Secrets of the Ya-Ya Brotherhood

Yoram Yair, former 91st Division commander, is a great believer in that unquantifiable factor that transforms a defeat into a victory: the art of command.

Yoram Yair is carrying the youthful nickname "Yaya" well into the end of the sixth decade of his life, and he still looks like a worn version of the youngsters in the "Eskimo Lemon" films. He was the commander of 91st Division on "the night of the gliders" in 1987, an intelligence surprise that could have been thwarted had Military Intelligence been more attentive - an aerial infiltration from Lebanon into the Nahal Brigade base, six dead and encouragement for the outbreak of the intifada in the Gaza Strip two weeks later.

Yair believes that the responsibility for the failure at the base was rightly attributed to the battalion sentry, and it was only then-chief of staff Dan Shomron's surrender to public pressure that led to the punishment of the brigade commander. In the atmosphere of 2006, the promotion of the division commander would also have been affected. In fact, he was promoted a year later to the rank of major general. Last month he returned to the reserves, to investigate the actions of the 91st Division under the command of Brigadier General Gal Hirsch.

Yair is a great believer in that unquantifiable factor that transforms a defeat into a victory (and the absence of which turns a success into a failure): the art of command. Every rank, from sentry and squad commander to chief of command and chief of staff is responsible for what happens in his sector, without hiding behind the backs of subordinates or superiors. In Lebanon, this time but also around Beirut when Yair was commander of the Paratroop Brigade in the summer of 1982, the mission was not burning in the commanders' bones.

Officers are products of their period. They take in the idea that the conflict has no military solution and is destined to continue for years or even generations, and it is drummed into them that a commander whose soldiers are hurt will suffer consequences. This last warning is not new: The chief of staff during the War of Attrition, Haim Bar Lev, angered major generals and unit commanders when he gave them permission for daring missions, but on condition that they don't come back with dead bodies. In the weighing of the carrying out of a mission versus its cost, they tend to carry out the mission but wait in the hope for better, less dangerous circumstances. It was the casualties, in a reversed stretcher run, that took the Israel Defense Forces out of Lebanon and Gaza. Commissions of inquiry and examining officers (among them Yair, in the fatal bilateral firing in a paratroop ambush in Lebanon) have been appointed more in the wake of casualties than because the non-implementation of a mission.

Along the Lebanon line, the various governments and the general staff demanded of the forces that they sit quietly, on the alert for attacks and abductions. The policy was, "Don't make waves." When the storm came, as expected, from the direction of Hezbollah, they tried to cast the responsibility onto the division, which was like a battered woman, who manages again and again to repulse a man who attacks her, begs everyone to restrain him, in vain, until in the end he manages to carry out his threat. After each attack he is arrested, warned and released to plan the next attack; and when he succeeds, it is said that she has been careless.

Among the units that were regularly allotted to the 91st Division, there was a common language. Other units had a hard time getting accustomed to it. This is one of the results of the separation on land, though not in the air or at sea, of the building of the force, which is the responsibility of the the land Ground Forces Command and the regional commands. During peacetime they command these formations: for example, the Central Command commands the Paratroop Brigade, and the Northern Command's armored division on the Golan Heights commands the Golani Brigade. But in wartime, command of these forces is the responsibility of the command that receives jurisdiction over the brigades. The division has to eat warmed-over dishes that were cooked up in other kitchens on an earlier day.

The IDF must decide what kind of officer-leaders it needs: bureaucrats or commanders who have learned from experience, even if not all of it has been entirely successful, or keepers of the clean slate whose experience lies ahead. Upon hearing of the investigation, four generals praised Hirsch and came to his defense: Udi Adam and his deputy in the Northern Command during the war, Eyal Ben-Reuven, Yitzhak (Jerry) Gershon and Meir Khalifi. Deputy Chief of Staff Moshe Kaplinsky preferred to remain silent, and Chief of Staff Dan Halutz suggested not judging a person until one is in his shoes; as though he does not understand that generals in the career army and the reserves, even those who were responsible for serious hitches in their day, are keen to judge the chief of staff in order to step into his shoes, and quickly.