Category Archives: Ehud Barak

Circling the Schools with Tanks

Anyone who remembers Avigdor Kahalani from that most embarrassing period of his life – when he served as Minister of Internal Security – wasn’t all that surprised by his latest schtick. The teachers’ strike threatens harm to the commemoration project Kahalani planned for himself while still living; and therefore the former division commander, who forced the Golan Druze to accept Israeli citizenship, struck out once more against Israeli democracy.

We are informed by Kahalani that the Security Ministry (where Kahalani holds the shudder-inducing title of Chief of the Security-Social Dept.), will send buses full of officers, who will take the place of the striking teachers, and take the students – I’m sorry, I meant “the future soldiers” – to those old battlefields.

Personally, I am of the opinion that Kahalani somehow manages, in every minute he draws breath after that battle, to besmirch the memory of one of the most impressive battles in history. While Kahalani may not have “saved the State of Israel” in October 1973, as he tends to brag and as the panic-stricken General Staff believed at the time, he did inflict a stunning defeat on the enemy, suffered relatively few losses, and demonstrated admirable coolness under fire and tactical verve.

A normal man would have retired after the Battle of the Vale of Tears, would have understood there were no mountains left to climb; but Kahalani insisted on planting himself in Israeli memory even 34 years later. There’s a reason why old soldiers are expected to fade away: they are, almost without exception, a serious embarrassment to themselves and others when they take off their uniforms. And Kahalani does not break the mold.

Kahalani did not, in all likelihood think through his act; and would not, in all likelihood, understand why replacing striking teachers with officers paid by the State is problematic, even if someone tried to explain it to him; furthermore, all this is done so that the students will get a concentrated dose of Kahalani’s bio.

But why pick on Kahalani? After all, he’s not paying for the buses out of his own pocket; the Security Ministry does. He did not handpick the officers, they did not come because they heard it on the grapevine; they’ll board those buses as per orders. They will be sent by a Security Minister who has recently declared “there is no one who is unfit to serve in the IDF”, which was the latest step in his incitement campaign against people his own ministry disqualified from serve.

The involvement of officers in education did not begin with Kahalani, after all. Education Minister Limor Livnat embraced a “colonel for every high school” plan. There was no public outcry at that; the plan came on top of the planned “checkpoint classes”, which would have taught students – sorry again, I meant future warriors – how to behave at a checkpoint in the Occupied Territories. And when some students protested the arrival of a general at their high school, their fellow students threw stones at them.

The basic purpose of the modern school, an institute dating to Napoleonic France, is to qualify young people to serve in the military, to educate them to loyality to the State, and to qualify them for the work market. Israel, which looks more and more like a neglected branch of the IDF, had it backwards for quite a long time.

The government is encouraging an entire segment of the population not to work; soldiers are considered to be “children”, whose blood is redder than that of civilians; the army is much more important and much more influential than the democratic institutes; and, accordingly, the Education Ministry is considering abolishing the civics matriculation exams.

Kahalani’s mini-putsch will not cause a public debate; there will be no protest. In Israel, the Green Beast is the Golden Calf (and it costs accordingly), and woe to the person who will criticize it. And so, the next time a ruthless senior minister or prime minister – say, Binyamin Netanyahu; say, Ehud Barak; say Ehud Olmert – will wish to break an annoying yet legitimate strike, the flag-wrapped Kahalani shall serve them as a precedent, as a justification.

The Battle of the Vale of Tears shall be reason enough for tears; and the question whether in the end Avigdor Kahalani, rightful owner of the rare Bravery Medal, did more good or harm to his country, shall remain open.

(Published October 7th in the Hebrew blog, written and translated by Yossi Gurvitz. Avigdor Kahalani is a former Brigadier General [Tat Aluf] in the IDF, who played a major part in the victory over the Syrian forces in the Yom Kippur War. His later military career is, to be charitable, less noteworthy; his political career was an unmitigated disaster).

