Taking Stock / Why Ehud Barak Had to Stay at the InterContinental Hotel

Listen up, little people: Before sliming our defense minister, consider appearances

How populist. How low. The media coverage of the state comptroller's report on Defense Minister Ehud Barak's stay at the royal suite of the InterContinental Paris Le Grand Hotel, for NIS 20,000 a night, only shows how shallow and unprofessional the press has become.

Any journalist with a shred of professionalism and depth, with a broader perspective, would have immediately noticed the state comptroller's shortsightedness and could easily have come up with at least seven reasons why Barak and his entourage had no choice but to stay at the InterContinental.

Any journalist worth his salt would have realized that when it comes to military issues, the only thing that matters is the big picture. If all you do is fixate on the piddling little details, you won't understand the risks and opportunities, and the strategy needed to survive in battle:

1 First, it was not Barak who chose the InterContinental royal suite, nor was it even the top military officials in the defense minister's bureau. You can't even blame the office tea lady.

The decision to book the InterContinental Le Grand and spend a million shekels on a 5-day stay in Gay Paree was the right thing, the only thing, based on the culture, the tradition, and the customs of Israel's defense establishment. When the culture of the defense establishment meets the habits of a minister living in the opulence of Tel Aviv's Akirov Towers, there could be no other outcome.

2 With the exception of combat soldiers, much of Israel's defense establishment stays at suites at the InterContinental, metaphorically at least, whether by spending billions, much of it needlessly, on armaments, or by pouring mountains of money into megalomaniac projects to develop weapons systems that nobody needs. And it would be unthinkable for the defense establishment elite to have one set of norms and for the boss from Akirov Towers to have a completely different set, on a junket to Paris. The army is the melting pot of Israeli society: For the boss to have different standards from everyone else would send the wrong message.

3 The defense establishment consists of dozens of vast areas, each headed by a general (or retired general) who controls equally vast budgets. Each general knows the pleasures, from the smallest to the largest, enjoyed by his fellow generals. For one it consists of visiting air shows, for another it's a gratuitous job at some foreign delegation, for a third it's a superfluous, but hideously expensive, development project.

The strength of the defense establishment is based on a delicate balance: Everyone knows exactly what perks their colleagues have, so they all keep their traps shut tight. If the boss from Akirov Towers had suddenly decided to streamline the delegation to the Paris Air Show by, say, 80% and to find a hotel room for, say, just ?400 a night, the news would have spread like wildfire throughout the defense establishment in a matter of minutes.

The delicate balance would have been upset. The generals and their adjutants would have realized that anybody could be the next to break. One might shut down a pointless delegation, another might shutter a useless project, a third would suggest firing 50 terminally bored secretaries who spend their time making coffee and staring at the ceiling.

Who knows where the horror might end? Within days the system could collapse. Civil war would erupt, within the defense establishment that is. The royal suite at the InterContinental Hotel promises that what was will be, and every Jewish mother in the land and every taxpayer should thank it.

4 Thousands of people from high-tech, industry, commerce and trade swamped the Internet with toxic comments, flaming Barak and his expense account.

Why? Because they're little people. They are not enlightened. Listen up, mental midgets: The royal suite at the InterContinental complies with defense establishment norms. It suits the generals who will retire on noncontributory pension policies, paid for entirely by the taxpayer, which run about double the norm in the private sector. Mainly, it's entirely appropriate for an organization that gets an annual budget of NIS 50 billion a year while the rest of the economy sinks into recession.

5 Choosing a NIS-20,000 room was crucial to maintaining the Israeli army's supremacy and deterrent power.

Imagine what would happen if the boss from Akirov Towers, or one of the senior people in his entourage, were to quake when his people were to tell him they were supposed to storm the royal suite at the InterContinental. Imagine if the Big Boss or his team were to tremble at the thought of the public outcry.

The results could be dreadful: A general who falls to pieces at the sight of a NIS 20,000 room rate could break down the next day during a debate in the Knesset Finance Committee over adding billions to the defense budget. If he couldn't stand strong before a measly million-shekel bill in Paris, his chance of fighting for billions in Jerusalem would be slight.

Equanimity is no less important when conquering the suite than it is when tackling top-secret missions in enemy territory. If you want a budget of NIS 50 billion, you need the royal suite at the InterContinental Hotel.

6 Millions have been paid into the bank accounts of Barak's daughters since their daddy became defense minister. Like Avigdor Lieberman before him Barak refuses to account for the source of the money to the taxpayer. Anybody who insists on dwelling on the InterContinental royal suite, which is fully documented in the comptroller's report, and doesn't demand an immediate public inquiry into the millions streaming to the Barak family, is apparently a complete moron.

7 This has been a hard year for tens of thousands of working stiffs in Israel. Economic crisis, tanking stock markets, layoffs, wage cuts everywhere you look - and the government has no immediate answers for all these people. The least it could do is give us a little inspiration.

Know ye, schoolteachers, parking lot guards, construction workers, that even at this difficult hour Israel stands tall, protecting its dignity and grandeur! How better to send a message of strength than to book the royal suite at the InterContinental Paris Le Grand Hotel for NIS 20,000 a night. Only a strong nation with a proud defense minister backed by a united people could become accustomed to a style like that.

Blood, sweat and tears, and a suite at the InterContinental - you can't separate these elements. Don't ask what your country can do for you. Ask whether the defense minister has been set up in a good suite.