The Dangers of Harmony

The surprise of October 1973 should have served as a warning, but judging from the events of October 2000 it may not have been internalized.

The records from the dark days of the Yom Kippur War are a reminder of just how disastrous was the foolish line of reasoning (known in Hebrew as the "conceptzia," or conception ) that led Israeli leaders in 1973 to think an attack was not imminent. The documents illustrate the importance of having decorated defense ministers be exposed to various points of view. We learned that those in uniform can influence the decision makers at a strategic level, and even rein them in.

The surprise of October 1973 should have served as a warning to the political leadership about the top brass singing in unison. It might have been expected that those in charge of Israel's security policy would internalize the critical difference between a welcome harmony within the General Staff, and a situation in which the chief of staff, his deputy and the head of Military Intelligence are purporting to sing in unison - but are very off-key.

When the records of the internal discussions held during the Israeli Arab riots of October 2000 are published, it will probably transpire that the "conception" was also prevalent when the Al-Aqsa intifada broke out. The records will show the contribution that the General Staff choir made to the escalation that caused thousands of victims on both sides.

The trio composed of then-chief of staff Shaul Mofaz; his deputy, Moshe Ya'alon; and the head of research at Military Intelligence, Amos Gilad - MI head Amos Malcha was shunted aside - sang what amounted to the following childish tune, off-key and in one voice: "The Palestinians are a violent gang / We'll tear them to pieces / We'll burn it into their consciousness / We'll get the better of them." They exploited to the last drop the political weakness of the prime minister and defense minister at the time, Ehud Barak, who was busy devoting all his energy to bequeathing to the world the ditty that goes "There is no partner."

This trio ignored the Arab peace initiative of March 2002, while promising that the American invasion of Iraq would improve Israel's strategic situation incomparably. To this day, we and the Palestinians are eating the spoiled fruit of the one-dimensional approach of this group.

In October 2010, at a time when relations with the Palestinians are so fragile, Barak has chosen to put at the head of the Israel Defense Forces three officers who were all forged in the same cauldron. The defense minister has put the armed forces in the hands of people who spent their best years carrying out policing missions in the territories.

First he appointed Yoav Galant chief of staff. Galant's positions were shaped through the prism of Israel's conflict with the Palestinians on the southern front. His most outstanding contribution to the strategic discourse during his years at the helm of the Central Command was his exhortation to the political leadership that they should raise the threshold of the conflict with Hamas and intensify the pressure on the civilian population in the Gaza Strip.

It was said that Barak was aware that Galant lacks General Staff experience and would therefore assign him a deputy to fill in the gaps. When he was not able to find a suitable candidate from among the top officers, Barak brought in a reserve officer, Major General Yair Naveh.

The experience that Naveh has to offer, and in particular his overall perspective on the sensitive issues related to the occupied territories, is indeed rich. As commander of the Gaza division during the invasion of the Gaza Strip at the beginning of the intifada, he defiantly told a worried American administration that "if necessary, we'll remain there for weeks or months."

When he was in charge of the Central Command and commander of the Judea and Samaria District, Naveh made every effort to thwart government orders to dismantle roadblocks in an effort to somewhat alleviate the suffering of the civilians and strengthen the status of the Palestinian Authority. The military advocate general - who is supposed to make sure the senior officers realize the regional and international ramifications of their actions - approved an assassination operation in Ramallah just as then-prime minister Ehud Olmert was meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Before that, Naveh compelled the government to apologize to Jordan's King Abdullah for an embarrassing remark about the future of the Hashemite dynasty.

The trio is completed by the new head of Military Intelligence, Aviv Kochavi, who has a similar record of building trust with our neighbors. As commander of the Paratroopers Brigade, Kochavi came up with the idea of breaking down internal walls to make it possible for soldiers to go from house to house in the refugee camps. Like his two colleagues in the senior command, he too knows the Palestinians - through the sights of a rifle.

It's a pity that we'll have to wait another 30 years before seeing the documents that show the way the General Staff choir of 2010, and its conductor, are contributing to the disaster awaiting us now.