About a month ago, without the government of Israel noticing (indeed, as far as is known, without it having any idea about such activity, which had been moving in this direction for the past year), the U.S. administration demarcated the Green Line. Its intelligence agencies analyzed, marked and drew Israel's eastern border - the armistice line that had been in place until June 5, 1967. The Annapolis process is not dead. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton will continue it, equipped with a blueprint left by Condoleezza Rice, which is intended to set the border between Israel and the future Palestinian state.
The Israelis missed the signals sent by Rice. In an interview to the French news agency AFP on December 22, she said, "And on the settlements, I think we've made stronger statements about the Israeli settlements than at any other time in American - for an American administration. But what has to happen is that they need to determine these borders so that everybody knows what's in Palestine, everybody knows what is Israel, and that's what we've focused on in the negotiations." Two weeks before that, an article appeared in the periodical of the U.S. National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA). This large professional body serves the administration and the armed forces by mapping and analyzing satellite and aircraft photographs. The article was written by two senior regional geographers, Wayne Schneider and Denise Damschroeder, whose team recently "accomplished an in-depth analysis of the 1949 Armistice Line that separates Israel from the West Bank." The group's experts researched and reviewed the maps that were appended to original treaty documents, added new materials and "updated with imagery" the separation fence between Israel and the Palestinian territories in the West Bank.
The result of the experts' work, which was carried out in conjunction with colleagues from the United Kingdom (perhaps because they possess a lot of material from the British Mandate period), with the NGA's political boundaries unit and the State Department, is 28 files of photographs and maps of the Green Line and the separation fence.
These files will make it possible for Obama and Clinton to talk to the leaders of Israel and Palestine without wasting time with disputes, such as the one over Taba that wore down Egypt and Israel in the 1980s.
Letter from the Paratroops
E. is the commander of the Paratroops' engineering company, one of three units that make up the brigade's patrol battalion, along with the recon unit and the antitank Orev company. Paratroops officers, like their peers in the other infantry brigades, aspire to command these companies. E.'s appointment indicates that he is a highly regarded officer with a bright future.
E.'s full name cannot be published here, since he is still fighting in Gaza. It can only be revealed that he comes from a family that is very well known among two groups: officers and settlers. His father, a former air force pilot and a leading educator and influential figure among the religious public in Gush Katif (the former settlement bloc in the Gaza Strip), was opposed to the Gaza disengagement but helped avert clashes between evacuators and evacuees. His uncle, who forsook religion, is a brigadier general who holds a central position in the General Staff; in 2005, he helped his sister, E.'s mother, evacuate her house. Last November 27, exactly a month before the start of Operation Cast Lead, Major E. sent an English-language letter to various people abroad. The letter was adorned with the Paratroops' winged-snake logo and with the symbol of the engineering company, below which appeared the Hebrew words for "parachuted sabotage." The letter then made its way back to Israel, when a former Israeli living in Florida forwarded it to his friend, a major general, who was astounded by its contents.
E. began the letter by mentioning the name of his wife, the mother of their three daughters, and went on to briefly outline his 11 years of IDF service, until his appointment in September as commander of the engineering company. It's an elite unit, he explained to his overseas addressees. "Throughout the IDF's history, this unit has served as the spearhead in fighting against those who wish to wipe us out. Our various operations consistently highlight our defense forces' role in protecting our people. This is why I was proud and honored to take upon myself the command of one of the best fighting units in the IDF; one that has sadly lost 27 of our best sons during the long and continuing battle for Am Yisrael & Eretz Yisrael," E. wrote, referring to the people of Israel and the Land of Israel. In the past few years, he added, the unit has seen constant action in fighting terrorism in all sectors, against Hezbollah on the northern border, against Palestinian terrorism in Hebron, Nablus and Jenin, and against the Hamas terrorist threat in Gaza.
"Currently, our unit is operating against terrorist groups who attempt to produce a terrorist act from the Gaza Strip to population centers of Israel. The company's men are blessed with the right values and motivation and perform whatever is required of them in a manner that makes all of Israel proud. They adhere to their mission to engage the enemy whenever and wherever they are needed. Our ultimate motivation is the idea of victory - to win every encounter with the enemy in order to ensure the safety of the people of Israel."
Up to this point, the IDF Spokesman would agree with every word. But E. continues: "When I began my new command, I was disappointed to see the poor quality of many types of equipment in a selected unit as ours, such as fighting vests [flak jackets], and other essential items. There is also much to be improved concerning other personal military accessories. After three months in my position, operating in the Gaza Strip, I am absolutely sure that good quality of equipment increases the safety of our men, and adds to the morale and self-confidence of our soldiers. In short, improved equipment saves lives."
If E. is right, during the past two years, false governmental and army propaganda has been disseminated in order to persuade the public that the IDF has been rehabilitated and the logistics gaps filled, ensuring that combat troops will no longer be short of essential equipment. If he is right, the defense budget is not being utilized for the right ends. If he is right, on the eve of the ongoing Gaza operation, soldiers felt exposed to Hamas' explosive devices and bullets.
