the Qassams only by the number of casualties is fit for an operations researcher, not for elected officials, because the residents of farms and towns near Gaza are right to feel that if jackhammers were running night and day in north Tel Aviv for months on end, that non-lethal disturbance would be enough to cause a purposeful protest.
It is also necessary to prioritize, budget, fire and appoint, and difficult to move the old to make way for the new. The army's various arms take pride in their "breakthroughs" - entries into new dimensions, like the aerospace activity of the air force. When they are asked to give up something in favor of something else, they are horrified, lest, despite the faint odds, it turns out they need what they throw out. In the various internal competitions for resources, the IDF volunteers a cut in the Defense Ministry's special measures, while the Shin Bet proposes investing less in armor and more in the fulfillment of research and development into the technology of surveillance and targeted killings.
It's yet to be decided if Gaza is "foreign," meaning a state on Israel's borders, and therefore, the responsibility of Military Intelligence, or "local," meaning it is the Shin Bet's responsibility, as in the West Bank. Professionally, and the Southern Command agrees, the Shin Bet has the advantage. Politically, that harms the argument about Gaza's own sovereignty made since disengagement.
At the heart of the distinction lies "sink or wink": to hope for the collapse of the Hamas government or to rhetorically isolate it while learning how to live with it. The Shin Bet, which warns that Hamas' consolidation of power in welfare and education will increase its hold over the next generation of Palestinians and radicalize it against Israel, recommends maintaining a channel of communication with Mahmoud Abbas, and opposes any forgiveness toward Fatah men who were involved in terror.
Since the start of 2006, some 100 suicide bombers were arrested during preparations for, or on their way to, an attack in Israel. Three managed to get in. That's an impressive achievement, but if every day a new bomber enlists and puts on a suicide belt, and once a month one of them succeeds in his mission, it won't take long for an attack with many casualties to turn into a major military operation.
The surgery will take place: the only question is whether it will be done with the Shin Bet's chisel or the IDF's axe.
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