Halutz’s Stalinist moment

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This past April the IDF published its new military doctrine. The new classified field manual, The General Staff's Operational Concept for the IDF, is the result of four years of serious study. It gives expression to the transformative changes the IDF's way of thinking about war fighting and designing military campaigns underwent since the outbreak of the Palestinian terror war in September 2000.


Yet last week the IDF separated itself from those most responsible for leading its intellectual transformation. On May 30, the heads of the IDF's Operational Theory Research Institute (OTRI), Brig. Gen. (res.) Dov Tamari and Brig. Gen. (res.) Dr. Shimon Naveh, were notified that they were suspended from their duties due to irregularities in their billing procedures. On Tuesday a distorted version of the events was presented to the public on the front page of Yediot Ahronot. The headline read, "Hero of Israel Suspended from Duties: Brig. Gen. (res.) Dov Tamari, commander of the Operational Theory Research Institute, who received three combat decorations, is suspected of [financial] irregularities."


Tamari and Naveh's suspensions together with Tuesday's headlines effectively terminated one of the most glorious periods in the IDF's intellectual history. It ended a process that OTRI shepherded which, over the past decade, has transformed the IDF into the world leader in operational warfare.


The story of OTRI's disembowelment should alarm anyone who cares about the IDF. It is part and parcel, and indeed an exacerbation of the trend that has been forcing independent thinkers out of decision-making circles in Israel for the past three years. In 2003 this trend was ushered in when, after consulting with his public relations team, then-prime minister Ariel Sharon decided to retreat from Gaza in exchange for absolutely nothing.


Sharon made this decision without advising with the IDF General Staff. For his opposition to the plan, then IDF Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. Moshe Yaalon was fired. So too, Efraim Halevy, former Mossad director, was forced out of his position as director of the National Security Council for his opposition to Sharon's sole reliance on his PR flacks Reuven Adler, Dov Weisglass and Eyal Arad in making strategic decisions about Israel's future. This trend most recently caused the conclusion of Maj. Gen. (res.) Giora Eiland's tenure as Halevy's successor at the National Security Council. Eiland made clear his complete opposition to the retreat strategies adopted by the Sharon and Olmert governments in an interview with Ha'aretz this past Sunday. Eiland's comments – like all statements by national leaders expressing opposition to the retreat strategy before them – were completely ignored by the rest of the Israeli media.



SINCE THE summer of 2004, I have been employed as a researcher at OTRI. Naveh's decision to offer me the position two years ago came as a complete surprise. An ideological gulf separates me from Naveh, Tamari and most of OTRI's researchers. Yet, as I became familiar with OTRI's work, I realized it is wholly non-ideological. OTRI concerns itself solely with the pursuit and development of knowledge necessary for military commanders to think critically, systemically and methodologically about war fighting. In promulgating its operational concepts, OTRI pays little attention to who the enemy is or how to fight a specific group of people – Palestinian, Iraqi, Russian, American, Israeli, etc.


Rather, the institute's work focuses on the concept of "enemy" and provides operational commanders with tools to conceptualize both their enemies and themselves for the purpose of designing suitable campaigns. In short, OTRI's methods are a powerful tool – like a tank – that can serve anyone who understands how to use them, without connection to his identity or that of his enemy.


In light of this, the decision to get rid of Tamari and Naveh is even more disconcerting than Sharon and Olmert's decision to force Yaalon, Halevy and Eiland from their posts. In those cases, the political leaders purged the ranks of decision-makers of those who oppose their political goals. In so doing, they acted within what is generally considered the purview of political leaders.


But in forcing Naveh and Tamari out of the IDF, Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz and his deputy Maj. Gen. Moshe Kaplinsky sent the message that independent thinkers are unwelcome in their IDF. The political-strategic trend initiated by Sharon has brought about a state of affairs where Israel's decision-making echelon is bereft of all voices opposing Israeli retreats. By eviscerating OTRI, Halutz and Kaplinsky have added an operational component within the IDF to this larger political-strategic trend. They have set the course for purging the IDF of people who – while perhaps ideologically sympathetic towards the unilateral retreat policies – are guilty of the sin of thinking critically about military science.


What exactly did OTRI accomplish under Naveh and Tamari's stewardship? On Wednesday, Yaalon, who began his association with OTRI as Commander of Central Command in the late 1990s, summarized the institute's activities as follows: "OTRI contributed both to Central Command and to the General Staff. Its contribution to the General Staff involved the development of a new operational concept whose development was necessitated by the evolution of the threats [that Israel faces]. OTRI, in conjunction with commanders in the field worked on developing cognitive tools and doctrines on a trial and error basis. The method of operational assessment that is used today in the regional commands and in the General Staff was developed through the joint work of OTRI with field commanders."


