In one of the most virulent attacks on the IDF in recent memory, Ha'aretz's senior diplomatic correspondent Aluf Benn penned an article published in The Washington Post on August 18 in which he accused former Chief of General Staff Shaul Mofaz specifically and IDF commanders generally of responsibility for the war.
In Benn's view, the IDF's definition of the Palestinian Authority as an enemy is based on the political views of its commanders rather than the reality on the ground, and in pursuing the war to victory, the generals are not acting out of military necessity but rather to advance their own right-wing worldviews.
Writing for an American audience, in an argument bordering on racial stereotyping, Benn claimed that the transformation of military thinking about the Palestinians over the past two years is due to fact that Ashkenazim no longer form the backbone of the officer corps. In his words, "The social composition of the army has changed in the last two decades, as the upper classes shunned military careers and left the combat ranks to members of religious and settler groups and more right-wing-oriented Jews of Mideast origin."
Benn regurgitated as fact the Israeli Left's allegation that the Palestinian terrorist war against Israel is really just a cycle of violence. He reported as fact the Left's contention that the political leadership had negotiated a "fragile cease-fire" in December 2001 that could have held had Mofaz not ordered the assassination of Fatah leader Raed Karmi in January. This, of course, is a lie.
In the 48 hours after Yasser Arafat's mealy-mouthed cease-fire speech on December 16, the Palestinians carried out 31 attacks against Israel.
In all, from December 17 until Karmi's assassination on January 11, the Palestinians carried out an average of 10 attacks a day.
In his indictment of the army, Benn also neglected to mention that during the time that his imaginary cease-fire was in force, on January 5, the IDF interdicted the Karine A weapons ship in the Red Sea laden with 50 tons of Iranian arms destined for the PA. Omar Acawi, the ship's skipper from the PA's Naval Police, said himself that he had assumed that he would be ordered to scrap the mission after Arafat's speech and yet, since no such order was given, he proceeded on course.
What is most bizarre about Benn's indictment of Mofaz personally and the IDF commanders in general is that he fails to mention that, almost to the man, they supported the Oslo process for seven years. In fact, Benn's own newspaper, Ha'aretz published a two-part series this month on how IDF Intelligence systematically refused, either by neglect or design, to take note of information indicating Arafat was not committed to peace but rather saw the Oslo process as a way to implement the PLO's 1974 plan to liberate Palestine in stages.
And the IDF's naive approach to Oslo was not simply the view of Military Intelligence. For seven years, from the moment Yitzhak Rabin appointed then Deputy Chief of General Staff Amnon Lipkin-Shahak to head the negotiations with the PLO in October 1993 until late October 2000, the IDF swallowed the strategic assumptions of Oslo more or less whole and translated them into operational models.
Brig.-Gen Arye Eldad, who served as the IDF's chief medical officer, retells how as medical officer of the Central Command in 1994 he was rebuked by his colleagues and commander for asking what the IDF would do if the Palestinian forces, recently deployed in Jericho, turned their weapons on Israel. "My commander responded by asking, 'As the representative of which settlement are you asking this question?'" he recalls. "Any operational question that cast any doubt on the efficacy of Oslo, was immediately labeled as 'political' and could thereby be dismissed without further comment."
The fact that the IDF was utterly convinced of the promise of the Oslo Accords was brought home even further, when on July 11, 2000 – the eve of the Camp David summit – Mofaz decided to cut back compulsory military service for men from 36 to 30 months. Then OC Manpower Maj.-Gen. Yehuda Segev explained to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that shortening service was reasonable given the expectation of peace with the Palestinians. In the coming era of peace, Segev explained, the IDF would be able to cut its order of battle, as the army's routine security role would taper off.
Perhaps the most egregious single consequence of the IDF's unthinking internalization of Oslo's incorrect assumptions about Palestinian intentions toward Israel in the face of overwhelming contrary evidence was the death of Border Police Cpl. Madhat Yusef at Joseph's Tomb in Nablus on October 1, 2000.
In May 2000, a Palestinian mob tried to take over Joseph's Tomb. During the ensuing riot, Palestinians shot into the holy site and lightly wounded an IDF officer. Fearing that a forceful evacuation of the wounded officer would endanger the "peace process," the IDF brass decided not to bring in a rescue squad to evacuate him but rather waited for the PA to send in troops to disperse the mob to enable the wounded officer's evacuation.
