TOP ISRAELI LEADERSHIP UNDER FIRE
Loss in Lebanon, Mass Corruption Stoking Public Dissatisfaction
By Richard Walker
Israel’s internal war of attrition over its humiliating loss in Lebanon last year has claimed its first victim— Defense Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Dan Haluzt.
The seasoned and controversial top military officer resigned on Jan. 16, having been in the job for only 18 months. His resignation came after mounting public pressure for someone at the highest rank of the political-military chain of command to fall on his sword. Halutz became the sacrificial lamb when it appeared that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, whose ratings are at an all-time low because of his handling of the Lebanon war, was not willing to offer himself up for slaughter.
Neither was his defense minister, Amir Peretz. But like Halutz, they are both in the eye of the storm as Israel continues to reel from the fact that it lost its military cloak of invincibility in its war with Hezbollah.
For most Israelis, the Lebanon campaign was the worst military failure in Israel’s short history and one that shattered the belief of most Israelis that there was no threat they couldn’t eliminate. They had never considered the possibility their powerful military machine, with its high-tech American planes, missiles and surveillance gear, would ever abandon a fight, especially with a rag-tag guerrilla army like Hezbollah.
As we now know, Israel was outfoxed by Hezbollah’s intelligence arm, as well as by its fighters. Israel’s prolonged “shock and awe” bombing of civilian areas of Lebanon, a war crime in the eyes of the international community, cost it dearly in terms of its global image.
Prior to the Lebanon conflict, Halutz knew all about fighting a dirty war and about being in the center of a storm of controversy. Before he became chief of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), he was commander of the Israeli Air Force (IAF). In his IAF role he developed what became known as “targeted assassinations,” the controversial policy of blowing up homes and cars in high-density civilian areas in order to kill Hamas leaders.
He began by bringing together specialized pilots and members of the IDF, Mossad and Shabat, the Israeli internal security service, to share intelligence on targets. He then was given the most up-to-date planes and surveillance equipment by the United States to carry out the assassinations.
Perhaps Halutz’s most controversial decision was to authorize the dropping of a one-ton bomb on an apartment building in Gaza on the night of July 23, 2002. The target of the attack was Salah Shahade, a Hamas commander, but he was not the only one killed when the bomb tore apart the building. Shahade’s wife and daughter died, as did nine others, mostly children.
At the time, Israeli Prime Minster Ariel Sharon applauded the attack, but it was condemned across the world, as well as by peace groups in Israel. What made it particularly heinous, aside from the deaths of innocent children, was the fact that hours before it happened the leader of Hamas, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, promised an end to suicide bombings.
At the same time, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas were negotiating an end to terror. In a revenge attack in Jerusalem a week later, eight civilians were killed, two of them Americans.
Halutz had no regrets about the Gaza attack and told a journalist that when it was over he told his pilots: “You can sleep well tonight. I also sleep well, by the way. . . . Your execution was perfect. Superb!”
In response to a question of whether the attack was morally reprehensible, given the civilian deaths, he replied that there was a moral consideration built into the planning, and a mistake or accident did not make it wrong. His
response reflected a traditional Israeli military principle that the target, if it is a Hamas leader, not only justifies the means but any additional death toll.
In the wake of the bombing of the Gaza apartment, Halutz ran into a firestorm of criticism in Israel when he said members of peace groups who criticized his targeting policies were traitors and a clause should be found in the law to put them on trial for treason.
The Israeli Supreme Court later forced him to back away from that pronouncement. As a consequence of such a mindset, the risk of “collateral damage”—an obscene political-military euphemism for dead civilians—has rarely dissuaded Israeli military figures like Halutz, or politicians like Sharon and Olmert, from using overwhelming force in civilian areas.
Israel’s campaign in Gaza and Lebanon has proved that to be true. At the end of the Lebanon war, last summer, Israeli artillery units and war planes littered parts of Lebanon with almost one million cluster bomb droplets, knowing they would eventually kill innocent civilians for decades to come.
Amnesty International has credited Halutz with ordering the destruction of most of the civilian infrastructure in Lebanon last summer and of threatening the Lebanese that if they did not get rid of Hezbollah the country would “pay a heavy price.” And it did.
Halutz ran into a different set of problems in August 2006 after it was revealed that a month earlier he had sold off part of his stock portfolio hours after learning that Hezbollah had captured two Israeli soldiers. That incident became Israel’s justification for launching the war against Lebanon.
Halutz claimed the sell-off was a personal matter. His sudden career demise may well be a portent of things to come. So far there have been at least a dozen Israeli inquiries into the failures of the Lebanon campaign, and the Israeli public are clamoring for more resignations.
All of this comes at a time when leading politicians in the country are mired in scandal, including Olmert. Olmert has been the target of a probe into a 2005 bank privatization that reaped huge profits for his associates.
Likewise, President of Israel Moshe Katsav has been implicated in a rape and sexual harassment scandal and is expected to be indicted any day now.
Richard Walker is the nom de plume of a former mainstream news producer who now writes for AFP so he can expose the kinds of subjects that he was forbidden to cover in the controlled press.
(Issue #5, January 29, 2006)