On Halutz's Shoulders

The responsibility lying on Dan Halutz's shoulders is enormous. The influence of the IDF's supreme commander on the policy-making process is second only to the prime minister's.

The responsibility lying on Dan Halutz's shoulders is enormous. It is far greater than managing the IDF and making decisions on equipping it. The IDF's chief of staff is given far greater power than his colleagues in Western armies and is unequalled in modern democracies. The influence of the IDF's supreme commander on the policy-making process is second only to the prime minister's.

The reason for this, as the state comptroller wrote in his 2001 report, is the absence of "an additional body in the IDF that is capable of providing (the cabinet) with a comprehensive analysis of all the implications of a given reality, beginning at the administrative level, through the strategic-military level to the political level."

Although national security is a central issue in Israel, policy makers have not yet set up professional bodies to help them in strategy planning and formulating alternative policies. Therefore, they are forced to rely, almost exclusively, on the IDF's staff work.

Thus, the chief of staff has become the exclusive professional adviser of the prime minister and cabinet members. He proposes action plans and policy lines, and can lead them in almost any direction he wishes. Lieutenant General Dan Halutz will be the one directing policy makers in the coming years, with his professional advice and recommendations, and not only in military matters. His appointment was made on the threshold of a critical period during which he will have a decisive effect on a host of strategic processes.

Halutz's recommendation will serve, to a large extent, as the basis for Israeli policy vis-a-vis the Palestinians after the disengagement. It was the IDF, not the government, which decided on the policy in the territories during the intifada years, by means of the fighting methods it chose. In the same way, the army will be the one to decide on future relations with the Palestinians.

The chief of staff will be the one who tells decision-makers whether it is desirable to continue the pullout process from the West Bank or make do with the current disengagement. The recommendation will be based, of course, on a professional analysis of the impact of every alternative on the level of terror and on the willingness of the Palestinian Authority to move toward an agreement. But it is clear that their repercussions will be much broader than the military sphere.

At the same time, the chief of staff will have to prepare the IDF for a fundamental change in the character of the threats to Israel. He will be the one to change the structure of military power. No longer an army prepared for conventional war, heavy on armor and ground forces, but an army based on advanced technology whose mission is to deal with two types of threats: long range threats like ballistic missiles, and terror.

There is no need for thousands of tanks and armored personnel carriers to cope with these threats. The army could even be downsized. It will not be easy for Halutz to make such changes, if he so decides, because the IDF, like any army, is an essentially conservative body. Even more important, in the absence of external oversight there will be no demand from elected officials to make these changes. It is hard to demand of an army's commander, any army's, to volunteer to reduce its size.

Halutz will also face the dilemma of reducing the security budget. Again, it's hard to assume that Knesset members or ministers will take this decision. They will evade responsibility, as is their custom. Strategic developments in the region, which have created the possibility of reducing the security burden, present the chief of staff with an opportunity to make a decision of national importance.

Another crucial strategic decision that Halutz will have to make involves Iran. It is very possible that during his term the Iranian nuclear program will reach the mythological point of no return, which would require Israel to reach a clear decision. Halutz's recommendation as to whether to attack Iran's nuclear installations will have a decisive effect on the cabinet's decision.

There are two approaches to the Iran issue in the security establishment. According to one approach, Israel must leave it to the international community, especially the United States, to deal with the Iranian nuclear program. According to the second approach, the threat will be so great that Israel will have no choice but to deal with it herself, by launching a military operation. Halutz has apparently not yet formulated a clear position on this issue, but he will have more influence on the eventual decision than anyone else.

However, it seems that the most important task awaiting him is understanding the limits of military power - recognizing that not every problem can be solved by military means and that not every compromise or concession signifies loss and defeat. This is no mean feat for a military man, who sees the world through the sights of a gun. Halutz will have to rise above himself and contribute to Israel's security by recognizing the limitations of the tremendous power that has been put in his charge.