Don't Mess With the Army, Bennett

Zvi Bar'el
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Defense Minister Naftali Bennett talks to his military secretary, Ofer Winter, at the Knesset in Jerusalem, November 13, 2019.
Zvi Bar'el

The army and the defense establishment are very angry with Defense Minister Naftali Bennett. The man makes too many pronouncements, boasts about killing Iranians, announces a change in rules of the game toward Hamas and plans to expand construction in Hebron. He’s insufferable and even dangerous. So dangerous that top military and other security officials devoted an entire meeting to “the minister’s public statements,” a report this week in Haaretz said. They believe that his statements not only harm Israel’s security, but, perish the thought, are “an attempt to belittle the importance of the security work of past senior officials such as the previous chief of staff, Gadi Eisenkot.”

But why is the army so outraged about Bennett’s statements and not at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s commitment to annex the Jordan Valley, which rattled ties between Israel and Jordan? Does this not harm Israel’s security as well? It seems that the army knows what is untouchable. Its leaders don’t like statements made at the army’s expense, certainly not by a politician with the rank of captain who just entered office and hasn’t even warmed his seat yet. If it had at least been the prime minister, the hero of the war on terror – who uncovered Iran’s secrets with revelations that may have damaged intelligence gathering by the Mossad and military intelligence – they could hold their tongues and move on.

Why is it Bennett who angers the army? What about Raviv Drucker, who uncovered the submarines affair and the deep corruption in the army that it revealed, or defense correspondent Carmela Menashe, who revealed a years long swindle involving false reporting on ultra-Orthodox ghost soldiers, and does anyone remember Yaniv Kubovich’s exposure of the intelligence failure that led the air force to kill nine members of a single family in Gaza, because somebody forgot to update the target bank? Water under the bridge. After all, lies and corruption don’t hurt security. But a defense minister who sets new rules — that crosses a line.

Exactly one year ago, in a meeting of the Knesset Comptroller’s Committee, Brig. Gen. (res.) Yitzhak Brik, the military ombudsman, issued a resounding wakeup call: “There is a lack of transparency and misleading reports made to the cabinet. The presentations look wonderful, but in fact I’m doing investigations and everything looks different… I have three generals whose statements I quote, and in the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee they say the opposite. I have non-commissioned officers who say they don’t have enough personnel to carry out missions. We have excellent people and many who don’t tell the truth, they are afraid it will do them damage.” Brik said a “culture of lies” was deeply rooted in the Israel Defense Forces, and that this could lead to a disaster worse than that brought by the Yom Kippur War. The IDF immediately closed ranks and went to war against the treacherous general.

What else don’t we know about the IDF? Are the billions of shekels transferred to the defense establishment, without any real discussion, helping our security? Is the army better prepared for war against Hezbollah than it was in the Second Lebanon War? Can we be sure that the lessons actually learned from the special operation in Gaza in which Lt. Col. M. was killed by so-called ‘friendly fire,’ and that such a tragedy won’t happen again? But please don’t interfere. The IDF is ready for any scenario. It will investigate, learn, ascertain and implement all lessons and conclusions.

And so, when a beginner tries to dictate rules of the game to the army, when he refuses to play by the rules of the army as did compliant defense minister Avigdor Lieberman, he has to be stopped. Because the army, whose chief of staff now enjoys the title of “responsible adult,” has dove deep into the role, and if the defense minister decides to interfere, he might be summoned for a hearing and put in his place. Because democracy is all well and good, but the army has a country to run.

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