The man who had to know everything
My colleague in military writing and my best friend in the world was meticulous in all things great and small, a man of strategic analyses and little details.
It was a cold and stormy winter's night, decades ago, before the Six-Day War. Ze'ev Schiff and I, military reporters, joined an ambush by Golani fighters inside Lebanon. Yes, even then, evil came down from the north. The battalion commander, Moussa Klein (who was killed a while later in the war), participated in the final briefing before setting out for the mission. He spoke to the fighters in soldiers' language that even today, or perhaps only today, would be rejected by the printing presses.
Darkness had already begun to envelop the Galilean hill and Ze'ev, my partner in the ambush, went up to one of the soldiers who had already applied black camouflage to his face: "Soldier," he said. "Do you have water in your canteen?" The soldier replied in the negative; because of the heavy burden of the preparations he had not had time to fill his canteen. "I saw that his canteen was wobbling too lightly," he whispered in my ear as though he had found great treasure: a soldier setting out for an ambush without water in his canteen. The battalion commander, Klein, noticed the fuss around Ze'ev, inquired, investigated and got angry.
"Eitan," he said to me angrily, "who does Schiff think he is? The state comptroller?" Two or three days later, an article was published in the newspaper. Along with an analysis of the strategic situation on the Israeli-Lebanon border, the dangers and the intentions of the IDF, Ze'ev also wrote about the water that was missing in the canteen. To his mind, the lone unknown soldier was just as important as the threats of the approaching war.
This is how my colleague in military writing and my best friend in the world was: meticulous in all things great and small, a man of strategic analyses and little details. The man who wanted to know everything. The man who had to know everything.
Journalists usually love themselves very much and do not love other journalists, certainly when they are working on the same beat. The fierce competition among them can build walls of hostility. I ask myself how it happened that for nearly 50 years we were competitors in writing on military issues, in two different newspapers, and such good friends and partners in writing books and exchanging opinions and information. I do not remember even a single day, a single incident, of anger, of annoyance, of a rupture in the friendship during this whole long period. From time to time we had differences of opinion of one sort or another, but we never quarreled at all.
The answer is without a doubt that this was all to the credit of Wolfie, the man who did not know how to be angry. In conversation with family and friends, for all of us, Wolfie was the "Supreme Court justice," the one to whom we turned in awe and trembling, and the one whose decision was always, but always, an honorable compromise, far from heated words and unbridled attacks. A man of understatement.
As a military reporter and commentator, he was the first and foremost among us, sought out by research institutes abroad, interviewed in all the foreign media, explaining to the heads of nations and states from Europe and America the meaning of things in the security field. They drank up his words with tremendous interest, as though he were a chief of staff, a defense minister or a prime minister.
Over the years my friend Wolfie became the "father" of the military reporters, a kind of "guru" whose influence went well beyond what was printed in the newspaper. Veteran generals flocked to his doorstep. New generals wanted to learn from his experience. He was a reservoir of secrets that never lost a drop.
In recent years a scarlet thread ran through his writing and what he said: In the wake of articles he had read and things he had heard, Wolfie was alarmed to discover the extent to which foreign and local journalists were out to "get" the State of Israel, seeking to do it ill in reports, many of them mistaken. He took upon himself the mission of being a lone information source who - while he expressed criticism of various phenomena and public figures - always did this with a burning love for Israel, something that has long vanished from the lexicon of young journalists.
Thus have ended 50 years of excellent journalistic writing, of a model of professionalism and understanding. As for me, 50 years of wonderful friendship have ended, but not my respect and esteem for him, nor my love. The flowers on his grave have not yet wilted and I already miss him.
The author is a journalist and commentator. He and Ze'ev Schiff co-wrote the books "From Our Military Correspondent," "Flight 139," "The Year of the Dove" and "The Lexicon of the Yom Kippur War."