One of the rich men in the Jewish state
died. Jewish tradition demanded that somebody eulogize the deceased,
dwelling only on his virtues. But nobody in town was ready to say a good
word about this hated person.
At last a merciful Jew volunteered and said: "We all know
that the deceased was an evil, cruel and greedy man. But compared to his
son, he was an angel."
I am tempted to say the same about Shaul Mofaz, who left
the office of the Chief-of-Staff a few days ago. He was a bad and
overbearing army commander, holding primitive and cruel views, who failed
abysmally in his task of providing security. But compared to his
successor, "Boogie" Ayalon, he was wonderful.
In Israel, the change of chiefs-of-staff is more important
than the change of presidents. Only the Prime Minister is more important
than the chief-of-staff, because the army has immense influence on every
sphere of life.
Mirabeau, one of the fathers of the French Revolution,
coined the phrase: "Prussia is not a state that has an army, but an army
that has a state." Does this apply to Israel, too?
In theory, the Israeli army is subject to the political
leadership. We are a democracy, after all. The elected government makes
the decisions, the army executes them. That is how it should be. But
reality is far more complex.
First of all, the political and economic elite is full of
former generals. Of the fifteen chiefs-of-staff who preceded Mofaz, two
have themselves become Prime Ministers. The present Prime Minister is a
general, and, after the assassination of General Ze’evi, the minister for
tourism, four generals remain in his cabinet. It is nice to believe that
once a general takes his uniform off, he also discards his military
approach, but this is an illusion. A general remains a general, a member
of a close-knit group that has an almost identical approach to all the
Israel is the only country in the democratic world in
which the army commander attends all cabinet meetings. Frequently, he also
brings with him the chief of the army intelligence branch (known by its
Hebrew acronym, AMAN.)
In the past, the Chief-of-Staff’s influence on government
deliberations was an undeclared fact. But Mofaz has brought it into the
open, often dictating his views to the cabinet openly. When he declared
that, according to his "professional" view, something should or should not
be done, no minister had the guts to contradict him. Only General Sharon
has dared, infrequently, to reject Mofaz’ proposals. General Ben-Eliezer,
the Minister of Defense, has sometimes pretended to do so, but it was no
more than a pretense.
No less important is the status of the army intelligence
chief. Much as the Chief-of-Staff is the only person allowed to express
the "opinion of the army", the chief of AMAN is the only official in
charge of formulating the "national situation evaluation". No cabinet
minister and no member of the Knesset would dare to cast any doubt
whatsoever on the AMAN evaluation - in spite of the fact that these
evaluations have been proven wrong at every turn in the nation’s history.
Suffice it to mention the chief of AMAN’s evaluation on the eve of the Yom
Kippur war, which led to a national catastrophe.
The generals have a whip that no politician can dare to
ignore: absolute control of the media. Almost all "military
correspondents" and "military commentators" are obedient servants of the
army command, publishing the briefings of the Chief-of-Staff and his
generals as their own opinion. Almost all "correspondents for Arab
affairs" are former or present AMAN personnel, publishing AMAN briefings
as their own considered views. If a minister dared to reject the demands
of the Chief-of-Staff or the evaluations of AMAN, the media would come
down on him like a megaton bomb.
In all TV and radio news programs, talk-shows and
interview corners, the number of present and former generals, opining on
every conceivable topic, is well-nigh incredible.
All this, by the way, is based on the fallacy that
military people understand the problems of the state better than others
and that they are solely representing the interests of the state, without
any personal interest. In reality, the military technician is an expert in
his field like a plumber or a physician, for example. Much as the plumber
understands the technicalities of sewage disposal and the doctor medical
techniques, the senior army officer understands the techniques of applying
military force. Naturally, he sees all problems through this lens. This
does not make him an expert on state affairs, society, international
relations or foreign nations. It certainly does not make him an expert on
terrorism, an essentially political phenomenon.
The Israeli army is one of the biggest in the world. It
consumes an immense part of the national resources – 15 times more than in
the United States, on a per capita basis. It is a mighty economic empire
that has a powerful influence on the economy at large (where many of the
giant corporations are controlled by former generals). A large part of the
defense budget is devoted to the salaries and pensions of regular army
officers. (Officers are generally pensioned off with full and generous
pensions at the ripe old age of 43.) The salary of a general is higher
than that of a member of the Knesset. But may God protect a minister of
the treasury who tries to cut the defense budget! He would be denounced
immediately as a Destroyer of Israel, one who undermines the Security of
the State. As a result, the government is reduced to cutting the social
security system, once the pride of the state and now rapidly nearing Third
Of course, from its earliest times, the army command has
had a profound influence on state policy. This is not new. But there is
little similarity between the army of 1950 and the army of 2002. Then,
most of the officers were Kibbutz-members with liberal and left-wing
opinions. This has changed completely. During the 35 years of occupation,
a negative selection process has been at work. Humanist, liberally-minded
people have been going into high-tech and science and not choosing a
military career. The kibbutzniks are disappearing, instead settlers and
religious nationalists are gradually filling the senior ranks.
Nowadays, the vast military establishment, in and out of
uniform, constitutes a super-party, nationalist and war-like, which
believes in the application of force as the solution for all problems. It
favors the occupation and is intimately linked to the settlers. By its
very nature it is anti-Palestinian, anti-Arab and therefore anti-peace.
The total conformity prevalent in the army ensures the whole army thinks
like Mofaz and Ya’alon. Any officer who thinks otherwise would be on the
Cynics might say it is all a matter of built-in interest:
the power, influence and privileges of the senior officers are based on
the critical security situation, the ongoing occupation and the
never-ending war. Naturally, they use their ine; ence to perpetuate and
escalate this situation. Less cynical people will say that the military
mentality itself tends in this direction: if one believes that sheer force
is the solution to all problems, one almost automatically pushes the state
into a permanent war.
One result of this is that women – more than half the
population – have no influence at all on the future of the country. The
army is the realm of men and machoism. Women in most ranks are reduced to
serving coffee. In terms of their ability to influence the country’s
future, the situation of Arab citizens, a fifth of the population, is even
The chiefs of the Turkish army, who are good friends of
their Israeli colleagues, have a similar position in their country. Turkey
is a democracy, there is a president, a parliament, an elected government.
But the army considers itself as the supreme guardian of the state and its
values. When the army decides that the government is deviating, it tells
it to mend its ways. In extreme cases, the army causes the government to
resign. In Israel the processes are more covert and complex, but the
result is similar.
Mirabeau coined another telling phrase: "War is the
national industry of Prussia." One could say that occupation is the
national industry of Israel.
[The author has closely followed the career of Sharon for four decades.
Over the years, he has written three extensive biographical essays about
him, two (1973, 1981) with his cooperation.]