Won’t Fall Twice in the Same Hole

Knesset Member Zahava Gal’on (Meretz) wrote the Attorney General today, asking him to force the Prime Minister to report to the Knesset’s Foreign Relations and Security Committee on the IAF’s activities in Syria two weeks ago.

This demand for a parliamentarian oversight of the on the activities of the executive branch, which would be par the course in any normal democracy, made all of the “Proud Jews”* crawl out of their lairs: they don’t want to know what happened, and they don’t want the legislators to know, either. They trust the good fellows in the Office of the Prime Minister and the Security** Ministry.

This deep yearning to take the cameras out of the IDF’s face is perfectly understandable: after all, when the camera are on, they show a pitiful, pathetic picture. Those same people now worshipping Olmert’s sphinx-like silence, have forgotten that just a few months ago he was grasping at two percent of public approval, a result of his demonstration, a little more than a year ago, of his deep military thinking.

The people acclaiming the silent figure who replaced Amir Peretz, forget the series of failures which ended his tenure as Prime Minister, forget his tendency to cheat the public, forget his tendency to bring everything into a crisis.

The air is full of rumors whose truth is questionable and which contradict each other. Israel has attacked a weapons shipment intended for Hiabullah; or it has attacked nuclear equipment which, as in a bad espionage movie, came to Syria all the way from North Korea; or, perhaps, it did nothing at all.

The talks of a Syrian nuclear project are particularly worrisome, especially when you look at their source. One of the main speakers is John Bolton, a former senior official in the State Department, a former ambassador to the UN, and a former, present and in all likelihood future extremist hawk. He stands out as one of the opponents of the recent deal with North Korea – which he now essentially blames of proliferating nuclear materials and, indirectly, of breaking the deal. Bolton is supported by State Secretary Rice – and these are two members of the same team which so successfully sold us that earlier deception, that of Saddam Hussein’s WMDa.

Then as now, they are supported by an attendant choir of Israeli intelligence. The same American sources which identify the alleged Syrian target as a nuclear one, tell us that it was Israeli intelligence which identified the target as such.

Let us put aside for the moment the monumental series of blunders by our hush-hush men: the failure to predict the wars of 1956 and 1967; the claim that Saddat’s visit to Jerusalem is an attempt to conceal a surprise Egyptian attack; that flighty entanglement in the Lebanese Civil War; the estimate which claimed in 1980 that the Iran-Iraq War will end in three weeks, and in 1988 confidently predicted it will carry on for three years more; the failure to predict the First Intifada; and I’m yet to say anything about the Yom Kippur War.

Let us put aside for the moment the fact that a special report of the Foreign Relations and Security Committee called for the smashing of AMAN (military intelligence branch) and for depriving it of its status as “national estimator”; let’s focus instead on what that “national estimator”, the traumatized troll [Major General] Amos Gilad (who, according to his superior officer, misrepresented AMAN’s estimates) had to say on the eve of the Second Gulf War. At the time, Gilad boasted that “once Saddam’s arsenal will be exposed, the world will be shocked”. Israeli intelligence briefs were used by the American army prior to the war.

Needless to say, the world was indeed shocked – when it found out there were no WMDs, and that Condi’s “mushroom cloud as a smoking gun” speech turned out as fear-mongering bullshit from beginning to end.

Now, they’re trying to convince us that Syria has, well, not nuclear arms per se, but nuclear weapon “programs”. We’re hinted that the North Korean regime is so ga-ga, it would deliver to Syria an already-made nuclear bomb. And given the bullshit we’ve been fed by AMAN during the last year, it would seem these rumors are meant to pave the way for a war with Syria: a justified war, the most justified war of all, intended to remove a nuclear threat from Israel.

Am I the only one with a sense of deja-vu? Haven’t we watched this movie, with Iraqi subtitles?

