"Chalk it up to inexperience," Benjamin Netanyahu suggested, speaking in English - in his MIT lingo - when asked why, during his first term as prime minister, he gave the defense portfolio to Yitzhak Mordechai and allowed him to do as he pleased with the Israel Defense Forces. Some 10 years later, with the benefit of experience, and in his second term in office, Netanyahu handed the defense portfolio to Ehud Barak - and allowed him to do as he pleased with the IDF. The outcome of that decision speaks for itself.
The interim findings of the police investigation into the so-called Galant document, which is linked to the current and future army chief of staff, haven't solved a thing. The investigation, which began with image consultant Eyal Arad's complaint of forgery, has two levels to it: criminal and civil. In this narrow context, investigators determined the complaint was justified and therefore something appropriate to make public, partly because Arad's PR firm is linked to an international corporation that demanded clarifications before continuing contacts.
But factually, and therefore publicly, this doesn't prove anything one way or the other. Was the memorandum that was reportedly drafted on Arad's stationery a forgery not only in form, but in content, or was it indeed written by parties out to get a senior defense official? Sabotage may still be lurking behind the montage.
The day is approaching when high school seniors, in filling out questionnaires prior to their army induction, will be asked if they'd like to serve with the Galant Corps, the Gantz Battalion or the Eizenkot Division. The poisonous fumes at the senior levels of the defense establishment are reminiscent of power struggles seen among the Lebanese Phalangists, Bashir Gemayel against Dany Shamoun, so far without the long knives.
And where was the prime minister during the months of quarreling between the defense minister and the chief of staff, and between the chief of staff and one of the most prominent generals? Maybe Netanyahu has yet to realize that the entire government, not this or that minister, is the supreme commander of the IDF, and that the leader of the government is not absolved from taking an interest or intervening in events at defense headquarters in Tel Aviv.
Barak did not like the direct connection - forged before his return to the defense ministry - between Netanyahu's predecessor, Ehud Olmert, and Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi. Netanyahu, in joining the Barak-Ashkenazi duo, took the liberty he doesn't have of retreating backstage.
Netanyahu also neglected to make skillful use of his military secretary, Maj. Gen. Yohanan Locker. A former combat navigator in the air force, and high school classmate of Tzipi Livni, Anat Atzmon and Yoram Turbowicz, Locker is both an expert in his field and a well-connected officer. One of his jobs is to be the eyes, ears and especially the sniffing nose of the prime minister within the defense establishment. The current crisis could have been avoided had Netanyahu understood what kind of advance warning he needs, and what steps to take should it arrive.
The question of forgery is of course important, but not critical. Ashkenazi believed the author of the memorandum to be a prophet whose predictions are now coming true, a kind of local Nostradamus; as if a secret forgery of Hitler's diaries was investigated, and it emerged that Hitler forged them himself. The question of relations among top defense officials, with which everyone is preoccupied, is only a piece of a much larger problem.
The problem lies with the pretence of decision-makers to know that they know. Ashkenazi believed he knew that Barak's office was working against him, and for GOC Southern Command Yoav Galant. Just like intelligence chiefs involved in previous affairs, he might have been misled by one golden intelligence item that turned out to be garbage - or not.
Mossad agent handler Yehuda Gil nearly pushed Israel and Syria into war in 1996, when his invented intelligence reports were believed. The Egyptian Ashraf Marwan, who committed suicide in 2007, might have been a double agent. Perhaps Ashkenazi has also fallen prey to a double agent, or to the fabricator of a report from the enemy's war room - or not.
But if the wise men of the defense establishment - those who wear the self-important expressions of people privy to secrets - are tripped up this way, how can their image of reality or their database actually be believed? How do they know that they know what is happening inside the second centrifuge on the left near the Tehran bazaar? How will Netanyahu, Barak and the next IDF chief of staff decide if, when and where to bomb in Iran?
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