Last year, on the eve of his appointment as head of Military Intelligence, Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi carefully studied the justifications, outlined in the report of the Kahan Commission's investigation of the 1982 Sabra and Chatila massacre, for the dismissal of Maj. Gen. Yehoshua Saguy - MI chief at the time of the first Lebanon war. In general, most MI directors have taken pains to memorize the Agranat Commission Report on the failures of the military establishment in the period leading up to the Yom Kippur War, in the hope of escaping the fate of Maj. Gen Eli Zeira, the then head of MI, who resigned in the wake of the report's recommendations.
Kochavi, in contrast to his predecessors, found that Saguy had correctly predicted that the entry of the Phalangists into the Palestinian refugee camps in Beirut was liable to result in a massacre. He was discharged because his warning came across as a weak protest and the intelligence information in his possession was not submitted with requisite speed to the political leadership.
Kochavi's take-home lesson from this could be termed, in free translation from Hebrew, "You can't say 'I told you so' without screaming it." Kochavi is speaking out, to his superiors, while also allowing, and even encouraging, the substantive experts below him in the military food chain to differ with him and to tell him that he is wrong.
As a result of the frequent dismissals from the post, the position of MI director is seen as a mine field, best avoided by officers who fancy themselves as chief-of-staff material. This is an obsolete characterization.
Saguy, in 1983, was the most recent MI chief to leave the office in disgrace. The precedents set since then augur well for Kochavi. Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz was Kochavi's commander in the Paratroops, and every time in the past that a serving chief of staff and MI chief came from the Paratroops or the Sayeret Matkal special ops force - the MI director went on to become chief of staff: Examples are Ehud Barak and Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, Moshe Levy and Dan Shomron, Moshe Ya'alon and Shahak.
Kochavi comes from the school that believes that MI needs a commander, not a chief analyst; that it's best for the MI director to come from - and return to - the top brass of the ground forces, at the rank of a district commander or above. Even though people in the MI post will also be expected to have a grasp of strategy, their main function is to provide lists of enemy targets prior to and during military operations.
The two most important intelligence topics about which the head of MI in Israel today reports to the chief of staff, the minister of defense and the prime minister, are Iran's nuclear program, and the missile and rocket threats to the state. The director of MI, not MI's research officers or even the heads of the Mossad or of the Shin Bet security service, is responsible for the operations that create intelligence information - including those carried out by Sayeret Matkal, which even such an outstanding officer as Kochavi was not party to in his previous assignments - and the materials they produce.
At the same time, at present, Kochavi must also decipher the Palestinians' international riddles related to moves in September, the policies of the Obama administration, the ferment in the Arab states, and the civilian assaults on Israel's border fences. One of the lessons learned in the north from the events of Nakba Day resulted in the assignment of a network intelligence officer from Unit 8200, MI's central intelligence-gathering unit, to the Golan Division, in order to accelerate the gathering-research-warning process.
In light of these onerous tasks, special effort is required to ensure constant attention to the matter of Gilad Shalit. The appointment of a team to reexamine the case of the abducted soldier, headed by Col. (res. ) Lior Lotan, reflects the desire of Gantz and Kochavi to continue to pursue new channels - cautiously, so as not to hurt the feelings of Shalit's family, of the Shin Bet, of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and of his special negotiator David Meidan.
A deal for the release of Shalit currently appears possible only if Israel knuckles under completely to the dictates of Hamas. It is not worth it for the organization's leadership in the Gaza Strip to accept anything less in exchange for ending the West's ardent pursuit of it, and to absorb the freed prisoners - some of whom were, prior to their capture by Israel, more senior than Sheikh Ismail Haniyeh, Ahmed Jabri and Mohammed Def.
It's crowded at the top for the Palestinians, too. The heads of Hamas in Gaza are as unenthusiastic about bringing in more rivals as those who want Mahmoud Abbas' job are about the return of Marwan Barghouti. Or, for that matter, as Eli Yishai is about Aryeh Deri.
The decision makers in Hamas are captive to the Shalit case, just like their Israeli counterparts. And since Netanyahu has good reason for fearing the fickleness of public opinion, which will stop counting Shalit's days in captivity in favor of counting the number of Israelis killed in terror attacks carried out by the Hamas parolees, it is encouraging that Gantz and Kochavi are not giving up on the possibility of deriving some gain from the reexamination of Shalit's case.