Hirsch Resignation / A Minister Without an Army Chief and a Chief Without an Army

Four decades after Dan Halutz was conscripted, his enemies aspire to strip him back down to the rank of private. Heading this effort are Defense Minister Amir Peretz and the director general of the ministry, Major General (res.) Gabi Ashkenazi. At a gathering of Division 91 officers, Brigadier General Gal Hirsch had a very busy day. He gathered his senior officers to inform them of his resignation and complete the orderly transfer of command to Brigadier Imad Fares. The officers were emotional, and Hirsch, who outwardly exhibits self control, was also carried away.

Halutz suffered most of the blow of Hirsch's resignation in the past two days. As has become the norm since July 12, Halutz always does the right thing, just too late. If he knew that the fighting in Lebanon required the savage removal of GOC Northern Command Udi Adam, he should have done it in the first week of the war, not the last one. If he had decided to publicly back Hirsch, there was no point of waiting until Hirsch was crucified in the city square. At this rate, Halutz may also resign, at a time when there will be no point to his action; at this rate, he will still be chief of staff, but he will have no army.

Two weeks ago, on the eve of the discussions on the appointment of division commanders and directorate heads at the General Staff, Halutz called Major General (res.) Doron Almog. Halutz wanted to hear how far Almog had got into the investigation of the abduction of the two IDF soldiers by Hezbollah, and whether the report would include recommendations regarding individual responsibility. On the latter question, Almog said the investigating team had not arrived there yet. Regarding the rest, Almog said grave conclusions affecting all ranks should be expected.

Halutz concluded from the conversation that he could proceed with appointing Hirsch as the head of the Strategic Planning Directorate. He went to the meeting on the appointments, heard the generals and asked that the decisions be made there and then, and not wait for the conclusion of the in-house IDF investigations of the war.

In essence, Hirsch was right to resign. Almog had debated whether to recommend that he be asked to resign, and in the end he recommended that Hirsch should not "be promoted or given command," but did not oppose the kind of staff position Halutz offered him. Hirsch had no chance to advance to the rank of major general in two years' time, and Halutz would in any case not be there. But now, those close to Halutz express their anger at Hirsch, who did not allow Halutz - with the backing of Peretz - to complete the appointments.

Hirsch is a victim of circumstance, the same circumstance that led Halutz to appoint Almog to investigate the abduction. Any other officer who would have come under Almog's scrutiny would have suffered a similar fate. In deliberations at the General Staff on Sunday regarding Almog's investigation, Halutz said any such investigation is unfair to the overall career of the person being investigated because a "flashlight" is being directed at a specific point, leaving everything else in the dark. Halutz gave Almog the flashlight, and he in turn not only pointed it at Hirsch but also smacked him in the head with it, much to the satisfaction o f Peretz, who sees the door slammed by Hirsch as slamming into the chief of staff.

Almog will not like the analogy, but he and Hirsch are made of the same stuff. They have both been soldiers since childhood, graduates of a military academy, paratroopers and products of Israel's elite units. Hirsch is Almog, the next generation, and even if over time Almog had certain reservations regarding some of Hirsch's activities, he had great respect for his qualities. For example, Almog thought Hirsch could be an excellent head of Military Intelligence.

Prior to Sunday, Peretz had not had contact with Almog since 1974, when Almog, then chief of operations of Brigade 35, ordered a helicopter to evacuate Peretz, then deputy armaments officer for the unit, who had been injured in an armored personnel carrier accident in Sinai. Almog has been naive to the point of failing to appreciate how Peretz is using him against Halutz and in favor of Ashkenazi (former GOC Northern Command).

The full version of the investigation's report is 43 pages, and the press was made privy to a condensed, partial version. The report includes criticism of the GOCs Northern Command since the abduction of three IDF soldiers in 2000 (Ashkenazi, "my friend" Benny Gantz - as Almog called him Sunday, and Udi Adam). Adam's failures will be highlighted in the report. But, regarding the responsibility of the politicians, Almog will make do with suggestions, believing that it is not the army's role to enter the realm of the political echelon. As a result, the blow is suffered only by the officers, and most of all, by Gal Hirsch.

The Defense Minister's office was asked whether Peretz planned to take action to remove Halutz and replace him with Ashkenazi, even before the Winograd Committee completes its task of investigating the role of military and political leaders in the Lebanon war, dating from May 2000. "Negative. I am not dealing with this in any way. This is not a matter being discussed at this time," was Peretz's response. Indeed, for now.