An Obligation to Tell the Truth

Brig. Gen. Moshe (Chico) Tamir is among the most daring and creative of the younger generation of IDF commanders, before his demotion.

Brig. Gen. Moshe (Chico) Tamir is among the most daring and creative of the younger generation of Israel Defense Forces field commanders. He also had this status as a combat officer in the Golani Brigade, where he had a range of reconnaissance duties, among them in the Egoz unit, and as Golani Brigade commander. He regularly distinguished himself in anti-terror operations in Lebanon and the West Bank. As commander of the Gaza Division, contrary to his reputation, he was outstanding in his meticulous preparation and broad perspective.

Many civilians, along with many of his soldiers, owe their lives to his military professionalism.

This background was well known to Tamir's commander, Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, when Ashkenazi had to decide Tamir's future following his conviction by a military court. Perhaps in a moment of weakness, Tamir had allowed his teenage son to drive an IDF vehicle, endangering the boy's life along with the soldier accompanying him and other drivers. Tamir erred in "speaking an untruth," in the words of former prime minister David Ben-Gurion, while referring to another no less prominent field commander, Ariel Sharon.

The military court demoted Tamir by one rank to colonel. This was stiff punishment, eroding Tamir's prestige and threatening to hurt his family financially on his departure from the army after long years of service. On appeal, all of this was considered and Tamir's rank of brigadier general was restored, but without sparing Tamir a tongue lashing. The case also shed light momentarily on problematic conduct in the military-police investigation and by the military prosecution.

Until the investigation was opened, Tamir was considered a sure candidate for promotion to major general. When his battle to reverse his reduction in rank succeeded, Tamir had hopes of returning to the forefront of IDF officers. This posed a dilemma for Ashkenazi. Such an assignment for Tamir would have signaled to everyone that the IDF was disregarding its declared values (and would have required comparable treatment in the similar case of Brig. Gen. Imad Fares). Pushing Tamir out also carries a price, however - a feeling in certain army circles of disproportionate and unjust treatment of a commander who had taken risks and distinguished himself.

Ashkenazi could have avoided the dilemma by sending Tamir on educational leave, handing the final decision to the next chief of staff. He preferred to set an obligatory, binding standard on everyone.

The chief of staff cannot award a medal to himself, but Ashkenazi deserves commendation for being guided by his head and not his heart.