Wagged by the Military Tail

Vice Premier Shimon Peres' problematic testimony before the Winograd Committee pushed to the side that of reserve general Amos Malka. Malka, who was the head of Military Intelligence from 1998-2000, gave testimony of unmatched importance.

It seems that in a normal country, his pointed remarks would have shaken things up. Malka saw the "whites of the eyes" of prime ministers Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak, the current leading contenders for prime minister. And a few statements he made about the relationship between the political and the military establishment surely disturbed one committee member, public administration expert Prof. Yehezkel Dror.

The former national assessor told the Winograd Committee that political officials usually come to discuss a military operation, such as the Second Lebanon War, "as if coming for a visit." Malka did not skip details. He said the decision maker "does not come with anything of his own, he has no staff, no one prepared papers for him, he has not held a preliminary discussion, he comes to a talk more or less run by the army. The army tells him what its assessment is, what the intelligence assessment is, what the possibilities are, option A, option B and option C."

As the in-house analyst of one of the television stations, Malka monitored the most recent war firsthand. He told the investigating committee that Chief of Staff Dan Halutz's media message from the start of the war was: "The politicians decided, and I will implement." The retired general simply stated: "There is no such thing." Such a relationship between the political and military echelons, which may seem obvious in a normal country, "does not exist in Israeli decision making," he said. Malka defined the reciprocal relationship thus: "The army is part of the political echelon."

"When the political echelon does not fulfill its task," the senior officer continued, "then the army is the body."

In other words, the military tail wags the political dog. This tail apparently has a life of its own. "The term 'sufficient achievement' does not exist; they are searching for the ultimate achievement," continued Malka. "The ultimate achievement usually pulls you forward ... usually the generals do not recommend moving up the end of the fighting. It is hard to imagine a general in the midst of fighting recommending that the political echelon stop.

"When I was head of Military Intelligence," during the confrontation with the Palestinians, added Malka, "the chief of staff (Shaul Mofaz - A.E.) said many times: 'I push ahead; let the politicians stop me if they want to."

Malka's testimony shed some light on the dark situation in the territories, such as the OC Central Command's permit to allow a circumcision ceremony to be held in Homesh, and Defense Minister Amir Peretz's claim that he did not know of or approve the decision. His testimony explains the army's disregard for the political echelon's instructions to reduce the number of checkpoints in the territories and to open some of the Gaza crossings. Malka suggested that the committee members look for this phenomenon's roots in the early days of the state. The relationship between those in suits and those in uniform has not changed since the days when the leaders wore khaki, he said.

"David Ben-Gurion was both defense minister and prime minister, and the army was his executive branch, for education and establishing settlements as well," said Malka. "Since then, we've placed strategy in the hands of the army, but we forgot to take it back when the reasons for doing so ceased to exist."

Try to find the embargo

The Winograd Committee will devote a sizable chapter to the worst hours of the war, the final moments when 33 soldiers were killed and close to 200 were injured. A document the committee received from a very senior officer dispels the explanations by the prime minister, defense minister and foreign minister for that last-minute ground operation. The document questions the claim that the closing assault improved Israel's position in UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which brought about a cease-fire.

The author of the document, Eli Hertz, asked a senior American diplomat whether the last-minute Israeli "pressure" changed the wording of the document. The response was quick and concise: "Nonsense." At Hertz's request, the name of the diplomat, who was a senior partner in 1701, is being kept confidential.

Hertz is a member of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the chairman of CAMERA (The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America) and a member of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee's Executive Committee. Yet he is careful to note that the study was not conducted through any of those positions. His document surveys the sequence of events from August 5, when the U.S. and France presented the members of the Security Council with a draft resolution for a cease-fire, until the August 11 decision to go ahead with the tragic operation. Hertz did not find a single line in the final version that did not appear in the first draft. Moreover, he points out places where the resolution changed to Israel's detriment.

Hertz also criticizes Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who justified the continued fighting in an August 13 press conference: She said that in the last few hours, right before the vote on 1701, Israel managed to introduce the clause on the embargo against transferring weapons to Hezbollah.

"I counted the word 'embargo' 10 times in her remarks," Hertz said. "Try to find it once in the resolution."

Hertz is leaving this challenge, as well as the truth behind the last-minute improvement of terms, to the Winograd Committee.

Evacuation compensation now

If Amir Peretz were to move from the Defense Ministry to the Finance Ministry, he would find in its coffers the money to realize the settlers' right of return to the State of Israel. Right after the government was formed, Peretz and Minister Yuli Tamir formulated a bill to grant an absorption basket to settlers who want to move before the government decides to evict them. MKs Avshalom Vilan (Meretz) and Colette Avital (Labor) were one step ahead, setting up an organization, One House, that started drafting plans and fund-raising for this project. Ami Ayalon also announced his support.

Kalman Gayer took a poll for One House two weeks ago. Of the 400 adult residents of Jewish communities questioned, a large majority (80 percent) support the bill (the cross-section and the interviews were conducted by the Dahaf polling institute, headed by Dr. Mina Tzemach). Fifty-seven percent support the immediate legislation of an evacuation compensation law, and another 23 percent support such legislation after the government decides to disengage from the West Bank. Further, 58.6 percent say the government should not wait for an agreement with the Palestinians and should start calling on interested settlers to move within the Green Line (among Kadima constituents, there was 63.8 percent agreement; Labor voters, 76.5 percent; and Meretz, 88.9 percent).

Most of those questioned (51.5 percent) feel that evacuating West Bank residents without a referendum would lead to civil war. According to the poll, a government that reaches an agreement with the Palestinians on the basis of "peace for territory" will win a majority in a referendum. Only 40 percent of these questioned said they would oppose an agreement that would enable Israel to annex 4 percent of the West Bank containing around 80 percent of the settlements, giving the Palestinians in return some 2 percent of Israel's territory near the Gaza Strip (based on the guidelines of the Clinton principle and the Geneva Initiative).

Meretz, Labor and Kadima voters had similar views on this matter. Only 31 percent of respondents oppose evacuating the territories under a political agreement. A peace agreement that ends all Palestinian demands from Israel and provides full normalization with the Arab states (much like the Arab initiative) and includes all the territorial concessions Israel is required to make under the Clinton proposal (including a compromise on Jerusalem and a limited return of refugees) was supported by 41.5 percent; another 24.7 percent were "inclined to support it."

The bad news for the prime minister, one of the fathers of unilateral disengagement, is that two-thirds of the supporters of evacuation believe such a move must be part of a political agreement. The good news for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is that most Israelis are not satisfied by the Mecca agreement, which includes a Hamas commitment to honor agreements the Palestine Liberation Organization signed with Israel. Sixty-two percent of respondents support the stance that there should be no negotiations with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas until the Palestinian government recognizes Israel.