Remember the Second Lebanon War
Former PM Olmert may be celebrating a legal victory, but it is incumbent upon the Israeli public not to forget, nor forgive, certain aspects of his leadership.
Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's "rehabilitation" campaign - which began on Tuesday at the Jerusalem District Court - continued yesterday with an invitation to speak at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, six years to the day after the outbreak of the Second Lebanon War.
The significance of Olmert's partial acquittal on corruption charges will be analyzed by others. But when it comes to the 2006 war, several things must be reiterated before the public memory is entirely scrambled and fried; that was the war which Israel waged under Olmert's leadership after a decision-making process that was "very severely flawed," according to the report by the Winograd Commission, which was appointed to investigate it.
The report went on to say that the war lacked a detailed plan and its organizers did not understand that "the ability to obtain diplomatically effective military achievements was limited, because a military response would bring about massive firing on the home front, and because there was no military answer to this firing without an extensive and prolonged ground operation - the cost of which was high and the support for which was low."
It is also worth recalling the hesitancy and vacillation of our leaders during the month-long war, the only-partial support for the officers in the field - and above all, the final 60 hours of the war, during which Olmert sent the Israel Defense Forces to launch an attack near the Litani River, even though he already had a cease-fire agreement in his possession. That decision cost the lives of 33 officers and soldiers, and that alone was enough to necessitate Olmert's resignation at the end of the war.
While it is impossible to ignore Olmert's sober stance regarding the Iranian threat and his government's apparently clean and effective bombing of the Syrian nuclear installation in September 2007, it is also impossible to forget that just over a year after that, the Olmert government proved that it had not internalized the lessons from Lebanon when it launched Operation Cast Lead. Again during that conflict, the government kept changing its mind about the desired outcome.
Yet the Second Lebanon War hovers over everything, casting a dark shadow on the possibility that Olmert will return to public life, regardless of the question of whether the judges decide that his conviction carries moral turpitude.
Of course, it was not only Olmert's reputation that was marred by the war. In the near future Brig. Gen. Guy Tzur is expected to be promoted to the rank of major general, and be appointed either to the position of military secretary to Netanyahu or head of the IDF Operations Directorate. In the Second Lebanon War, Tzur was the commander of Division 162, which failed on the main front in Southern Lebanon when it could not advance significantly beyond Wadi Saluki in the final 60 hours of battle. Since then he has restored his good name, initially as the commander of that division, subsequently as commander of the Tze'elim Base, and now as head of the General Staff's planning division.
Tzur habitually, frankly and extensively depicts the reason for the failure in the Second Lebanon War in lectures at military command courses. The members of the circles close to current Chief of Staff Benny Gantz are convinced that Tzur's promotion is justified, considering all that he's done since the war.
Around the General Staff table, Tzur will encounter other major generals from that bleak summer of 2006: Home Front Command chief Eyal Eisenberg, at the time commander of a reserve unit that stopped for no reason in the western sector in Lebanon; current navy commander Ram Rothberg, who was reprimanded as head of naval intelligence for not considering the possibility that a missile would be fired from the shore at the INS Hanit; and Military Intelligence chief Aviv Kochavi, who commanded the Gaza Division at the time Gilad Shalit was abducted.
Quite possibly, Brig. Gen. (res. ) Gal Hirsch - the commander of the Lebanon Division when the kidnapping of reservists Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev sparked the war - will also be at the table. There are rumors that Gantz is looking to bring Hirsch back, to succeed Maj. Gen. Shai Avital as deputy commander of the IDF's new Depth Command, which supervises actions that take place far from Israel's border.
Another division commander at the time, Brig. Gen. Imad Fares, whom former Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi jockeyed out of the army after Fares lied about allowing his wife to drive a military car, also holds a significant position in the reserves, as head of the depth front in the Northern Command.
Of the four division commanders who failed during the Lebanon War, only Brig. Gen. Erez Zuckerman shouldered responsibility and resigned from the IDF less than a year after the war. He has not been called upon to return.
Zuckerman's neighbor and friend on Moshav Amikam, Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant, was denied appointment as chief of staff at the last minute, after his stupid involvement in the lands affair on the moshav. Brig. Gen. Moshe (Chico ) Tamir, the outstanding combat officer of his generation, was dismissed by Ashkenazi because of his son's accident in a military all-terrain vehicle.
Why is it that some officers remain on the outside forever while others are brought back onto the main track and even get promotions? Neither Defense Minister Ehud Barak nor Ashkenazi nor Gantz has ever given an orderly explanation for their considerations.
