Lebanon War Officer Gal Hirsch Takes Off the Gloves

Brig. Gen. (res.) Gal Hirsch charges the IDF's top brass hid behind their field commanders, then abandoned them and refused to take any responsibility for the army's failures in the Second Lebanon War.

Amos Harel
Amos Harel
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Amos Harel
Amos Harel

The Israel Defense Forces' top brass hid behind their field commanders, then abandoned them and refused to take any responsibility for the army's failures in the Second Lebanon War, Brigadier General (reserves) Gal Hirsch charged yesterday.

In his first public comments about the war since his discharge from the army last month, Hirsch, who commanded Division 91 during the fighting, also charged that parts of the IDF have become dangerously politicized, and that the war was never properly investigated, creating the risk that its failures will be repeated in future wars.

Hirsch was in charge of the northern border when the cross-border kidnapping that sparked the war took place, and he quit the army to protest an internal inquiry that found him responsible for the abduction and recommended that he be barred from field commands in the future. While his views on the war have been known for the past year, as they were widely disseminated by various associates, this is the first time he has stated them publicly on his own behalf - something he could not do while in uniform.

Speaking yesterday at an event to mark publication of a new book on the war - "Fire on Our Forces," by Maariv journalist Amir Rappaport - Hirsch charged that the war's failures were due primarily to degraded ethical norms among the army's top brass. These norms, he charged, resembled those of "an inferior party central committee." While he acknowledged that errors were made in the conduct of the fighting, he said the most serious problem was "hysteria" on the part of the generals, which resulted in "ugly smear campaigns."

Field commanders "were - not for acts that involved moral turpitude or negligence, but because they did their jobs during the battles," he charged.

Despite his harsh statements, he declined to name those he considered responsible for the problems he cited. Even then-chief of staff Dan Halutz went unnamed, other than via a single pun: "We had no halutz [pioneer] to go before the camp." However, previous comments by his associates left no doubt that in addition to Halutz, Hirsch is particularly angry at Moshe Kaplinsky, who was deputy chief of staff during the war, as well as at several brigadier generals whom he accuses of having tried to undermine him during and after the war, including by bad-mouthing him to journalists.

Hirsch said repeatedly during his speech that he had been "abandoned," and despite the lack of names, it was clear that the main target of this accusation was Halutz, who had considered ousting him from his command even during the war and did not back him up during the inquiry committee's hearings. "We witnessed a flight from responsibility, using methods from the world of public relations," he charged. "We had no PR consultants in Bint Jbail and Maroun al-Ras [in southern Lebanon], but boy, did they ever have them in Tel Aviv," where army headquarters are located.

Hirsch termed the army's in-house inquiry into the kidnapping "distorted, lacking and tendentious," saying it ignored the grave intelligence failure that set the stage for the abduction - namely, Military Intelligence's disregard of the numerous warning signals that had accumulated - and appeared designed solely to lop off heads.

Members of the Winograd Committee, which is currently investigating the Second Lebanon War, also thought the army's in-house inquiry had been unfair to Hirsch, and it is possible that its final report will rehabilitate his reputation. But judging from his remarks, he has no intention of letting the matter rest: If the Winograd Committee fails to clear him, or if its final report is delayed for so long that its impact is minimal, he will seek acquittal from the public instead.

In some ways, Hirsch's resignation was a tragic ending to a stellar career: He was a relatively young division commander, and until the war, he seemed destined for the chief of staff's office. Viewed from another angle, however, it was a resounding success: It set off a chain reaction that eventually ended in Halutz's resignation - and, indirectly, in that of then-defense minister Amir Peretz as well.

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