Over the past few years, foreign militaries began noticing that something new was happening in the IDF. As Yaalon explains, "The Americans saw there were a lot of changes in our assessment methods, and they asked us to transfer our new knowledge to them. OTRI worked with the Americans to teach them the methods we had developed."


Lt. Col. David Pere, from the US Marine Corps, is now involved in authoring the Marine Corps' operational doctrine. He characterizes OTRI's contribution to the US Armed Forces thus: "Naveh and OTRI's influence on the intellectual discourse and understanding of the operational level of war in the US has been immense. The US Marine Corps has commissioned a study of design that will result in a Marine Corps Concept of Design that is based heavily on Shimon [Naveh]'s [work]. One can hardly attend a military conference in the US without a discussion of Shimon or [OTRI's] System of Operational Design….The Army's doctrinal publication on Operations (Field Manual 3.0), will include design based on SOD in its next edition."


Like the Americans, the British, Australians and other armed forces are integrating the concepts developed over the past decade by IDF commanders and OTRI researchers into their formal doctrines.


OF COURSE, in spite of all of this, if OTRI personnel were involved in corrupt practices, then Halutz and Kaplinsky would be wrong not to take action.


But they were not involved in corrupt practices. The decision to suspend Naveh and Tamari and two additional OTRI researchers last week came in the wake of a draft report by the State Comptroller on the IDF's training of its senior officer corps. The draft report was submitted to the IDF for review last month. The report's preliminary findings determined that Naveh, Tamari and two other OTRI researchers had not followed all the proper procedures for billing their hours. The report did not allege that the researchers did not work or that they somehow absconded with tax payers' money.


Yediot's re
port noted that the State Comptroller's draft report found problems with the management norms of both OTRI and the National Security College and that these problems led Halutz and Kaplinsky to transfer the report to the Military Advocate General. Here is the place to note that the relative weight Yediot gave to the two reports was misplaced. Equally curious is the fact that in responding to Yediot's inquiry, the IDF Spokesman's Unit limited its statement to allegations against OTRI and ignored completely the charges raised against the National Security College. There is much that could be added to these general observations. Unfortunately adding to what was already reported in Yediot on Tuesday is illegal.


And that is the heart of the matter. The State Comptroller's Law states explicitly that no one may make use of the materials prepared by the State Comptroller. According to paragraph 28 of the Law, Yediot was legally barred from publishing the contents of the draft report. Furthermore, paragraph 30 of the Law stipulates: "Reports, opinions and any other document promulgated or prepared by the Comptroller in carrying out his duties may not be used in any legal or disciplinary procedure."



In light of this, the disciplinary procedure which Halutz set in motion against OTRI's researchers which led to Naveh, Tamari and two other researchers' suspensions and precipitated both Naveh and Tamari's resignations was illegal.


A number of theories are making the rounds attempting to explain why Halutz and Kaplinsky decided to purge OTRI of its leadership. Some say that Halutz and Kaplinsky oppose the whole concept of operational design. But this view does not pass the reality test. The General Staff's Operational Concept for the IDF is rooted in OTRI's theoretical doctrine of systemic operational design. Indeed, it is a complete vindication of OTRI's research.


Others say that Kaplinsky and Halutz cannot abide by Tamari and Naveh because they represent Yaalon's intellectual legacy in the IDF. According to this reasoning, while Kaplinsky and Halutz accept in whole OTRI's conceptual framework and so embrace Yaalon's legacy, they wish to co-opt this legacy and believe they can only do so by throwing Naveh and Tamari out of the army.


Whatever the proximate cause of their banishment from the IDF, the effect of their departure will, in Pere's view, "endanger the IDF."



There are two reasons for this. First, any replacement that Halutz and Kaplinsky appoint to succeed Naveh will be unable to carry forward his work. Naveh, like Clausewitz, is a path breaker. He has many disciples, but no substitutes. Second, and more generally, in forcing Naveh and Tamari's departure, Halutz and Kaplinsky are sending a devastating message to the IDFs senior officer corps. By precipitating the departure of the IDF's most prominent intellectuals, Halutz and Kaplinsky are signaling those senior officers that their career advancement is dependent on their willingness to think what they are told to think.


From a national perspective, the significance of the decision to decimate OTRI is similarly bleak. To all intents and purposes, since 1973, Israel has suffered from a nearly continuous breakdown in strategic thinking that has produced an unremitting string of national failures from Oslo, through the withdrawal from Lebanon to the withdrawal from Gaza. Indeed, Israel's continued survival in the face of these strategic blunders is the product of the IDF's ability to compensate for the political leadership's incompetence by producing operational and tactical successes.


Woe to Israel if our strategic idiocy spreads to these areas as well.



Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.





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