Robots Have Taken Over Israel's Political Leadership

In two weeks, Operation Entebbe, commanded by former IDF chief of staff Dan Shomron, will mark its 35th anniversary.

Family and friends gathered last week at the Kochav Hayarden community to dedicate a bird observatory in the name of former chief of staff Dan Shomron. He will be commemorated too at the Tze'elim military training base, which he nurtured when establishing the Field Corps Command. But this isn't enough: The terminal at Entebbe Airport should be named after him too.

Although he served as chief of staff during years in which Israel was bogged down in Southern Lebanon, prepared for air and tank battles against Syria, and was surprised by the Intifada uprising in the territories and the Scud missile attacks from Iraq, Shomron will be remembered in admiration - as long as efforts to obscure his role as commander of the Entebbe operation do not bear fruit.

In two weeks, that operation will mark its 35th anniversary.

Speaking at the ceremony in Kochav Hayarden, Colonel (res. ) Muki Betzer, who served as the commander of the raid team at Entebbe, called Shomron "the hero of the operation, not only because he was commander, but also because of his personality, his leadership and the sense of security he instilled in those around him."

In his appeals to then defense minister Shimon Peres and chief of staff at the time Mordechai Gur, Shomron turned events around and persuaded the decision-makers, who had previously been ready to concede to the kidnappers.

"To go ahead or to give up - it was all hanging in the balance," Betzer said. "It took a man who had deep internal integrity, courage, experience in special operations, rhetorical ability, leadership skills and responsibility, and also persuasive abilities and an impressive appearance; all of this helped [the decision-makers] distinguish between fact and fantasy, as they decided in favor of an operation that had a reasonable chance of success, and would justify the risks posed to the soldiers and the hostages."

Some 35 years have gone by, and it's hard to imagine that Israel's leadership today would be able to reach decisions on the scale of the Entebbe operation. Israel Defense Forces officers continue to recite the slogan of "standing firm with the mission and attaining its objective," but objectives materialize as a function of social expectation, and the society will no longer allow the army, and the government that commands it, to undertake prolonged wars of choice that entail many casualties.

Patience and the public pain threshold have drained out. The price, particularly in terms of casualties, has become an intolerable side effect that deters actions from being carried out in the first place. In 21st century society, private needs trump general concerns.

In the 1948 War of Independence, First Lieutenant Filon Friedman, for whom the Filon base is named, was considered a hero not only because of his brave service as a soldier and commander, but also because he ended up killing two of his men and committing suicide, rather than being taken hostage.

Under the ethos of "being exposed at the turret," which held sway in the 1960s, before tanks installed sighting systems, a command necessity transformed as sacred heroism. In proportion to the extent that enemy casualties mounted up around the force, soldiers received decorations. Only in very rare instances did the IDF provide medals for actions that did not involve contact with the other side, as in the case of the Matkal commando unit's infiltrations into Egypt before the Six-Day War, when Ehud Barak and his comrades in the raid, and helicopter crews, received medals of honor.

Barak said at the time that it was fortunate the action for which the medals were bestowed remained classified, else it would have been revealed that the medals were given not really due to the heroism of soldiers who didn't fight, but rather to allay the anxieties of those who sent them.

Another exception was Shomron, who received a citation for a cunning maneuver that saved lives during the Six-Day War.

Battle, in its original incarnation, stemmed from close range, hand-to-hand, combat with the enemy. Contemporary warfare prefers the remote, rather than close-range battle. Command experience still makes a difference, but the weight carried by physical courage has lessened. The communications revolution has broken soldiers' isolation, and their dependence on the chain of command.

An army based on mandatory service and reservists will not diligently heed the orders of failed leaders. The mounting dependence on unmanned equipment, which will transform as a kind of robotic legion, is a laudatory technological trend, and also a socially dangerous one - to the extent that the human cost (on the military front, though not necessarily on the civilian front ) seems less steep, an adventurous leadership might feel more at liberty to get entangled in war.

This has yet to happen: For the time being, the robots have taken over the political leadership.