Most respected gentlemen of the government: I do not trust your judgment – damn it, I’m not even sure you possess judgment, seeing as you went to the last war after a 20-minutes debate – and I will not have you play war games which just might suck me in. Since we are still a parliamentary regime, kindly turn over all of the information in your possession to the Knesset, who just remembered it’s supposed to provide oversight over you. Maybe in this way you’d be less tempted to go out on adventures. Thank you.

Honorable Knesset Members: Overseeing the government is your duty. The army, in particular, doesn’t like it, which is why oversight over it must be increased. Please remember that, prior to the Second Gulf War, Congress held lengthy debates over the issue. Please, do not be blinded by fear-mongering and the claims of “secrecy” and “intelligence sources”: study the material, ask difficult questions, and if you think you and the public are led by the nose, say so loud and clear. Each and everyone of you will, after all, have to face himself in the morning, and going to war based on erroneous or false intelligence is a heavy burden. You can avoid us, but you will not be able to tell yourself “our hands did not spill this blood”.

Dear Israeli public, if you still exist: Please remember how did all our wars in the last 40 years began, and how they ended. Remember how the gorilla-like chest-beating were replaced by mournful whimpers. You’d better turn off the TV and wake up before it’s too late.

And if I may just quote President Bush: “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice…. That’s not going to happen”.

* – Proud Jews: a common nickname among ultra-nationalistic, ultra-xenophobe, often Orthodox Israeli talkbackers.

** –  Israel does not have a Defense Ministry, it has a Security Ministry (Misrad Ha’Bitakhon). The two terms are similar but not exact translations: the original meaning of Bitakhon was trusting God. And while an army can certainly defend, it cannot assure security – which is an Israeli obsession.

(Written by Yossi Gurvitz and posted in the Hebrew blog on September 17th. Translation by Yossi Gurvitz)

As the Old Trumpets are Blown Once More

During the final preparations for Operation Greater Oranim, which would soon become the First Lebanon War, an ambitious young Major General Ehud Barak wrote a memo to the Minister of Security, Ariel Sharon.

Barak considered the war plans to be too pedestrian, and he wanted to broaden the scope of the war, so that it would include the destruction of the Syrian armed forces.
Knowing the Israeli public would object, he suggested to Sharon the public should be deceived. Sharon, no stranger to such planning, was impressed; but he rejected the suggestion.

This summer the very same Barak – older, yet still lacking in honesty – was appointed Minister of Defense, after winning his party’s internal elections. His winning seems to have come about by means of a combination of ballot fraud, an avoidance of any controversial statement, and his slogan: “Choose the better leader for the next war”. Not, heaven forbid, the one to bring about the next peace.

* * * * *

The Lebanon War began as a fraud upon the public. Its goal was not just to push the PLO away from the northern border – the PLO adhered strictly to a cease fire lasting almost a year – but also to “remake Lebanon”, and elect Bashir Gemayel president on the points of the Israeli army’s spears.


Prime Minister Menachem Begin made what could be considered – from his own point of view – a tragic mistake: he spoke the truth, and claimed the war was “a war of choice”.


But, of course, so were most of Israel’s wars. It can cautiously be claimed that following the first ceasefire,the entire War of Independence was a war of choice. The 1956 Sinai War was the result of a British-French-Israeli conspiracy against the Egyptian Nasser regime, and was preceded by no Egyptian aggression. In fact, Egyptian provocations were so scarce, the Israeli army was forced to fabricate its own, dressing Israeli soldiers in Egyptian uniforms and claiming border incursions.

The Six-Day War began with an Israeli surprise attack. True, it was preceded by a significant Egyptian provocation, but Israel didn’t bother with the usual rules: it did not announce the occupation of the Sinai and the closing of the Tiran Straits to be a casus belli, and did not issue an ultimatum. No; Israel always believed in a surprise blow. The Yom Kippur War was the direct result of the Israeli refusal to negotiate the return of the territories occupied in 1967. The Egyptians and Syrians, going for a surprise attack, had excellent mentors.


