Cloned Generals

Gaby Ashkenazi or Moshe Kaplinsky? Or even Benny Gantz? Can anyone point to any significant difference between them?

The prime and defense ministers are faced with a decision of marginal importance. Contrary to the sea of verbiage and pathos, and the facade of serious discussions, the choice between the various candidates for the important post of Israel Defense Forces chief of staff is not an important matter. Gaby Ashkenazi or Moshe Kaplinsky? Or even Benny Gantz? Can anyone point to any significant difference between them? True, they say that Kaplinsky gives soldiers a pat on the back, unlike Ashkenazi, who reprimands them for nonregulation haircuts. Both of them were trained in Golani, while Gantz came up through the Paratroopers, and there is even a slight age difference. But what does all this mean? Nothing. There is no difference between them.

The choice between the three is no more than a vapid power struggle, and the only questions it will answer is whether the defense minister will succeed in twisting the prime minister's arm or vice versa, and which of the three has the most effective lobby, and who was photographed first eating hummus on the front page of Yedioth Ahronoth. Except for the personal aspect and the differences in style, it really does not matter who is ultimately selected. Perhaps that is why none of the many commentators or interviewees has dared to take a stand in favor of one of the three. Everyone knows that they are cloned generals, nearly identical.

They all come from the same village. They grew up in the IDF and the General Staff of recent generations, meaning in an organization that does not allow independent and original thinking or overstepping the bounds of convention. It is an organization that in recent years has produced only dreary and lackluster figures, an army in which the best and the brightest no longer continue serving in it. A short retrospective look produces a gloomy picture: Which of the previous chiefs of staff, with the exception of Ehud Barak, can we remember? Which of them left some kind of mark? Rafael Eitan? Moshe Levy? Dan Shomron? Moshe Ya'alon? Shaul Mofaz?

The question of which of the candidates are tainted by the Lebanon disgrace is not relevant: They are all tainted to the same extent. Does the fact that one of them served in the Northern Command several years before his colleague make a difference? The IDF, as it was revealed in the Lebanon war, is their handiwork. They bear equal responsibility for its situation. It is not only the flaws in the IDF's performance that bear their stamp, but first and foremost, the very fact that Israel embarked on that futile war. Not a single dissenting voice was heard from the IDF General Staff. No one cast doubt on the need to go and destroy Beirut and needlessly endanger the lives of soldiers and citizens on the home front. All three of them supported the war, or at least did not dare to come out against it. All three were involved in it up to their necks.

The three of them are also tainted by the IDF's failed policy in the occupied territories, a policy that has never been subjected to even a single commission of inquiry. No one is about to be dismissed because of this policy, even though it has led to many more unnecessary victims than the Lebanon war. This policy is not under scrutiny because everything the IDF does in the territories is sacred, and no one is calling for a courageous investigation of its misdeeds there. None of these generals has ever made an unconventional remark about our actions and goals in the territories. Everyone bears the responsibility for transforming the IDF from an army of defense into an army of occupation, whose primary activity is in the territories, where its soldiers fire at the heads of children throwing rocks. And, in Lebanon, we saw the operational damage caused by the IDF's activity in the territories.

Do they all really think so uniformly, or does no one dare to step out of line? They are frighteningly obedient, automatic soldiers. They cover themselves with the false and misleading pretext that the army only carries out the politicians' directives. No general on the IDF General Staff has ever stood up and suggested another way. Here, generals are only allowed to offer proposals in one direction: to assassinate more, bomb more, crush more and imprison more. The head of the IDF Central Command can make a laughingstock of the politicians' decisions to ease procedures at checkpoints, just because he opposes these easements, and he can approve an unnecessary operation in Ramallah on the day of a political summit, while the head of IDF's Southern Command can continue bombarding Gaza with artillery even when the politicians disapprove. Yet in those cases, no one talks about exceeding their authority. But to propose something in the opposite direction? That is already "beyond their authority." How is it that we have never heard a general calling for a cease-fire, for reducing the assassinations, for removing checkpoints? Not a single general! They will always form a fear-mongering chorus, and will never give a chance to a diplomatic initiative or to military restraint. They deleted the word "morality" from their lexicon long ago. In this respect also, it is a frighteningly uniform General Staff.

The three cloned candidates faithfully reflect the face of the bad old IDF; they are all old brooms. It was actually Dan Halutz who perhaps could have represented some type of alternative, and now we all know how that turned out. His successor will prepare the IDF for the next war in the same way as they prepared it for the previous one.

The next chief of staff will hold enormous power in his hands, particularly if a hollow and weak leadership like the current one continues to serve above him. He will be able to lead the IDF to peace or to war, stoke the flames or douse them, encourage the settlers or block them. But the chances that something different will emerge from the IDF, and that the next chief of staff - whether he be Kaplinsky, Gantz or Ashkenazi - will bring good tidings are, depressingly, negligible.