IDF Is an Army Obsessed With Its Image

IDF leaders are once again revealing a lack of sophistication, dismissiveness toward the enemy and obsession with image and spin, which so often have resulted in inquiries and humiliation.

The people who brought us Cast Lead, the Goldstone report and the flotilla raid are back with a new scandal: appointing a chief of staff. The leaders of the Israel Defense Forces once again reveal a lack of sophistication, dismissiveness toward the enemy and obsession with image and spin, which so often have resulted in inquiries and humiliation.

Hamas supporters in Turkey were able to pierce Israel's blockade on Gaza and lead the country into an international incident and internal committee of inquiry, and in the same way responsibility for the timing of the army chief's selection has been transferred from the defense minister to Yoav Segalovich, head of the police investigations unit.

I have no idea who wrote the document reportedly laying out a strategy for securing the post of IDF chief for GOC Southern Command Yoav Galant. Nor do I know whether the logo of publicist Eyal Arad's firm that appeared on it is real or fake, or who leaked the document to journalist Amnon Abramovich. Answers to those questions will be found by Segalovich and his team. But someone did write the document, someone well-versed in political and media campaigns and the personal relationships between figures at the top of the military and political echelons.

An amateur forger could not have been produced such a work, which offers tremendous intelligence value to enemies of Israel like Iran or Hezbollah. Eli Cohen and Ashraf Marwan, Mossad agents in Syria and Egypt respectively, put their lives in danger to bring Israel similar information on the internal squabbles and war plans its enemy armies. The Galant document gives Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hezbollah's Hassan Nasrallah insight into the IDF's power struggles, predictions on promotions and transfers within the top brass and estimates of the possible target date for a potential Israeli military operation in Iran or Lebanon.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak is not mentioned in the document. Perhaps he indeed stood behind it, or perhaps his opponents would like us to think so, casting Barak as a liar. The defense minister, however, has emerged as the hero of this story. The basic assumption of the document's drafter was that Barak had decided to appoint Galant chief of staff, and that the selection process was merely a show. The PR campaign was meant to rally public support to make it easier for Barak to get the appointment past Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who seems to doubt Galant's abilities.

The document presents the political alliance between Barak and Netanyahu as a pact between thieves, one based on threats and intimidation and not, as they have often told us, on their shared memories of their glory days in the Sayeret Matkal commando unit. It presents the prime minister as an anxious politico fearful for the coalition's integrity and worried about a future confrontation with Gabi Ashkenazi, the popular current chief of staff who upon leaving the army will likely jump head first into politics. Barak is often described as a master of intrigue, the kind of person willing to sacrifice Israel's diplomatic interests (freezing settlement growth, for one ) to advance his own candidates for key army positions.

According to the Galant document, Netanyahu is seeking to maintain "stability" within the army leadership until the summer of next year. It says that in exchange for his agreeing to make Galant chief of staff, the prime minister was offered a deferral of the selection process. There is more than a hint here that something big may happen at in the intervening period. A strike from Iran? Bold diplomatic moves in the territories? Both?

The document presents journalists as naifs willing to "buy" any prank or official statement released by consultants and PR men, whether praise for Galant or scorn for Ashkenazi and his deputy, Benny Gantz. The spin doctors call such reporters "trucks," as any kind of merchandise can be unloaded onto them. The document portrays senior officers as ruthless careerists with a flair for petty bribery and a host of promises in exchange for supporting the defense minister's man.

The Galant document was released close to the Turkel Committee's testimony stage, in which Netanyahu and Barak both described haphazard methods of reaching decisions, shirking responsibility and an addiction to image and press. That, apparently, is what the IDF issues. It's a shame the same seriousness of purpose, meticulousness and consideration of alternate scenario weren't shown in preparing to stop the Turkish flotilla as they were in the wrangling to appoint a chief of staff.