Only the Settlers Have Tenure

Interaction with political leaders and exposure to cabinet decision-making, including foreign affairs and intelligence, can broaden a military man's narrow horizon, but can also delude him.

The appointment of Gadi Shamni as GOC Central Command sets a precedent in the history of the Israel Defense Forces. All three regional command heads (Shamni in the center, Gadi Eisenkot in the north and Yoav Galant in the south) formerly served as the prime minister's military secretaries. Moreover, it was the same prime minister, Ariel Sharon. Deputy Chief of Staff Moshe Kaplinsky was also Sharon's secretary.

Interaction with political leaders and exposure to cabinet decision-making, including foreign affairs and intelligence, can broaden a military man's narrow horizon, but can also delude him.

Rising to the top has always required political support, and officers and political parties have always intermingled. Promoting the prime minister's military secretary to major general is just another accepted rite of passage on the way to becoming chief of staff.

From David Ben-Gurion to Yitzhak Shamir, no prime minister ever had a military secretary whose rank was higher than brigadier general. For most of them, this was the last post and rank in the IDF. Yitzhak Rabin, who appointed GOC Central Command head Danny Yatom as his military secretary, said the high rank was required due to Rabin's double duty as prime minister and defense minister.

The next secretary, Ze'ev Livne, was also a former GOC (Home Front), although prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not serve as defense minister as well. After a year with Netanyahu, Livne went to Washington as military charge d'affaires. The military secretary's rank returned to brigadier general - Shimon Shapira for Netanyahu and Eisenkot for Ehud Barak - and then became major general again with Sharon.

Defense minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer and chief of staff Shaul Mofaz did not object to this, but the following chief of staff, Moshe Ya'alon, developed a loathing for Sharon's associates. He suspected that the military secretaries, especially Kaplinsky and officers in the general staff's planning division, went too far with their relations with that group. Ya'alon believed that the military secretaries were too involved in the disengagement issue.

The malfunctions in the political and military leadership's performance during the war in Lebanon last year demonstrate that the under-involvement of prime ministers in the IDF's operative planning is just as serious a problem. The right channel for this involvement is discourse among the prime minister, defense minister and chief of staff. But monitoring the coordination of operative planning to policy should be the military secretary's job, and the military secretary should be subject to the head of a bolstered National Security Council.

The problem of re-orienting commanders partly derives from the years the army has spent on security and policing in Lebanon and the territories, instead of training multi-unit forces for warfare. Those who served as brigade and battalion commanders in the Yom Kippur War knew that on the way to becoming chief of staff they had to gain experience in operating regular armored divisions (Dan Shomron, Barak, Amnon Lipkin-Shahak).

The following generation and a half consisted of Mofaz in Lebanon and the West Bank, Ya'alon and Eisenkot in the West Bank, Kaplinsky in Lebanon, Galant and Shamni in Gaza. On the face of it, if Shamni - who was commander of the Hebron Brigade - returns to Central Command after a year with Ehud Olmert, who said he was willing to evacuate settlements, we may assume he will not become the settlers' lackey. But we can't count on that. Prime ministers are passersby. Only the settlers have tenure. If the commanders of the brigades, divisions and commands in the territories want to be promoted and not get into trouble, they know whom to obey.