Uniforms Are Off, Suits Are on

Israel is the only developed nation that does not really distinguish between the military echelon and the civilian-political echelon. There are too many former generals in the political world, and too many prospective politicians in the General Staff.

This article should be classified "top secret": It contains undisclosed state secrets. Above all, it seeks to whisper in Amir Peretz's ear: You should know that army officers, even the most senior among them, do not generally understand state security. We saw your military adjuncts planted like olive saplings around your table. Had circumstances not been so upsetting - it was the day of the suicide bombing in Netanya - one could have burst out laughing.

It is only in Israel and Third World countries that "national security" is identified with an advanced military career, as if to say: If you wear a uniform, you will not only be an officer, but you will also be a civilian leader when you no longer wear it. It is the progressive countries that understand that both in peace and war, military skills and political skills are not the same thing; state security is too complex and too serious to be left in the hands of senior officers, no matter how decorated and successful they may have been. They should not, of course, be ruled out as leaders in the security arena, but it is up to them to prove themselves. Every one of them must show that he has not merely been discharged by the army, but that he has divested himself of the army. True, one does not have to be Shaul Mofaz; one can be Yitzhak Rabin. But even Rabin took 20 years of trial and error after his discharge until he proved himself.

Certainly the army is an important element in state security, and heaven forbid we should be without it, ready and able as it always is. But security also implies national morale, and a clean government that gives rise to trust and stability, a good standard of education, research and erudition, scientific and technological prowess, social solidarity, good relations with the world, and any number of other elements.

The amount of time between past and future passes like the blink of an eye: The uniforms are barely off before the suits and ties are put on. With or without uniforms, they come from the same hierarchical framework, have the same values, terms of reference and rules of conduct, on which they were brought up and with which they inculcated others for decades.

If the entire world is one global village, then surely our generals and leaders must be "from the same village." The fighters' esprit de corps plays a very important role here, because it is even stronger than their points of view, so that it is very difficult to discern between the various people involved.

The progressive nations take care not to place former officers at their helm and to put their security in their hands. It is no coincidence that the number of former generals in the United States of America who later served as presidents or secretaries of defense can be counted on one hand. The same is true of Europe: Who was the last army general-minister there in charge of state security? It is hard to recall. And there are certain European countries that have gone beserk, lost all sense of responsibility and appointed women to head their security establishments.

Career officers are, of course, great experts about the previous war. That is why they will never, when serving in the government or at General Staff headquarters, be in favor, for example, of closing down the production line of the Merkava tank - even though the major threats today and in the foreseeable future are those of terrorism and nonconventional ballistic missiles that even a blue-and-white, Israeli-produced tank is not able to repel. The Merkava is indeed the best tank, but there are other tanks that are also the best, and they are available on the shelf and can be bought if the need arises.

Only the Israeli as a person cannot be purchased anywhere. He has to be produced locally. And unfortunately this young person, unlike the tank, the plane, the artillery and the computers, displays a very low level of understanding of mathematics and sciences, and of reading comprehension. So, then, who will save us when catastrophe arrives?

Peretz is not aware of who he actually is, so we shall reveal this to him: Of all those whom he called in for consultations, it is he who has the attributes of a not-too-bad security expert - he, and not the officers. No one needs Peretz and adjutants who belong to the opposition to decide whether a siege or a general curfew should be imposed, or to decide on one more or one less targeted assassination. Peretz has to be able to discuss Israel's national security - and not just on an upsetting day when there has been a suicide bombing.

What has to be discussed is how to raise the standard of education and scientific research, how to rid the government of taints of corruption, how to put together the remnants of national solidarity. This must be the major focus of the security agenda, and this cannot be discussed and clarified in a hasty and ludicrous consultation with only generals in attendance.