The Defense Minister's Responsibility

Ever since Mofaz and Sharon announced the upcoming withdrawal, there has been a wave of violence, which included the suicide attack at the Ashdod port, attacks at the Karni and Erez border crossings, Yassin and Rantisi's assassination, the Hatuel family, and most recently, the Givati APC bombing.

Editorial pieces and the covers of weeklies in the West in recent days are resonating with either a scathing demand, malicious joy or a melancholy pleading: Rumsfeld, resign.

The demand is for Donald Rumsfeld to own up to his responsibility for a large defense establishment under his command, that one of its branches and its supervision mechanism were to blame for a disgraceful failure. The Israeli defense minister's responsibility is greater than that of his American counterpart, whose soldiers committed acts of humiliation and torture. On one side we have disgust, while on the other - saving lives.

Shaul Mofaz is accountable to the public for the disaster of the Givati Brigade's engineering company during a large-scale operation yesterday in the Gaza City neighborhood of Zeitoun.

He has partners, just as Rumsfeld was not alone in the chain of command. The entire government is the Israel Defense Forces' supreme commander, and its responsibility is joint, even though coach Ariel Sharon and captain Mofaz share a larger piece of that responsibility.

Sharon and Mofaz in recent months have led two problematic initiatives: The second phase of the prisoner exchange deal with Hezbollah, and the idea of a unilateral withdrawal from Gaza. Releasing prisoners in exchange for Elhanan Tennenbaum, bodies of IDF soldiers and perhaps a bone from the body of navigator Ron Arad has encouraged Hezbollah and Palestinian organizations to attempt to kidnap Israelis in order to bargain for their release, dead or alive, in exchange for their prisoners held in Israeli jails.

The deadly ambush in the Har Dov area in the north of the country over the weekend contradicted Sharon and Mofaz's false message of prevailing calm. Hamas may now condition the return of the Givati soldiers' remains on the release of the group's master-terrorists who were caught by the army in past operations.

One possible factor that contributed to the deadly result of the armored personnel carrier's being hit by the explosive charge was a combination of a Hamas success and an operational mishap - a mistake in choosing the course of action, a digression from procedure.

As chief of staff, a job he held as recently as two years ago, Mofaz knew how to shake off responsibility for any failure, practical or verbal. There are numerous examples: The friendly fire incident by the army's elite Duvdevan unit, the incidents at Joseph's Tomb, and the statement by the IDF's top commander in Gaza, Yair Naveh, who said the army would remain in the northern part of the Strip "days, weeks and months, for as long as it takes." Mofaz had at his disposal not only a chopper, a jeep and an executive vehicle, but also a whole pen of scapegoats.

Being the modest person he is, for surely one man cannot be held responsible for everything, he agreed to share with his fellow man. For him - the success; for his subordinates (or the Palestinians, or the government) - the failures. If he gets his way, he'll send the responsibility down the slope this time, as well - to the General Staff and the Southern Command, to the Gaza Division and the brigade, battalion and company commanders.

Mofaz, who only a few weeks ago was linked with the lowering of the level of violence, has virtually the uppermost responsibility for the rising of that level. He stood like an enthusiastic convert next to his political patron Sharon, and explained why the evacuation of Gaza was necessary and justified. He continued to send IDF troops on missions after the plan was pulverized at the Likud Party referendum, as if nothing had happened. Yesterday's operation was one of dozens being carried out every week.

Mofaz and Sharon put the soldiers in the worst of all possible worlds. Ever since they announced the upcoming withdrawal, there has been a wave of violence (the suicide attack at the Ashdod port, attacks at the Karni and Erez border crossings, Yassin and Rantisi's assassination, the Hatuel family, Givati).

The Palestinian organizations wish to shape in their own spirit the story of the IDF's withdrawal, and to ensure to themselves, jointly and separately, chunks of territory to control in the liberated Gaza Strip.

The number of casualties among IDF soldiers and settlers in the three months after the withdrawal announcement is considerably larger than in the three months that preceded it. So is the sophistication of the attacks.

Sharon, a conscientious resignation objector, should be handled by Attorney General Menachem Mazuz, whose team is close to agreeing with the prosecution team that wrote the draft of the indictment against the prime minister (the two teams met again yesterday to coordinate their conclusions.) Regardless of Mazuz's decision, the public house-cleaning justifies the resignation of Mofaz.