Deflater of Defeatist Discourse

Ex-IDF chief of staff Moshe Ya'alon has traveled a long way from his childhood home in Kiryat Haim.

"Derekh aruka ktzara" ("A Short Long Way"), by Moshe Ya'alon, Yedioth Ahronoth Books, 287 pages, NIS 98

Former Israel Defense Forces chief of staff Moshe Ya'alon has indeed traveled a long way from his Labor-influenced childhood home in Kiryat Haim, through Kibbutz Grofit to the Likud party. Judging by this book, he is actually far more suited to the new alliance recently formed by the National Religious Party, the National Union, Tekuma and Moledet - because in the Likud, he will find himself outflanking others from the right. "In my estimation, in the present generation, and perhaps even in the present century, it is not possible to divide western Eretz Israel into two nation states - a Jewish one and a Palestinian one - that will live in peace with each other on the two sides of the June 4, 1967 border," he writes.

"Derekh aruka ktzara" ("A Short Long Way") portrays Ya'alon as the only member of the Israeli leadership who was able to grasp what was really going on between us and the Palestinians; a man who prepared the army well for the Second Lebanon War, and waged a solitary battle to save the homeland and protect the state against what he sees as the three most destructive and dangerous of forces: the moneyed elite, the political elite and the media.

"The absence of a clear, disillusioned view of reality as it is and the ongoing need to blame the Israeli side for everything were the heavy weights that were strapped to my shoulders, making it difficult for me to do my job," he writes. "Moreover, many of the politicians to whom I answered in one way or another, in the government and Knesset did not comport themselves in a sufficiently responsible manner and acted without considering the overall national interest, promoting instead private or political interests. As a result, I often felt that the ground was dropping away from beneath my feet. I felt that it was Israelis, of all people, who were bringing down the wall that I believed needed to be built in order to protect Israel."

Donning the hat of a sociologist or anthropologist, Ya'alon looks at his surroundings in bemusement: "There is some kind of very deep pathology of a victim who identifies with the aggressor - some sick tendency to say, 'We probably deserve it,' 'We must be in the wrong' ... This is another flare-up of something that apparently lies in our genetic code."

Ya'alon also points to the guilty parties here: "The defeatist discourse is advanced by a trio of forces: a leadership that fails to lead, media that do not report the truth and a group of the very wealthy, who want calm - even when it is an ostensible calm - to ensure maximal profits, which depend on high rates in the stock exchange. This is the 'money-power-media' connection ... These three forces, each for its own reasons, have contributed to the creation of a dangerous illusion, which I consider to be a strategic threat of the highest level."

Later Ya'alon describes another enemy, a fourth one, that is threatening the security of the state: "the justice system, led by the Supreme Court." Under former president Aharon Barak, the court's decisions constituted "a great burden," he claims, "to the government, to the IDF and to the Shin Bet security service in the difficult campaign against the Palestinians." And worse than that: "Fear of the Supreme Court and the shadow it cast over the decision-makers more than once caused genuine damage to the state and diminished its ability to defend itself properly."

Now wearing the historian's hat, Ya'alon offers a diagnosis: "Looking back at the way Israel has conducted itself in the last decade - and maybe even in the last decades - it can be established without a doubt that the three powerful groups of money, the media and the activist courts made it difficult for the leadership of the country to confront the threats before it in an appropriate way."

'Wild jungle'

Within this "wild jungle," one exemplary figure stands out: Ya'alon, who as IDF chief of staff was careful to adhere to the three core principles identified by David Ben-Gurion: "heroism, wisdom, purity." But, alas, no sooner did the general leave his bureau then things took a turn for the worse: "Unfortunately, in the period after I left my position as chief of staff, these three basic principles were replaced with arrogance, with the feeling that we know everything and that no other opinion matters."

Ya'alon continually repeats the thesis that the Palestinians, led by Yasser Arafat, never had any intention of reaching an agreement based on a "two-state solution," and that Arafat planned the Al-Aqsa Intifada that broke out in late September 2000: "There is no Palestinian leadership today that truly aims for a two-state solution, but rather establishment of an Arab entity in its place and on the ruins of the State of Israel." Therefore, "it is entirely clear to me that there is no possibility of resolving the dispute in this decade or in the coming ones."

The question of whether the second intifada was planned by Arafat or was rather a popular protest that he joined and exploited is still under dispute within the Israeli intelligence community. Ya'alon, clearly, has no doubt that the Palestinian leader was responsible, but he is more concerned by the blindness and reactions of our leadership, which refused to accept the fact that the conception underlying the Oslo Accords had failed, and continued to defend both this conception and Arafat himself.

The sharpest criticism is reserved for Shimon Peres, who "was not interested in the details. He did not want anyone to confuse him with the facts. He acted according to his own vision, and did not allow reality to disrupt that vision. He thought that by fulfilling his vision he would change reality," writes Ya'alon. Peres is the source of all sin: "To this day I am certain that if [Yitzhak] Rabin had not been murdered, things would have been done differently on the Israeli side ... My understanding was that if Rabin were alive, he would have arrived [at the stage of] a conflict with Arafat in early 1996."

