There is a measure of symbolism in the announcement of the appointment of Gen. (res.) Udi Adam as Defense Ministry director general, three months before the 10th anniversary of the outbreak of the Second Lebanon War.
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Adam, who served as chief of the Israel Defense Forces Northern Command during that war, retired from his position a month after it ended. Not only is he suitable, in his experience, talents and temperament, to serve as director general of a huge governmental ministry – the appointment represents delayed justice for the only senior officer among the commanders in the war who retired on his own initiative afterward, without being maneuvered into doing so by others.
The war in Lebanon, despite the quiet that has prevailed on the northern border for most of the past decade, is not the success story they will try to sell us ahead of the 10th anniversary on July 12. Adam, in that war, was not the distinguished military leader who led the corps toward it. The war was poorly managed, from the political leadership to the battalions in the field. The Northern Command, which was under Adam’s responsibility, was no exception.
But there were those above Adam who sent him into the war without sufficient means. They didn’t give him enough room for maneuverability. Afterwards, they tried to push responsibility for the failure onto him.
Adam refused to be dragged into the war of survival, which was accompanied by public mudslinging. In his decision to retire, he was the only one who behaved like a true soldier. A number of months later, the rest of the chain of command was forced to follow in his footsteps, from the chief of staff to the defense minister.
Adam comes to his new job not only with burns from the war in Lebanon and its lessons. He also comes with valuable experience amassed in other roles – from head of the Technology and Logistics Directorate in the General Staff under chiefs of staff Shaul Mofaz and Moshe Ya’alon (a role that greatly resembles that of the director general), through director general of the Negev Nuclear Research Center to chairman of Israel Military Industries.
Defense Minister Ya’alon, who decided on the appointment, made a practical and necessary decision. Ya’alon needs now to stabilize the top staff in his office, after a chain of departures and shake-ups. These included the retirement of the present director general, Gen. (res.) Dan Harel, the departure of the head of the Administration for the Development of Weapons and Technological Infrastructure in the defense ministry, Rear Admiral Ophir Shoham, and the decision to fire the head of the “Homa” project which oversees the development of the Iron Dome, David’s Sling and Arrow missile interception projects, Yair Ramati, because of security information violations.
Adam will enter the director general’s office at a relatively convenient time. The Defense Ministry and IDF managed to agree, in rare fashion, with the Finance Ministry on a stable multiyear plan for the defense budget and at the same time launched the IDF’s multiyear plan, code-named “Gideon,” after many years in which the army operated without a multiyear plan.
One of the central challenges that the incoming director general will face is tied to the formation of understandings with the U.S. government on an agreement for military aid from the U.S. to Israel over the coming decade. These are understandings that will be reached, if it happens before the elections for the U.S. presidency in November, at other levels, namely the prime minister and the defense minister, with perhaps the assistance of the National Security Council. However, the Defense Ministry’s part will be necessary when the stage is reached of going into the details with the Americans, clarifying the priorities of the security apparatus and closing the gaps with help from the Pentagon.
Another major test touches on the ministry’s efficiency. Under Harel, to a degree more so than under his predecessors, there was at least an attempt to adapt the ministry to the new demanding reality and get rid of some of the anachronistic work habits that still limit the ministry’s functioning.
And still, especially when comparing this to steps that the chief of staff, Gadi Eisenkot, has led over the IDF in the past year, it seems that the system in the Defense Ministry needs a fair-sized shake-up. If Adam will receive sufficient backing and maneuverability from Ya’alon, and if he will know how to deal with the union on the one hand and the IDF disabled veterans’ organization on the other, it is likely this shake-up will transpire.
One problem, at least, was eliminated from the agenda. During the period of the war in Lebanon, relations between the commanding general Adam and the head of the operations branch in the General Staff, Eisenkot, were tense and difficult. The Defense Ministry’s director general needs to work regularly cheek-by-jowl with the chief of staff and his deputy. However, Adam and Eisenkot, who replaced him after the war as head of the Northern Command, reconciled years ago. Adam also saw in Eisenkot’s appointment as chief of staff a correct and necessary decision.