Actual reality-based information was always kept secret from the Israeli public. Until 1973, the press was the slavish handmaiden of the army and the government; this was a position it adored. During his final illness, Moshe Dayan confessed Israel was responsible for the vast majority of border incidents in the 1950s and 1960s. The government used the printed media to feed the public stories about Arab provocations and Israeli reactions. Questioning these official fairy tales meant branding oneself as a traitor.


The army is in the habit of knowingly fooling the government. On the eve of the Six-Day War, the General Staff terrorized the government – while knowing full well the expected results of the war. Under Sharon’s direction, Israeli army officers presented Begin’s cabinet with incorrect maps of Lebanon. During the last war, the Israeli army refrained from informing Olmert that the two kidnapped soldiers – the casus belli of the war – are likely dead. He had to learn it from a reporter.


In order to carry out such schticks, the army needs the cooperation of Trojan horse in the cabinet, the Minister of Security. And if the Minister of Security is new and not familiar with the material, he can simply be passed over – as indeed happened to Amir Peretz.

* * * * *

I don’t purport to know what happened in Syria yesterday. It may have been an Air Force sortie. It may be that the Air Force plane simply made a navigation error. It may be – given the location where it is claimed the incident took place – that it was an American plane, or a Turkish one. I really don’t know.


Had a Israeli army Spokesman denied the event, one would assume he was lying, as is traditional for the position. Since the Israeli army refuses to deny it, it is reasonable to assume it is afraid of being caught at yet another lie. Thus, it is reasonable to assume that somewhere in the Syrian Desert lies a pile of Israeli military equipment, waiting to be found by Syrian soldiers.


Now, according to the reports – which were not denied – the pilots made every effort to make sure they were noticed by the Syrians: flying low and breaking the sound barrier. This was no clandestine sortie, and it would seem it was not an attempt to stress-test the Syrian radar system, either. Given this information, it is reasonable to assume that those who sent the plane, wanted it to be noticed.

Why?


There are several possible reasons. One, to torpedo peace talks held by the energetic President Peres with Syrian officials, behind the Prime Minister’s back. This, at any rate, is the claim made by Syrian officials . Israeli officials deny such talks take place – but they would deny them in any case.
The second possibility, even more troubling, is an that attempt to get Israel into a war by hook or by crook. Since the summer of ‘06, the Israeli army has been beating the drums of war, dating it for the summer of ‘07. Inter alia, its spokesmen howled that Syria is strengthening its anti-aircraft system to an unprecedented degree; but anti-aircraft systems are defensive weapons, and its strengthening only highlighted the fact that Syria is – justly! – afraid of an Israeli attack.

The Syrians, knowing full well their military and regime constitute tempting targets for our generals, refrained from any provocation.

Summer has ended. The collapse of the Olmert government is drawing closer by the day, and the Minister of Security who promised us a well-run war needs some success he can point to before facing Binyamin Netanyahu in general elections. The army is ready, quivering with ripeness; the public wants to see blood, the more the merrier, something to wipe off the disgrace of August 2006; and the Syrians, the bastards, adamantly refuse to play the part tailored for them.


Therefore, the bunch of good-for-nothings who serve as Israel’s leadership should be told as follows: we are not living in 1956 or 1967. We are not even living in 1982. If you insist on drawing us into another war of choice, if you carry out provocations to heat up the border and don’t even bother to hide it, prepare for fighting on your own. We will not answer your call.

War is no laughing matter. It is worse than hunger and plague; it is the handmaiden of death. Soldiers and civilians are not chess pieces on a board, to be moved when the King plays with the Queen. Once, at the beginning of the earlier century, the leaders of a country were assumed to have the right to take it to war as they please. We’ve gone some distance since then; starting an aggressive war is a war crime, and we shall not participate in it.


