The Company Commanders' Outcry

They are telling Prime Minister Ehud Olmert: Take responsibility. Acknowledge the value of responsibility.

The dozens of company commanders who sent a warning letter yesterday to the prime minister are not all cut from the same cloth. Among them are residents of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, Haifa and Modi'in, Kiryat Ono, Gedera and Eli. Among them are high-tech people and real-estate dealers, students and educators, engineers, programmers and tour guides. Among them are religious and secular people, leftists and rightists, urbanites, moshav members and kibbutz members. All of them are company commanders in the reserves. Combat companies in the infantry, the armored corps, paratroops and the artillery corps. And they are telling Prime Minister Ehud Olmert: Take responsibility. Acknowledge the value of responsibility.

Israeli history has known a number of fighters' letters. It was an officers' letter that led to the establishment of Peace Now in 1978 and contributed to Menachem Begin's completion of the peace agreement with Egypt. It was a pilots' letter that pressured Ariel Sharon in 2003 and advanced the taking of the decision on the disengagement.

Nevertheless, the 2008 company commanders' letter is an unprecedented letter in that it is not political, but rather value-based. It is not tribal, but rather national. It does not represent a group from any particular sector, but rather a representative cross-section of the Israel Defense Forces combat reserve system.

The company commanders who signed the letter sent yesterday evening to Olmert are a significant part of the IDF assault command, and this group has said in its letter that it is no longer possible to continue in this way. That the way the prime minister is behaving has damaged the value basis of national security. That a supreme commander who does not know how to take responsibility for his actions loses the moral authority to send soldiers into battle.

The letter is phrased precisely and carefully. The majors and the captains do not make unworthy use of their ranks. They do not threaten to refuse to serve and they do not hint at refusal. On the contrary, they commit themselves to serving their country loyally and to report for every mission. But in their restrained way the young officers are renewing David Grossman's moral outcry at Rabin Square more than a year ago.

Ahead of the publication of the Winograd report they are sounding a national alert. In their restrained words they are in effect saying that the Olmert ethos is eroding Israel's steadfastness and its ability to fight. The Olmert ethos is one that a state that is fighting for its life cannot adopt.

At the top level of Israel's leadership today there are quite a number of worthy people. President Shimon Peres, Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and also some of the senior government ministers are good people. But for the past 18 months they have remained silent. They have denied a truth that they knew. They have preferred political survival to national responsibility. They have cooperated with a reckless and nihilist regime. They have sunk into a moral coma.

The company commanders' letter is a wake-up call, which obligates arousing those who are worthy from their coma. Arousing all of us from our coma. There is no Israeli who is entitled to deceive himself. Beneath all of the prime minister's spin, Israel is sunk in a crisis of values and governance. Beneath the cosmetic surface of the flourishing economy, the state mechanism is functioning in a flawed and partial way.

Perhaps Olmert's billionaires aren't feeling this, but the periphery is. Sderot knows this, the soldiers on the line of fire know this, the commanders of the fighting force know this. Most of the public understands that Israel is in need of repair.

Because of the postponement of the publication of the Winograd report, Professor Yehezkel Dror has been prevented from speaking about the most important things that should have been spoken about at the Herzliya Conference. However, what would have been the title of his talk is known: The Winograd siren. On January 30 at 6 P.M. the Winograd siren will be sounded throughout the country. But already this morning a preliminary siren can be heard: the company commanders' siren.