Israel's left may have already missed the opportunity to reach a permanent agreement with the Palestinians. A considerable part of the blame for the failure falls with the Palestinians, but during the missed years - the critical years since the Oslo Accords - something important happened on the Israeli side: The Israel Defense Forces underwent a change.
The army plays a critical role in carrying out an agreement (in withdrawing from territory and evacuating settlers ), but also in ensuring security stability after the agreement is reached. The trouble is that the IDF of 1993 is not the IDF of 2010. Here is what happened in the officers' course for the infantry corps, the spearhead of the combat units, during that period: In 1990, 2 percent of the cadets enrolled in the course were religious; by 2007, that figure had shot up to 30 percent. And this is how the intermediate generation of combat officers looks today: six out of seven lieutenant colonels in the Golani Brigade are religious and, beginning in the summer, the brigade commander will be as well. In the Kfir Brigade, three out of seven lieutenant colonels wear skullcaps, and in the Givati Brigade and the paratroopers, two out of six. In some of the infantry brigades, the number of religious company commanders has passed the 50 percent mark - more than three times the percentage of the national religious community in the overall population.
This is a generation of commanders committed to its missions, the IDF and the state. It simply has roots in different areas than previous generations. If you glanced at the lists in the company commanders' offices 20 years ago, you could have seen considerable numbers of fighters from the greater Tel Aviv area and coastal plain. This is of course a generalization that unfairly overlooks the exceptions, but the number of such soldiers today is negligible. A few years ago, a Golani battalion commander found that only one of his soldiers was a resident of Tel Aviv. Today, in a different capacity, a number of Tel Aviv residents serve with him - but all of them live "south of the Dolphinarium line," referring to the city's lower-income neighborhoods.
In terms of manpower, long-term processes have been set in motion. The decision by left-wingers and members of kibbutzim to abandon Training Base 1 (where officers' courses take place ) in the wake of the first Lebanon war and the first intifada can be felt today among the brigadier generals, who are knocking at the doors of the General Staff in 2010. Many complain about how colorless the senior brass is today, something that can be partially explained by the fact that in the mid-1980s many recruits with potential waived their assignation to officers' courses.
It is an open secret that in the IDF a certain sector of the population is divided mainly between Unit 8200 of Military Intelligence, the pilots' course, the reconnaissance units and sometimes - with a world of difference - those who get a psychiatric exemption from service. These people will hardly ever go to Golani or Kfir. The abandonment of the combat infantry units will also be noticeable in the next 15 years in the General Staff.
The IDF has made mistakes in the territories and continues to do so, especially in the silent assistance it has given the illegal outposts over the years. But describing it as an army of occupation troops is foolish and overlooks the truth. The secular left-wing fell asleep on the job. The empty ranks it left in its wake have been filled by others. Even those who believe there is no choice other than a massive evacuation of the settlements should know that it will be extremely difficult to do this after the disengagement from Gush Katif.
In 2005, the evacuation was carried out because Ariel Sharon did not bat an eyelid and the military acted accordingly. The battalion commanders, for the most part, will obey orders next time as well, but it is hard to see how the company commanders who come from the settlements of Tapuah and Kedumim will answer the call to remove Jews from their homes. It is no surprise that the top IDF brass is so fearful of such a scenario.
When the time comes for disengagement, perhaps the state may decide to temporarily redeploy regular troops to the Border Police. It is doubtful whether it will be possible once again to rely on the IDF for that job.