In other words, what assassin Yigal Amir's bullets killed was not the hope for peace, but rather the hope for conflict and war with the Palestinians.

Ya'alon also blames Ami Ayalon because, as director of the Shin Bet, "he did not bring to the table the clear-minded assessment of people in his research division and in the [organization's] branches, but only his own perspective and that of his outside advisor, Dr. Mati Steinberg."

And when the intifada broke out, it was Ya'alon, as deputy chief of staff, who saw better than anyone what was happening. "I saw matters in a historical perspective," he claims. "I saw the war [i.e., the second intifada] that broke out in 2000 in a broad context now ... I understood that we had come to a moment of truth, and that if we wanted to stop the erosion, we had to make this war into a turning point. We needed to move - during the war itself - from retreat and delay to attack ... That is why war in the 21st century is an existential challenge, but also a historic opportunity. It enables us to create a strategic reversal, to demonstrate our might and our stamina, and to renew our powers of deterrence."

Meaningless gibberish

Just how can such goals be achieved? "Clearly whether there is an agreement or not, they will keep on hitting us as long as they can, as long as they estimate that violence pays off. And since this is the case, showing the Palestinians that violence does not pay off is a strategic need. The goal of the war forced upon us in 2000 is to burn into the Palestinian consciousness the understanding that violence does not pay off."

Thus emerged the thesis of inculcating the Israeli message in the Palestinian mind. Ya'alon did not explain in those early days of the intifada how this is done, or how you could tell if his method of indoctrination has succeeded - nor does he offer an explanation in his book. What we do know is that Israeli soldiers fired 1.3 million bullets in the West Bank and Gaza in the first days of the intifada. This amazing figure captures the whole story. Massive gunfire is the operational translation of the policy set by then-chief of staff Shaul Mofaz and his deputy, Moshe Ya'alon, in the spirit of the "burning into the consciousness" school (Ya'alon denies the 1.3 million figure, which was revealed by Amos Malka, then-director of Military Intelligence, and published by Ben Caspit in Maariv; he claims that the number reflected the demand of the command units for supplemental ammunition).

Ya'alon further claims that due to the misconception that "the violent events were not an attack initiated by the Palestinians, but rather 'street incidents' that got out of hand," the IDF fought the Palestinians for a long time "with one arm tied behind its back." The truth is different: No one restricted the army's activity against the Palestinians, and Mofaz and Ya'alon made massive use of military force. Fighter jets bombed buildings in Tul Karm, and tanks fired freely. That is not warfare with one arm tied behind the back.

Mofaz, supported by his deputy Ya'alon (who claims in the book to have formulated certain policies himself), did not intend to end the conflict at the outset. Having embraced the belief that Arafat had no plans of reaching an agreement with Israel, he thought that he now had the opportunity to "beat" the Palestinians at last, to "vanquish" and lead them to negotiations in a weakened and exhausted state. Only thus would they understand that they should accept their own inferiority and submit to Israel's terms.

By the way, Ya'alon writes of Mofaz condescendingly that, "he is not what is known as a 'thinking man,' but he usually knew how to rely on others to think for him." Therefore, Ya'alon claims in the book, it was he himself who developed IDF policy: "I developed the idea of 'building the wall' - a wall that says to the Palestinians: Through violence you will accomplish nothing."

It would not be unreasonable to suspect that Ya'alon uses the term "building a wall" as an indirect allusion to Ze'ev Jabotinsky's idea of the "iron wall": "The idea of the wall was not a military one in the narrow sense of the term, but a strategic one ... I claimed that we cannot engage only in engineering; as an army we cannot be only contractors who carry out [projects]. We must move from planning to designing. We must engage in architecture. And before approaching the military task itself, we should concern ourselves with its design, in a cultural, conceptual, intellectual sense. This design requires an understanding of the context, and it forms a link between the context and the detailed military planning. Incorporating the design stage into the process of assessing the situation, before the planning stage, enabled me, as GOC [Central Command] and later as chief of staff, to be of relevance."

The meaningless gibberish Ya'alon uses to explain the idea of the "wall" can be connected directly to his claims about the Second Lebanon War. He not only fails to take responsibility for not preparing the army for that war - he launches a furious attack on the top IDF commanders who ran it. If you ask Ya'alon, he left his successor a distinguished military force, whose troops were ready for war and whose operational plans were first-rate; only the failed leadership of Dan Halutz caused the failure in Lebanon.

"I cannot shake off the difficult feeling," he writes, "that under my command [IDF Generals] Udi Adam, Gal Hirsch, Erez Zuckerman, Guy Tzur and Eyal Eisenberg would not have failed."

