What We Owe This One Man

Ya'alon brought with him a rare quality to the Israeli command echelon: integrity. Zealous integrity, ascetic integrity, fundamental integrity. But the current establishment can't bear this integrity.

Dan Halutz will be an excellent chief of staff. His leadership is quiet and business-like, his charisma, reserved and human. And just as he revolutionized the air force, so will he revolutionize the entire Israel Defense Forces. Halutz will strengthen the ties among the various branches of the IDF, and he'll find a way to shake out the unwieldly military organization. He will breathe new life into the IDF. The first blue chief of staff will even direct the disengagement operation faultlessly. Despite the fact that his core values are nationalist ones, Halutz is committed to the disengagement. He believes that the fortitude of Israel allows it to take the risks of a unilateral pullout.

Nevertheless, the worthy appointment of Halutz cannot blur the fact that Moshe Ya'alon's ousting was unworthy. Ya'alon led Israel to its most significant military achievement of the last generation. Israel hasn't known a military success to match that achieved by Ya'alon since Ariel Sharon's success in crossing the Suez Canal in October 1973. Just as military history will remember Sharon and Israel Tal as the most important ground-force commanders of the era of the large conventional wars, so will it remember Ya'alon as the most significant commander of the age of the terror war.

A number of facts: In 2002, the year in which Ya'alon took up the post of chief of staff, 453 Israelis were killed in the terror war; in 2004 - 118. In the year in which Ya'alon took up the post, 55 suicide terror attacks took place in Israel; in 2004, there were 14. Not a single suicide attack took place in Israel in the first 50 days of the year in which Ya'alon was ousted.

Worth recalling: At the beginning of 2002, suicide attacks became a strategic threat. In the six months preceding Ya'alon's appointment, they created a nightmarish reality in Israel. A few months later they brought the Israeli economy to the brink of an abyss. Israel was facing a danger the likes of which it had not known since just before the crossing of the Suez Canal in 1973.

This almost-existential danger was kept at bay by three men: Sharon, Shin Bet security chief Avi Dichter and Ya'alon. Despite the waves of criticism from home and abroad, from the right and the left, these three navigated the tossed-and-blown Israeli raft out of the danger area. Of the three, Ya'alon played a distinctive role: He was the one who already foresaw the Arafat war in 1999; he was the one who already readied the forces for the Arafat war in early 2000; and he was the one who shaped the overall perspective of the war. What Sharon did in the face of the Egyptian armored forces of the Yom Kippur War, Ya'alon did in the face of the Palestinian terror of the current war.

And while the fighting raged on, Ya'alon did a few more things too: He cut the army's budget by billions of shekels; he shaved 6,000 positions off the permanent manpower payroll; he led an almost-fantastic technological revolution; and he waged a daily battle for the soul and image of the IDF.

Ya'alon brought with him a rare quality to the Israeli command echelon: integrity. Zealous integrity, ascetic integrity, fundamental integrity. But the current establishment can't bear this integrity, and that's why Ya'alon received such bad press over the years, why he was perceived as such an anomaly, why he was sent home as he was.

The Israeli public owes Ya'alon (and Sharon and Dichter) the bustling coffee bars and busy restaurants of the end of this winter. The Israeli public is indebted to Ya'alon (and to Sharon and Dichter) for restoring life and hope and the victory of normalcy. So what was left out of the newspaper this week will in the end go down in the pages of history. Few and far between are the cases in which so many Israelis owe so much to one man, a man who embodies a moral Israel and an integrity that is now disappearing before our very eyes.