Gaza - From Moses to Moses

Rhyming may be effectual on the path to a second lieutenant's grade; but in reality, we are hearing Lieutenant General Moshe Ya'alon echoing the views of Dayan, the first - and so far, the last - chief of staff to withdraw from Gaza.

The female cadets in officer training school are afraid of failing a test that requires them to name, in order, the 17 Israel Defense Forces chiefs of staff. As an aid, they have appropriated the Naomi Shemer song, "The 12 Months," which has been revamped for memorizing the list of chiefs of staff, with an improvised pronunciation: "Ya-akov Do-ri, Yi-gael Ya-din, Mordechai Maklef/ Mo-she Da-yan, Cha-yim Las-kov, Tzur, Rabin, Bar-Lev/ Elazar and Gur and Ei-tan/ Levy and Shomron/ Ba-rak, Lipkin-Shahak, Mo-faz and Ya'alon."

Rhyming may be effectual on the path to a second lieutenant's grade; but in reality, we are hearing Lieutenant General Moshe Ya'alon echoing the views of Dayan, the first - and so far, the last - chief of staff to withdraw from Gaza.

Time seems to have been suspended from Dayan to Ya'alon - the chief of staff opposes evacuation, and the prime minister lays down the law, two laws, actually: Like Dayan, who had his reservations about Ben-Gurion's decision to appoint Chaim Laskov as his deputy and his successor as chief of staff (Dayan preferred Zvi Tzur and Meir Amit), Ya'alon objects to Ariel Sharon's intervention in the appointment of Dan Halutz as deputy chief of staff and to the departure of the incumbent deputy, Gabi Ashkenazi.

The "spirit of support and backing" that Ya'alon turned into a cliche in the context of terror, also expresses, then, the spirit of his support for Gabi Ashkenazi. The longer Ashkenazi remains as deputy chief of staff, as Ya'alon would like, the better Ya'alon's chances for attaining at least one of his two objectives - winning himself a fourth year on the job, and putting the brakes on Halutz's appointment as the next chief of staff, perhaps under a different prime minister.

Dayan was a personal appointment - and a political trustee - of Ben-Gurion's, although he also survived Moshe Sharett as prime minister and Pinhas Lavon as defense minister. Sharon unenthusiastically came to terms with Ya'alon's appointment, but actually adopted the "wall" idea that he developed - military and diplomatic hindering of the Palestinian attack, until they see the light, abandon terror and renew negotiations at the point at which they were cut off.

In Ya'alon's view, Shimon Peres dug a tunnel under the wall, precisely like the Palestinians do between the two parts of Rafah. Ya'alon urged the production of a "White Paper" and "Blue Paper" detailing the crimes of Yasser Arafat, which Ehud Barak - under Peres' influence - shelved; Ya'alon wanted to convince the Palestinians that violence would be ineffective, but Arafat got a different impression from his meetings with Peres, the most prominent of which, in early November 2000, ended with a desperate wait for a moderate pronouncement by Arafat - and a terrorist attack in Jerusalem.

As opposed to Dayan, who in Israeli public opinion was the great and brilliant victor in the Sinai Campaign, Ya'alon is seen as a mediocre chief of staff, less harmful than his predecessor, Mofaz, but a disappointment to anyone who was lured into believing the expectations he generated; as is the case in the stock market, the difference between early projections and quarterly performance is more important that the nominal value of one's shares.

Ya'alon is a feeble partner to every scheme - from allowing Yitzhak Mordechai to retain his general's rank, to granting the same rank to Elazar Stern. His passive agreement to the problematic route of the fence helped the tangible wall damage the conceptual wall that he was trying to put on a firm footing. The erosion of the global seal of approval for Israel's anti-terror measures impelled Sharon to make a feigned flank around Ya'alon's left side - all the talk about a unilateral evacuation of Gaza.

The judicial and political incentives for this initiative are crystal clear. It is the diplomatic parallel of the Cyril Kern affair, a circular stratagem to speak now about an end-of-the-year evacuation in order to procure America's agreement to suspend Sharon's guarantee to evacuate settlement outposts in the West Bank, even before his upcoming visit to the White House. As Ya'alon sees it, the initiative has a negative outcome¹.

Dayan, who was opposed in February 1957 to Ben-Gurion's giving in to American pressure to pull out of Sharm el-Sheikh and Gaza (including a settlement in Rafah by "citizens who had plowed 10,000 dunams and wanted to dig a water well"), bitterly complied with his prime minister's wishes, but began the countdown to the end of his own tenure as chief of staff. Ya'alon is now on a collision course with Sharon on two issues - Gaza and Halutz. Fortunately for him, this time around, the survival expectancy of the exhausted prime minister seems shorter than that of the chief of staff.