Unfortunately, this is not exactly the case. Ya'alon writes of military exercises conducted during his time as chief of staff, claiming that they not only anticipated precisely what would happen during the 2006 Lebanon war, but incorporated the right solutions. However, according to a report the late Dan Shomron submitted two years ago to then-chief of staff Halutz, the results of an exercise in June 2004, led by Ya'alon, were exactly consistent with the army's strategy during the subsequent war - strategy that, as it turned out, led to failure. Contrary to what Ya'alon claims in the book, according to Shomron's report, the exercise did not involve the deployment of ground forces to neutralize the threat of Hezbollah rockets.

Unintelligible language

The Winograd Committee's report on the conduct of the Second Lebanon War claimed that, "in the two years before the war, the General Staff and Northern Command held exercises aimed at determining whether the enemy could be overcome using the new combat philosophy. A summary of the exercises' conclusions in June 2004 determined that under the format used in the exercises, the home front suffered serious damage, ground maneuvers were not used to stop the bombardment of the home front, a great deal of ammunition was spent on countering enemy fire, and most of the forces deployed in the exercises had not trained for a long period beforehand."

One of the Winograd report's findings was that, "the use of new terms and concepts that were unclear to many within the IDF establishment jeopardized the common, understandable language, the work of the General Staff and especially, but not exclusively, the lower levels ... The new conception of limited warfare was more suited to warfare against Palestinian terrorism, and less appropriate for fighting a semi-military organization such as Hezbollah. Let us say further, in a related context, that the implementation of the new concept throughout the army was problematic, in part due to the unique, complex language that was created around it. It also seems that the new operative conception created quite a bit of terminological confusion in the IDF." And who implemented this conception? Moshe Ya'alon, of course, during his three years as chief of staff.

In response to this, Ya'alon writes: "As chief of staff I encouraged the development of high language at the strategic and operative level, and I made sure that it would not trickle down to the tactical level. When I identified such a problem among some of the commanders, I initiated a one-day seminar on the subject for division commanders and up." What good did the seminar do? That was precisely the problem: The language remained unclear. Commanders and troops did not speak the same language, and the soldiers could not understand what their officers were saying.

In the book Ya'alon also endlessly repeats the claim that the army faced "severe budgetary restrictions." In fact, the security budget was not cut during Ya'alon's tenure; it even grew each year.

Ariel Sharon, too, is subjected to a heavy dose of lethal criticism by the writer, to the point of being accused of severely damaging the foundations and basic values of the state. "In Sharon's circle, personal loyalty was considered to be of utmost importance. The value of loyalty to the state institutions, to government decisions and to the law was not one that Sharon's gang could appreciate or understand ... Sharon did not really understand what a democracy and a state run by law are."

Ya'alon further claims that Sharon "tried to create a situation in which all sensitive government positions would be held by his people, people whose primary loyalty was to the ranch forum [Sharon's close circle]. And at a certain point in time, after this process had already succeeded within the police, the appetite increased and a desire arose to take over the army as well. But I, the IDF chief of staff, was the obstruction to this process. Sharon knew well that I would not let him turn the IDF into a subsidiary of his ranch. From his perspective, he had no alternative: He had to get me out. He had to remove the obstacle from his path."

It is interesting to think what Ya'alon would have written about Sharon had the latter extended his term as chief of staff by another year. After all, he was ready and willing to continue serving in that role under this ostensibly dangerous prime minister. Why didn't he sound the alarm then, when he understood the threat Sharon's continued reign posed to the future of the state?

For Ya'alon, the decision not to extend his term for a fourth year was no less than corrupt, and bore grave implications for national security. "This corrupt move caused a professional chief of staff, who had stood his ground before the prime minister and defense minister, while maintaining absolute loyalty to the elected government, to be replaced by a chief of staff and deputy chief of staff, whose great distinction lay in the fact that they had shared the meals, conversation and interests of prime minister Sharon and his family. I have no doubt that this move affected the outcome of the Second Lebanon War."

When Ya'alon describes how he performed in every position he ever held, it is clear to the reader that the commanding officer before him had left the force in a terrible state, so Ya'alon had to rehabilitate, renew and revive. This happened when he became commander of the Sayeret Matkal elite commando unit, when he was placed in charge of the IDF's Judea and Samaria division, when he entered the deputy chief of staff's office and, of course, when he served as chief of staff - a chief of staff who never made a single mistake and led the IDF down an innovative, impressive road, which his predecessors were unable to travel and which his successors promptly destroyed. There is therefore a great deal of irony in his claim that "the lesson that I recited in my bar-mitzvah haftara - to 'act modestly' - I learned close at hand from those who committed the sin of arrogance. I took this lesson with me to every position, and it continues to guide me to this day."

This is a troubling book, which provokes dismal reflection about the judgment and worldview of a man who may soon become part of Israel's political elite.

Dr. Reuven Pedatzur is the academic director of the Center for Strategic Dialogue at the Netanya Academic College.