Some consequences stick
While these military changes take place in the forefront, the Harpaz document affair remains in the background. The beginning of next month will mark two years since the allegations emerged about a possible attempt to influence the appointment of the IDF chief of staff through a document allegedly forged by Lt. Col. (res. ) Boaz Harpaz. One of the main characters in that scandal will never return to active service: Ashkenazi's aide Col. Erez Weiner knows that the promise that he would be appointed as chief education officer will not be kept.
Earlier this month a petition to the Supreme Court was filed against the strange law passed by the Knesset - in a remarkably accelerated proceeding - aimed at allowing publication of the final state comptroller's report on the Harpaz affair up to three months after outgoing comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss retires. On Wednesday the State Comptroller's Office received a letter from Weiner's attorneys demanding that Lindenstrauss recuse himself from dealing with the case, on the grounds that he has already formulated an opinion on the matter.
For several months now, Ashkenazi and Weiner have been pursuing a two-pronged effort: deflating the status of the outgoing comptroller (the draft of whose report placed the blame for the affair on Ashkenazi and the people close to him ), and spreading as much dirt as possible in every direction in an attempt to blur the final outcome. On Wednesday Ashkenazi attended a hearing at the comptroller's offices. Weiner appeared on Thursday. From the response documents submitted by the two to the comptroller's draft report, it emerges that Weiner is once again on the front line.
Will Weiner be Ashkenazi's Shula Zaken (Ehud Olmert's former bureau chief, who has taken the rap for some of the accusations against him ) - lying on the fence for his commander until the very last minute? The document does not deviate from the line the aide has taken until now, but in fact, the flood of claims might help Lindenstrauss prove his previous contentions.
The Plesner tangle
When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu disbanded the Plesner Committee, which was attempting to develop a proposal for drafting the ultra-Orthodox, he, in effect, rejected its conclusions even before they were announced. Immediately thereafter, in the wake of the angry public reaction, he hastened to announce the adoption of the Plesner recommendations in principle, and the establishment of another team to examine their implementation.
According to the Kadima version of events, nearly everything had been sewn up between the sides on Tuesday afternoon. Only minor disagreements remained between Kadima MK Yohanan Plesner and Vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya'alon of Likud, who was representing Netanyahu in the negotiations. One disagreement apparently had to do with when the agreement on the military exemption of "Torah geniuses" would come into effect. (It was agreed that 1,500 exceptional yeshiva students would be exempted from military or national service; Kadima wanted this arrangement to come into effect in 2015, Likud wanted it in 2017. ) The other dispute was about the size of the target for conscription. The Likud wanted 74 percent of the Haredi population to enter military or civilian service; Kadima wanted 80 percent.
According to Plesner, Ya'alon revised his position entirely after meeting with Netanyahu. He was now insisting on indefinite postponement of personal sanctions against ultra-Orthodox men who are not conscripted. He also wanted to replace the wording about a strict quota of so-called Torah geniuses that would be exempted from the draft with a general statement about fulfillment of conscription targets.
Ya'alon, for his part, accused Plesner of declaring war on the ultra-Orthodox and initiating a furor, while searching for publicity.
Netanyahu is quoted as having said in private conversations (which somehow always get leaked ) that "in the Jewish state there will not be quotas on Torah learners and no individual who has insisted on studying in a yeshiva will be sent to prison."
It appears at the moment that the concern about a crisis with the ultra-Orthodox parties, and perhaps simply a fear of making far-reaching decisions, are troubling Netanyahu more than the possibility of Kadima bolting from the government.
The navy steps on the gas
The navy, a professional force despite the mishaps in the Hanit and Mavi Marmara affairs, has for many years been suffering from discrimination, relative to the air force and the ground forces. Though a huge budget is allocated for the acquisition of new submarines, this is in part funded by German aid and is perceived to be a government pet project, over which the navy does not exert much influence.
Meanwhile, there has been a steep decline in the number of boats acquired in the past 30 years and it's unclear how many will be purchased in the future.
The discovery of the gas reserves in the Mediterranean Sea has provided navy commander Ram Rothberg an opportunity for a real change. This week Rothberg submitted an "invoice" which he believes will help protect the drilling sites: He contends that there is a need for no less than four new guard boats (a bit smaller than the Sa'ar 5 missile boats ), unmanned aerial vehicles and radar systems, all of which will cost a total of NIS 3 billion. If the State of Israel wants to enjoy the resources discovered in its economic waters, Rothberg says it must provide the means for protecting a new territory, equal in size to the land area of the state. The time has come for it to start paying.
The pressure is on, because the drilling is supposed to begin within about two years, and the process of acquiring new naval craft is long and complicated. However, it appears that if Rothberg wants to fulfill the goal he has set himself, he has to do one of two things: enlist an air force pilot for his PR effort or declare that for purposes of protecting the rigs, he needs an aircraft carrier.