A General Does Not Dismiss Generals

As exemplified in the wake of the IDF's Gaza flotilla report, the 'general's club' seems forever hesitant to dismiss one of its own.

The day after naval commandos took over the Mavi Marmara in the Gaza flotilla affair, a reservist air force pilot tried to get an answer to a question that was troubling him: Why did the Israel Defense Forces send combat soldiers to raid the ship instead of stopping it on the high seas by obstructing its propeller? Civilian experts told the pilot that with a relatively simple maneuver using a cable between two patrol boats, and stretching it at the right time, it would be possible to immobilize a ship the size of the Marmara.

Israel Navy forces approaching the Mavi Marmara bound for Gaza, May 31, 2010.

The reservist did not give up until he found a former head of the navy. In his amazement, the navy man told him that ideas like his had been discussed in the navy, but were shelved "because they were successful only in 50 percent of the cases." In other words, if they had tried the cable maneuver twice or more with the Marmara, the chances for success would have been high. And this does not mean they would have had to abandon any of the other alternatives, including the one that was eventually selected.

It may be that this is what Maj. Gen. (res. ) Giora Eiland was hinting at yesterday when he presented the report prepared by a group of experts he headed. Eiland semi-confirmed the navy's claims that there was no way of "cold immobilization" of the ship, but he also half-deflated these claims. The means were not developed because, as in dozens of other important initiatives, they were not given priority, a budget or attention. Now, when it is clear to everyone that they are crucial, they can and should be acquired. The estimated time frame: two years. Had they begun two years ago, in 2008, such means would have been available. What happened with the interception of rockets from Lebanon and the Gaza Strip, and in the operations against the tunnels, happened also with the "cold immobilizer."

The flotilla as a lesson: The thought process, intelligence, planning and control were lacking. So the fighters, staff sergeants and captains of Flotilla 13 - the Naval Commando - in the middle of a violent crowd, in the maze of an unfamiliar ship's decks, had to correct with their pistols what the politicians and their commanders had done wrong. And if the pistols made things worse, at least they would save themselves and their comrades.

Eiland was head of operations at the General Staff during the Naval Commando's disaster in Lebanon in September 1997. In that case the careers of the chief of naval intelligence and the commander of Flotilla 13 suffered. Eiland is opposed, on principle, to dismissing officers who made a mistake in judgment, as opposed to those who were negligent. The relative failure of the officers in that operation should be weighed against their contribution to many other operational successes. This, of course, is a convenient result for whoever is at the top of the military pyramid - Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, the person with supreme responsibility for the mistakes of Military Intelligence head Amos Yadlin, navy chief Eliezer Marom and other generals.

But Eiland, in his insistence on avoiding making difficult personal recommendations against generals, is repeating the behavior of members of the generals' club. Somehow it's easy for them (although not necessarily for Eiland personally, who also has pity on the lower ranks ), to dismiss a corporal, major and even a brigadier general. When the flames are approaching the club, the arguments of principle are pulled out. We can go back decades and not find a single case of a general being dismissed, while division commanders and those below them in rank and command are crushed like flies. A general does not dismiss a general.

This method is also used to protect the commander of the generals, the chief of staff. But this time it also has another message - for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak - who were the recipients of Ashkenazi's warning letter. Their political thinking and claim of maturity and experience turn out to be lacking. And they want the Israeli public, civilians and soldiers, to trust them.