On Loyalty and Superiors

Loyalty oath should follow Ben-Gurion model - not have a word about religion, ethnic background or system of government. Only allegiance to the state, its constitution and its government.


The technology unit of Military Intelligence, once dubbed the 432, last week held a change of command ceremony. The unit's outgoing commander, identified in the media only as Colonel P., is to head up computer warfare in MI's Unit 8200, which handles electronic intelligence gathering. The appointment is another step in realizing MI director Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin's vision of making 8200 responsible for all aspects of electronic and cybernetic warfare: defense, offense and intelligence-gathering.

Yadlin will retire next month after a 40-year military career, from combat pilot to three command terms in his present rank. At the ceremony he apologized for having to keep his remarks brief because he was rushing off to see his "three bosses" - the IDF chief of staff, the defense minister and the prime minister.

In practice, the head of MI must swear allegiance to three different bosses. Yadlin manages to coexist with them all, and even during periods of great tension within the triumvirate he has never been suspected by any of the three of belonging to a rival camp. But this is not the norm in the Israeli defense establishment, where the friend of my enemy is nearly always my enemy.

Next week, when chief of staff designate Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant goes to the office that has been put at his disposal on the ninth floor of the Defense Ministry rather than the adjacent General Staff headquarters, he will have to resist the natural instinct to demand a vow of loyalty from the highest-ranking officers. If he seeks a rapid end to the divisions among the top brass he will have to take advantage of the next four months, as he gains authority but is still free of responsibility, to erase the past and make a fresh start.

Close examination of the past, either to exact revenge or to stamp out pockets of resistance, is a recipe for failure. One such failure was Moshe Levy's as chief of staff. Levy, like Galant, was unable to find a deputy from among the generals in active service, and brought someone in from civilian life. Levy devoted his four years in the position - after which he attempted, and failed, to receive a one-year extension - to battling his rival and designated successor, Dan Shomron. The period is remembered well by his MI director, Ehud Barak, who refused to cooperate with Levy's manipulations.

Five floors above Galant's temporary office, on the wall behind the defense minister's desk, is a photograph in which Barak appears together with David Ben-Gurion and Yitzhak Rabin. Barak was a major general at the time, perhaps deputy chief of staff. Rabin was minister of defense. Ben-Gurion, in between them, is a statue.

One of the main reasons for the war at the top, ever since the 1954 Lavon Affair, (the MI director at the time, Binyamin Gibli, had just two bosses: defense minister Pinhas Lavon and chief of staff Moshe Dayan, but not prime minister Moshe Sharett ), is the separation between the prime minister and the defense minister. When both positions are held by the same political leader - Ben-Gurion, Levy Eshkol, Rabin, Menachem Begin, Barak - there is unity of command on the political level. The chief of staff and the pretenders to his crown do not need to split their gaze when they look up at their political overlords.

And when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Barak suddenly fall in love with the idea of requiring naturalized citizens to take a Judeo-democratic loyalty oath, we should recall, and settle for, the formula that Ben-Gurion included in the ordinance of May 26, 1948 that created the IDF and that has served every soldier since, from private to chief of staff, "every person serving in the ranks of the IDF will take an oath of allegiance to the State of Israel, its laws, and its lawful authorities." Not a word about religion, ethnic background or system of government. Only allegiance to the state, its constitution (which the new state promised to enact as part of its own order of establishment, on the basis of the UN partition plan ) and its government.

The next article in the ordinance says that "the establishment or maintenance of any other armed force outside the IDF is hereby prohibited." Clearly the other sources of authority that threatened Ben-Gurion were not the British or the Palestinians, but the leadership of the Irgun and the Palmach; just to be on the safe side, the order - signed by prime minister Ben-Gurion - specified that the minister of defense, who was none other than Ben-Gurion himself, would be responsible for carrying out the ordinance.

Despite the prime minister's heavy work load and the demands of the senior member of his coalition, it appears that it would be best if future governments were to return to the Ben-Gurion model, itself modeled on that of Winston Churchill during World War II.