The Officers / The Right People?

Police Maj. Gen. Uri Bar-Lev sat at his home in central Israel yesterday and his heart filled with grief. For four years he had been preparing the police's Southern Command for this moment, yet when it finally occurred he had already been removed from his position as its commander by Public Security Minister Avi Dichter and Commissioner Dudi Cohen, who ignored the High Court's criticism of their decision.

Instead, they are happy with having a less experienced, lower-ranking Brig. Gen. on the job. Worried residents in the firing range of the Qassams implored him to return to his position, leaving him speechless.

It's hard to believe that Dichter would have been pleased had he been replaced by his deputy when he was head of the Shin Bet security service's southern command in 1995, just as important operations like the assassination of Hamas bombmaker Yahya Ayyash were being carried out. But his ego got the better of him. It was reminiscent of the stubbornness of another military man-cum-politician Moshe Dayan, who wanted to remove the head of the GOC Southern Command prior to the Six-Day War.

That's just part of the madness engulfing Israeli politics. The prime minister's seat is occupied by a man who the attorney general recommended be indicted pending a hearing. His replacement at the helm of Kadima and other party members asked him to step down, but when he merely scoffed they backed down.

The heavy cloud of suspicion hanging over Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's head follows him wherever he goes, yet he continues to make life-and-death decisions.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak said he and Olmert - not Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni - are calling the shots. Olmert's seating between Livni and Barak during the press conference later that night gave a different impression of cooperation between the three.

Brig. Gen. Moshe Tamir, who was the commander of the Gaza Brigade before he was removed from that position in November due to allegations that he tried to cover-up an accident caused by his son, finished his role and has not been called to assist in carrying out the operation.

Barak, who was the IDF chief then foreign minister when the army carried out the 1993 Operation Accountability and 1996 Grapes of Wrath operations in Lebanon, is now back for the third installment of his game plan to impose rule on an organization that is targeting Israeli communities from afar.

The current operation particularly resembles the 1996 operation in Lebanon, after which Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu became prime minister following elections. Operation Cast Lead may bring a temporary end to the rocket fire on Israel, but it won't put an end to Hamas' increasing strength.

The IDF yesterday spoke about a "new order" and a "different reality." They sound different but refer to the same thing: Hamas' tried brinkmanship but the IDF blew the Islamic group's military wing to smithereens. Now the ball is in the Palestinians court.

Therein lies one of the chief flaws in the operation's planning: The assumption that Hamas will be forced to respond by firing 300 rockets and mortar shells a day and perhaps a suicide bombing, thereby legitimizing an Israeli ground invasion of Gaza. But Hamas' leaders may halt their fire for a few days, denying Israel an excuse to continue the operation for a few days and only then respond. Israel did the same thing when it refrained from responding to Saddam Hussein's attacks in 1991.

Israel's timing of the offensive is actually pretty good: Both the paratroopers and the Golani brigade, which was going to replace them, maintained a high level or preparedness while most of the international inspectors in the region went home for Christmas - only 15 remain in Gaza.

U.S. President-elect Barack Obama has not been sworn in yet, while outgoing President George W. Bush won't lament the blow sustained by a terror organization. Also, the military had beforehand increased training and it seems learned from its past mistakes and the Second Lebanon War.