Chief of Staff Moshe (Boogie) Ya'alon will appear before the Knesset Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee today, slightly red in the face from a well-known organizational disease: "chief-of-staff-itis." This is an immune system failure, which strikes officers who as generals were known for their critical attitude toward their superiors, but who lose their ability to absorb such criticism from the moment that they sprout the insignia of a lieutenant general, express bitterness in the name of generations of chiefs of staff and mutter with self-admiration: The chief of staff is me.
Ya'alon bears the ultimate responsibility for a series of mishaps experienced by the Israel Defense Forces within a few days: the death by friendly fire of Corporal Tom Dekel, the penetration of a Hezbollah drone into Israeli airspace over Nahariya and the fatal overturning of a tank on the slopes of Mount Hermon. His part in all these instances was passive in his failure to prevent them, but in the affair of the showdown between him and the commander of the Gaza Division, Brigadier General Shmuel Zakai, the chief of staff played a very active role, to the point of arousing doubts about his ability to distinguish between what's important and what isn't, and about his skill in anticipating the results of his actions. This is not the Zakai affair, but another Ya'alon affair.
According to UN observers in the general staff, a plea bargain was achieved yesterday in the contacts between representatives of Ya'alon and Zakai, as in negotiations between two great powers: Zakai confessed to the heinous sin of hanging around with members of that dangerous sect called the press, and Ya'alon absolved Zakai of suspicions of leaking to the press and of lying. The great loser in the affair is Ya'alon. The growl of discontent from the field - heard from fighters doing compulsory service as well as from reservists - demonstrated that Zakai has more troops than does the chief of staff. He is also equipped with a service contract until the summer of 2006. Had Ya'alon been foolish enough to try to breach it, he would have encountered sharp public and legal opposition.
Behind Ya'alon's rational countenance lies a person of strong passions, who refuses to recognize the gray area between love and hate. He hates liars, but the definition of a liar is determined according to his convenience. Had he embarked on a campaign to fulfill his vow, "A liar will not be an officer," Hurricane Boogie would have swept the offices of the generals clean of their inhabitants. With his selective integrity, Ya'alon is like that same kibbutz secretary, a former dairyman, who demands that the head of the cowsheds be expelled from the kibbutz after "rounding off" the number of containers of milk in his accounts, while remaining obtuse to the fraud perpetrated by his protege, the kibbutz treasurer.
The commanders of the infantry brigades, from the Paratroopers, like Ya'alon, and from the Golani Brigade, like Zakai, have a name for being good walkers and fast decision makers, until it turns out that they are better at walking fast than at making good decisions. Zakai was too quick to fall onto his sword; Ya'alon, with the help of the head of the Southern Command, Major General Dan Harel, held out his sword to him. The malicious satisfaction of the chief of staff and the head of the command over the distress of the division commander was strange. If they wanted to tell him to leave Gaza, why did they appoint him in the first place? And if they admit now that they made a mistake, why are they slandering him?
Ya'alon has won on one front: He has prevented Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz from any real intervention in appointments. Mofaz was so afraid of being accused of operating as a super-chief of staff that he did just the opposite, and has refrained from civilian monitoring of the arbitrary nature of the chief of staff's decisions.
The appointment - and cancellation of the appointment - of every senior officer, from colonel and above, requires the consent of the defense minister. A dispute broke out this summer over the appointment of the commander of the Israel Navy. Mofaz wanted Brigadier General Eli Marom ("Chiney"), who excelled in the operation to catch the Karine-A weapons boat, but Ya'alon - with the encouragement of the outgoing commander, Major General Yedidia Ya'ari - chose another officer, Dudu ben Besht, and Mofaz gave in.
Exactly because there are few officers whom Mofaz regards more highly than Zakai, the defense minister was trapped: If he intervened in favor of Zakai, for the good of the IDF, and refused to confirm Ya'alon's decision, he would be justifying his critics. It turns out that the job makes the man: Ya'alon, as chief of staff, has turned into what Mofaz was during his tenure; and Mofaz, as defense minister, has turned into Benjamin (Fuad) Ben-Eliezer, his predecessor in the job.
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