If he is wrong, that means the IDF appointed as the commander of an elite unit someone who is slandering the army while at the same time looking for handouts - since this is the letter's bottom line: "To conclude, I'd like to ask for your support as much as possible in order to acquire military equipment and vests for our soldiers and to thank you in advance for your contributions, which go directly to ensure the security of the soldiers of our company, and the security of Am Israel. Thank you very much."
A Central Command officer to whom the paratroopers are subordinate tried to play down the significance of this private fundraising letter. Maybe, he conjectured, it was actually written by E.'s father. The father - the pilot-educator - was initially surprised to hear the IDF's peculiar explanation. Fine, he said, after additional reflection, why not, you can charge it to my account.
Should the top brass go first?
The commander of the Golani Brigade, who, like his colleagues, entered Gaza at the head of his troops, was lightly wounded. One of his battalion commanders was wounded more seriously. The percentage of officers among those who died in Operation Cast Lead is high, as always. The commander of the air force joined a sortie in Gaza, even though he likes to say that the assignment of air crews for flights is at the sole discretion of the squadron commanders.
This is not a new phenomenon. Five major generals have been killed on active duty since 1948, two (Yehoshua Globerman and Albert Mandler) by enemy fire, one (David Marcus) by an Israeli soldier, two (Asaf Simhoni and Nehemiah Tamari) in aircraft crashes. Many more senior officers - commanders of a division, a wing formation, a brigade, a battalion or a squadron - have been killed in operations, in training and in captivity. The dead have included brigadier generals (Erez Gerstein, Shmuel Adler), colonels (Shlomo Elton, Arik Regev, Yitzhak Ben-Shoham, Arlozor "Zurik" Lev, Uzi Yairi, Avraham Mamushi, Avraham Hido, Nebi Mari) and dozens of lieutenant colonels.
The choice seems to be, ostensibly, either to risk oneself in the field or lounge around at headquarters. The real agonizing is more complicated - not just because different circumstances determine whether it is right to be with the forces, and even where to be exactly - in the intelligence center, the command post or command and control. Through his combat activity, a senior commander sets a personal example, but he may also be less fit than the younger soldiers or have a security clearance that is too high - if captured by the enemy he is liable to divulge state secrets or valuable military information. Because of this last consideration, an exorbitant price was paid to obtain the return of Col (res.) Elhanan Tennenbaum from Hezbollah captivity.
In December 1968, two bullets fired from a cavetook the life of Lt. Col. Zvi Ofer, commander of the Haruv reconnaissance unit and holder of the medal of valor for the 1955 Nuqeib operation in Syria. He led one of two forces in pursuit of a Palestinian squad that intended to reach Jerusalem, take over an abandoned structure opposite the Western Wall and massacre worshippers with volleys of fire and grenades. In the months preceding that incident, other senior officers were killed during hot pursuits: Colonel Arik Regev, who was the commander of the Rift Brigade, Lt. Col. Moshe Stempel, and other leading officers in the Paratroops, in the career army and in the reserves. Two battalion commanders in the Paratroops, Yoav Shaham and Yair Tel-Tzur, had been killed earlier. The atmosphere in the IDF was gloomy.
Now Col. (res.) Ze'ev Drori, who was a company commander during that 1968 pursuit (and later became the commander of the Givati Brigade), has made available the transcript of a General Staff discussion held in the wake of Ofer's death. Drori refers to the episode in a forthcoming study. The participants in the discussion did not know that those who shot Ofer had told their interrogators that they had wondered whether to shoot the officer wearing the red beret who was at the front (Ofer) or the one with the black beret behind him (GOC Central Command Rehavam Ze'evi). Red is worth more, they decided, thereby sparing Ze'evi's life for 33 years (Ze'evi, later tourism minister, was assassinated by a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine on October 17, 2001).
Then-chief of staff Haim Bar-Lev was angry that two battalion commanders, Dan Shomron from the 890th and Ofer, had positioned themselves in the forefront of the pursuing forces. Shomron had received authorization for this from the brigade commander. The fact that he was joined by Ofer, a new commander in the recon unit and formerly the military governor of Nablus, was not known to the higher echelons.
"The problem is one of atmosphere," Bar-Lev stated. "In this matter there is no choice but to hold these commanders back by force. True, in principle it makes no difference whether a senior or more junior officer is killed, but practically speaking there is a big difference, for three reasons: (a) When a senior commander is killed it is a serious blow to the country, a comprehensive, total blow; (b) When Fatah succeeds in killing a senior commander, it is a celebration for them, and in this concrete case they are presenting it as their achievement in eradicating the governor of Nablus; (c) We are nearing the bottom at this level - if in a year or less we have lost four senior commanders from the Paratroops. Our resources are large and impressive but not infinite. So I would request the GOC Central Command and every major general in the IDF to do everything possible to ensure that in these matters we take the minimal essential risk."
The risk level, Bar-Lev stated, is one combat major or lieutenant colonel. "If there is a deputy battalion commander or another battalion commander present, he, too, might definitely be killed, but we have to assume a certain risk in this kind of operation. There is no reason for two, three or four to be there. One is enough and all the rest are unnecessary."
Not long after Bar-Lev retired from the army, Gabi Ashkenazi was drafted. No chief of staff since then - not even Bar-Lev himself - implemented the rule about risk to senior officers that was voiced in that discussion.
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