Nine colonels, including a female officer, visited the U.S. Army’s Maneuver Center (infantry and armor) at Fort Benning, Georgia, last month. They were preceded 60 years ago by Chief of General Staff Moshe Dayan, who was accompanied by Training Branch commander Col. Yitzhak Rabin. From that visit to Fort Benning in the summer of 1954, Dayan imported the battle slogan, “After me,” and the parachuting course as a test of courage and resourcefulness for officers.
Last month, however, the Israel Defense Forces had come to teach, not to learn, giving a three-day joint workshop on the lessons learned from Operation Protective Edge, particularly on tunnel warfare. Not all the secrets were revealed to their hosts. Shortly afterward, Operations Branch chief Maj. Gen. Yoav Har-Even briefed senior U.S. officers at the two command headquarters located near MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida – at Central Command (CENTCOM) and Special Operations Command (SOCOM). Left far behind was the partial boycott of Israel of some 25 years ago when then-Chief of General Staff Dan Shomron, who was visiting SOCOM, was blocked from entering CENTCOM lest it anger the Arabs.
Only a week after Protective Edge had ended, the Pentagon’s Joint Chiefs of Staff hastened to fly a team to Israel, headed by U.S. Marines Lt. Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, head of planning. His positive impressions were reflected in the warm words that Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had for the IDF in general and for outgoing Chief of Staff Benny Gantz in particular. Dempsey called Gantz and his wife the closest friends he and his wife had among foreign militaries. But most important, Dempsey publicly absolved the IDF of war crimes, saying Israel had gone to “extraordinary lengths” to limit civilian casualties.
This summer Dempsey is also going to retire. One of the candidates to succeed him is SOCOM commander Gen. Joseph Votel, who is well known to the officers of the IDF’s special units from his term as commander of Joint Special Operations Command.
When he hosted the Gantzes in a farewell visit last week, Dempsey noted that the two had known each other since the 1990s, when both were colonels and students at adjacent security colleges. The Americans invest a great deal in developing relationships with officers in foreign armies that they’ve pegged as rising stars. Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi and incoming Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot are only two of the thousands of colonels who reached the uppermost ranks of their respective armies after absorbing America at Carlisle or Quantico.
In contrast to the thoroughness with which the Americans prepare personal dossiers on Israeli officers, the IDF is remiss about compiling similar information.
Last week, after an American landing craft and Marine battalion docked in Haifa for a joint exercise with the IDF, Vice Adm. James Foggo, the U.S. Sixth Fleet commander, visited the base of the Israel Navy and the Shayetet 13 commando unit. Foggo, who is Canadian by birth, the son and grandson of men who fought in both world wars and a former aide to former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Michael Mullen, is a prolific writer who has written a lot about his special, love-hate relationship with the Brussels sprouts and canned peaches that his father ate on the European front. None of this was known to his hosts, they admitted. He made a point of meeting with Israeli civilians to promise them that American influence in the world is not waning and that it’s backed by “90,000 tons of diplomacy,” i.e., its aircraft carriers.
Foggo is an intelligent officer and fascinating conversationalist, a natural candidate to command the U.S Navy and later be Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman. But lacking an institutionalized system for keeping track of people like him, when those IDF officers who happened to meet him retire from the service, all personal knowledge of him will be lost.
Not only is this not enough to dispel the frustration of U.S. President Barack Obama with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but the sweet relationship between the two militaries could turn sour in a second, should Israel’s forces or officers mess up either inadvertently (like bombing the USS Liberty) or deliberately (like running spy Jonathan Pollard). There is nothing the Americans hate more than exploitative ingratitude. That’s only human, similar to what a person feels after he kindly gives a ride to a desperate-looking hitchhiker and discovers precious minutes after the latter gets out that he’s taken his cell phone as a souvenir. When a nation and its military get angry, watch out.