In what the IDF later referred to as an "abject failure," the PA refused to intervene with the mob for more than four hours. Luckily for the officer, his wound was light and he survived the wait.
According to an internal IDF report written by Lt.-Col. Alex Hikov, commander of the liaison office with the PA in Nablus and published by Y-net last month, in discussions held after the incident with PA security forces, the IDF was told in no uncertain terms that it could not expect the PA to behave any differently in the future. Hikov relayed that the PA's operations officer, Abu Luwi, told his Israeli counterparts, "The Israeli side should not expect or imagine a situation in which Palestinian security forces take control of a crowd of rioters, some of them armed, like those who attacked the tomb."
But then, six months later, just past noon on October 1, the IDF proved that it had not taken the PA officer at his word. On the second day of Rosh Hashana, with PA security forces participating in rioting throughout the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and the Temple Mount, a Palestinian mob again descended on Joseph's Tomb. Yusef, 19, was shot and critically wounded. Rather then sending in troops to evacuate him, the IDF commanders in the field again decided to wait for the PA security forces to evacuate him.
The medic at the scene informed the officers at the forward command post that Yusef was bleeding profusely and in need of immediate evacuation. He kept the command post updated on a minute-to-minute basis on the deterioration of Yusef's condition and the urgent need for medical evacuation.
But the commanders remained impervious to the medic's pleas for help. Just as they had the previous May, the commanders insisted on waiting for Jibril Rajoub's men to disperse the mob. At 5.30 p.m., the medic reported that Yusef had bled to death. At 6:30 p.m. PA security forces took control of the area and Yusef's body was evacuated.
Responding to the public outcry, Mofaz appointed a committee of inquiry into Yusef's death. Chaired by Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yoram Yair, the commission quickly came to the conclusion that it was reasonable for the commanders to have waited for the PA to evacuate Yusef and to believe that such a course of action would be the quickest way to ensure his evacuation.
If one wishes to date the end of the IDF's honeymoon with the Oslo process, the weeks after Yusef's death would probably be a good place to start. Quite simply, the violence of October 2000 was so virulent, widespread, and clearly dictat
ed and planned by Arafat that anyone who was willing to see could not help but draw the conclusion that Arafat had mobilized both the PA and Palestinian society as a whole to launch a terrorist war against Israel.
In back-to-back interviews with Ha'aretz, OC Air Force Maj.-Gen. Dan Halutz and Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Moshe Ya'alon have gone to Aluf Benn's professional home and demanded that he and his fellow leftists recognize reality. In an interview appearing today, Ya'alon explains that the leftist media elite's unwillingness to recognize what is happening is more damaging to national security than the IDF's unwillingness to change its belief that Egypt had no plan to invade the Sinai in 1973.
Calling their behavior "pathological," Ya'alon explained, "There is a deep psychological problem here: Because it is difficult for people to apprehend a reality that they do not control, it is more convenient to blame the Israeli side. Or the army. Or the Chief of General Staff. Or whoever is reporting to them that the reality is not exactly the way they would like it to be. In addition, there are people for whom the conception has become their whole world, so they entrench themselves in it and refuse to let it go."
For his part, in his Ha'aretz interview last Friday, Halutz likened Israeli leftists who work for the indictment of IDF officers for war crimes in the Hague to the Jews who collaborated with the Nazis in the Holocaust, explained that they are traitors, and recommended that they be brought to trial.
Listening to the IDF commanders, it is abundantly clear that today the army would never wait for the PA to act before saving a wounded soldier and that is a comfort. But as Ya'alon also explained, military determination to win this war is not sufficient to guarantee victory. He said that this war, which he views as the most important since the War of Independence in 1948, is "a combined campaign military, political, civilian, media, economic. In order to build a defensive wall, all those elements have to work in synergy."
By going to Ha'aretz's readers, the IDF commanders are clearly sending a message to elitists like Aluf Benn. Without mincing words, they are telling him that in continuing to subscribe to Palestinian and Beilinist propaganda claiming that this war is Israel's fault, they are aiding and abetting the enemy in wartime. We can only hope that the message is received.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.