So Who Gives the Orders?

One ethnic group celebrates the Mimouna and another the Saharana, but in our ethnic group - that of 'the unit' - there will henceforth be a celebration of the Sabena.

"It's our job and we're going to do it," said Dave Beckerman, the chief shooting instructor for the Shin Bet security service, speaking in Hebrew with a Philadelphian accent. Beckerman had hoped the Shin Bet would be given responsibility for freeing hijacked planes forced to land in Israel. The army is opposed to that. As a compromise, it was decided that the initial attack would be placed in the hands of El Al security guards who belong to the Shin Bet (many of them veterans of Sayeret Matkal - the general staff's elite special-operations force - or the Paratroopers special-operations unit ). These guards are adept at using revolvers and were trained by the Israel Defense Forces to deal with instances of skyjacked planes. During an operation, they would join with forces from the IDF.

The infrastructure for liberating planes in Israel was laid down by then head of the Operations Department of the general staff, Brig. Gen. Emanuel Shaked, when Sabena Flight 571 from Vienna to Tel Aviv was hijacked on May 8, 1972 and landed at Lod Airport (now Ben-Gurion International Airport ). When Israeli fighters donned technicians' white overalls in order to deceive the four Black September kidnappers who had threatened to blow up the plane with all the passengers inside, Shaked noticed that red army boots were showing at the bottom of the overalls and would give away the supposed technicians. "I knew the kidnappers would not commit suicide, they were not Japanese," said Shaked a week later. Two weeks after that statement, the Kozo Okamoto threesome landed at the same airport and massacred 26 Israelis and tourists in the baggage reclaim area.

Of course, this part of the story was covered up last week in events labeled "Friends talk about Sabena." These served to glorify and benefit two of the participants in the attack on the plane - attack commander Ehud Barak and army officer Benjamin Netanyahu. One ethnic group celebrates the Mimouna and another the Saharana, but in our ethnic group - that of "the unit" - there will henceforth be a celebration of the Sabena. What is also clear is the current lesson to be learned from this: let the heroes decide. Those who freed the Sabena plane will defeat Iran. Vote for Bibi and/or Ehud.

The festivity was marred only by the renewed argument over dividing the government's authority in light of the eviction of Machpela House in Hebron [which took place on Wednesday]. Barak clashed with Moshe Ya'alon (like him, a former chief of staff ), who knows no less than he does that the temporary-permanent sovereign in the territories is the IDF, and not the State of Israel.

International law is not interested in the internal question of how exactly the army is subject to the state institutions. Former defense minister Moshe Dayan controlled the territories both through the chief of staff and the senior commanders, and through the coordinator of government activities in the West Bank and Gaza, Shlomo Gazit, who was also the head of a department in the general staff.

For example, in a 1967 document from the minister's bureau which he signed with his rank but not his position, Gazit informed the bureau head of then chief of staff Yitzhak Rabin that Dayan had "decided" how to deal with the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron: "The chief army chaplain, Shlomo Goren, must be instructed to stop his activity. Renovations [will be carried out] according to instructions from the chief army rabbinate, but without the participation or presence of Goren."

The conflict between Barak and Ya'alon - who both aspire to the defense portfolio in the next government - renewed the old argument about relations within the executive branch, and also between it and the military branch: Who, when push comes to shove, actually gives the orders to the IDF?

In a previous round, some two years ago, this was one of the catalysts for the war that Barak started against then chief of staff Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi. The head of the organization department in the Planning Division, Brig. Gen. Nurit Gal, innocently put together a staff paper about implementing the recommendations of the Winograd Committee for arranging unclear associations and subordinations. A supreme command order was written for establishing the status of the general staff with the name of "the general command." Barak signed it but then changed his mind after the order had been disseminated and became binding. On consideration, he was disturbed by the fact that the order stated that the IDF, under the chief of staff, obeys directives of the government. Not the government, Barak was adamant - the defense minister.

Ashkenazi has gone and Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz has come in. Now the chief military attorney and the Defense Ministry's legal adviser have thought up a compromise that includes both of them, in the spirit of the Mapai party of former years (it would now state "the government and the defense minister" ), but the order has not yet been changed. The State Comptroller will support Ashkenazi's version in this case.

And why is it that, when there is a Knesset, a government and an attorney general, the IDF has to interpret the Basic Law on the Israel Defense Forces, and to be the body that decides who will give it orders? Because it is much easier for politicians to instruct fighters to attack a position, plane or atomic reactor than it is for them to extricate themselves from the minefield of ego and power.

Read this article in Hebrew