Should we go to war because of this or any other provocation, every Israeli will have to choose his or her path: Some will flee and hide, some will openly refuse orders, some will demonstrate. But none should show up when the trumpets are sounded again. It is time for the Israeli army to learn what happens when some declares a war, and nobody shows up.

Update: Turkey found two IAF detachable fuel tanks, close to the Iraqi/Syrian/Turkish border triangle. Now Turkey, practically an ally, is also demanding a clarification. One hell of a day for the Israeli Air Force,  harming relations with two countries, one of which is friendly. And the Israeli government keeps silent.

And aside from that, the Darfur genocide should be stopped.


(Written and posted in the Hebrew blog today; translated by Yossi Gurvitz.)

The Draft Dodgers be upon thee, Samson

The chorus of wailing and bemoaning led by the wretched Maj. Gen. Elazar Stern (famous for saying: “Saving the wounded is not a biblical commandment”) was recently joined by the Minister of Defence, Ehud Barak, and even won a rare remark by the Chief of Staff, Gabi Ashkenazi. Stern, who followed the oh-so-successful battle in Lebanon with his own “Not enough people died in Tel-Aviv” campaign, earned the support of his two seniors.

But the “leftists elites stab us in the back” campaign is utterly unfounded. In an impressive article by Yagil Levi, he analyzes the non-conscript statistics and deflates Stern’s hot air balloon. Out of the 26 percent of the young Jewish men who are not drafted, 11 percent are ultra-Orthodox; 4 percent are abroad; 4 percent have insufficient education or a criminal record; 2.5 percent have health problems and 5 percent have psychological problems. Levi shows how the so-called “dodgers” come from the poorest and most beaten-up segments of the population. This is not exactly the Tel Aviv jet set. The conscientious objectors and bleeding heart artists are no more than a statistical anomaly.

Even so, it is true that the sons of the elites do not serve in combat units and are underrepresented among the officer corps. But combat service and leadership need someone to step up to the plate and volunteer to them, and the people who abduct people from their lives to be enslaved to the state for three years, simultaneously granting an entire political faction the right to fully or partially shirk conscription, and also act as a tool for one particular side of the political game for generations, have lost the right to demand volunteering of any kind from the sons of the deprived political camp. For more than 40 years the IDF has lied and deceived the Israeli public and the courts in order to protect the settlements in the Occupied Territories. For more than 40 years, the IDF has done the best it could to destroy any chance of peace.

It made sure to conceal these decisions by claiming that “the army doesn’t choose which orders to carry out”, but those who kept track and saw how the IDF repeatedly fails to evacuate settlers’ outposts but swiftly evacuates a mock settlement set up by the Anarchist movement, know well that the IDF is lying, as always; as always, it is a political actor with no real opposition. The Israeli left plays by the rules to its own detriment: had the people of the left indeed dodged en masse the abusive missions that are the majority of the IDF’s actions, if they’d detach from the appearance of gravitas that always and only benefits one side, they might have gained a lot more traction.

Which raises the question: where does Barak find the audacity to be dragged into that odious campaign? After all, this is the man who gave us the vision of “a small, smart army”, who knows about the wasteful, slothful headquarters; about whom former Meretz leader Yossi Sarid coined the expression “fleeing Ehud”, to describe Barak’s escape from the Knesset plenum during a vote on the conscription of the ultra-Orthodox, in order to avoid being counted as a supporter of such conscription; and who has recently been a member of the cabinet who gave five more years extension to the Tal Law – a law approved by him as a Prime Minister – which gives ultra-Orthodox youths a safe-harbor from conscription.

The sad answer is that a backstabbing campaign has a lot of demand among the “Proud Jewish” rabble. Indeed, Barak won’t gain a single vote by buttering them up, as they’d rather contract Ebola than vote for him (which – you have to grant them – is a perfectly understandable preference when the alternative is voting for Barak); but then again, Barak was never a successful political actor.

(Originally posted to Friends of George by Yossi Gurvitz. Translated by Yair Mahalalel on August 2nd, 2007)