Thursday, July 27, 2006

Prisoners to Generals

"No statesman would launch a war when his generals make it clear that a military defeat is expected," begins Reuven Pedatzur's article in Ha'aretz. All too often, the generals are wrong, especially when their country starts the war, and underestimates their enemy.

Hitler's generals promised him swift victory over the Soviet Union, so he approved the operation that eventually led to the defeat of Germany in World War II. The United States became bogged down in Viet Nam, constantly escallating troops who were originally intended to be there in an "advisory" capacity. Because only Congress can declare war, officially Viet Nam was merely a "police action." 55,000 US dead, countless others scarred mentally and physically. The US "Shock and Awe" War in Iraq is turning into another Viet Nam for us. Egypt, in 1967: Gamal Abdel Nassar, on the advice of his generals, left his air force on the ground and attacked Israel. Six days later, he was handed an ignominious defeat. Saddam Hussein attacked Iran in what was supposed to be a short battle according to his generals. It lasted eight years.

The fundamental flaw of having policy-makers rely on their generals is point of view: "Senior officers view the world through rifle sights, and on many occasions they tend to disregard the social, cultural, political and regional aspects of the problem they wish to solve by using military force." To balance this, most democracies rely on other bodies to exercise control - the UN, (although The Decider ignores the UN) is normally one such body; and various parliamentary controls, such as Congress. And again, in the USA, Section 8 of our Constitution states clearly that:

Section 8 - Powers of Congress

The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States... To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;

To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;

To provide and maintain a Navy;

To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces;

To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;

To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;

To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of particular States, and the acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States, and to exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings; And

To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.


Here is where Israel differs from other Democracies (and, in my opinion, where the current Republican Administration differs sharply from all other administrations in the USA.) While some advise and consent from the Military is necessary, Israel is virtually held hostage to the decisions of her Generals.

The security policy-making process is in fact the domain of the Israel Defense Forces and the defense establishment. In the absence of non-IDF national security planning bodies, the major part of the planning - not only operational and tactical planning but also strategic and political planning - is done within the army.

The result is that military considerations have often become more dominant than political ones. Thus, Israel's foreign policies have come to be based on an essentially belligerent perception that favors military considerations over diplomatic ones. Violence is seen not only as a legitimate instrument in international affairs, but almost as the only means that can bring positive results.


In Israel, it is the IDF, not the Knesset, that determines its budget; it is the IDF who plans military actions, and presents to the Knesset as a fait acompli. To this date, now two weeks after the start of the second war with Lebanon, the Knesset has not held one meeting to discuss, nor solve, this war diplomatically. The Generals are running the country. Israel desperately needs a Civilian Board to oversee the workings of the Military - because the people of Israel do not want this war.

Pedatzur writes: "When one analyzes Israeli policy since the country's establishment, only four cases come up in which the prime minister came up with something that the army did not suggest or approve of. Three of these cases involve ex-generals as prime ministers; and in the fourth instance, the prime minister was backed by two generals in his government.

In 1977, Menahem Begin decided on a peace agreement with Egypt that came with a price - the withdrawal from Sinai, which sparked opposition from IDF commanders. But Begin enjoyed support from then defense minister Ezer Weizman and the foreign minister at the time, Moshe Dayan, both former generals. Yitzhak Rabin, a former chief of staff, decided to go along with the Oslo Accords in 1993, despite opposition from the army. Ehud Barak, also a former chief of staff, took the IDF out of Lebanon, despite very loud and public protests by army commanders. And Ariel Sharon, another general, decided on the Gaza disengagement plan and its execution despite strong objection from former chief of staff Moshe Ya'alon and his senior officers.

In all other cases, decisions regarding national security were based on proposals the IDF placed on the prime minister's desk."

He ends this article with a quote from Yigal Allon, one of the few Israeli politicians who tried to influence Israel into forming a national security policy that would operate with diplomatic means, rather than exclusively military. Allon said, "The need to defend the country against aggression, the military confrontations on the borders... the military achievements, the mass drills... all of these create an atmosphere that necessarily harbors acute social and moral dangers. The danger of the spreading of chauvinist and vulgar militarism is a real danger in Israel... The culture of arms bears with it the danger of losing social, moral and cultural values, to the point of the blurring of the nation's image as an enlightened society... This applies to all civilians and the youth, and also military personnel, who may be intoxicated by the very charm of involvement with arms."

Israelis - and here, I mean civilian Israelis, people like you, and me - do not want this war. The Lebanese people do not want this war. The only people who want this war are the people who define their lives by their status as warriors. But the true warrior puts down his weapons. The true warrior listens to his enemies, and negotiates peace.

9 comments:

Tina said...

OMFG... they are in THE EXACT same position that we are. The war mongering lunatics have taken over and are running the show... WHAT can we do? WHAT can the Israelis do? I honestly held out a glimmer of hope when Sharon finally seemed to see some kind of light and walked away from the Likud party... but to hear this is just so disheartening.
And I been regularly perusing Ha'aretz now for over a year, and I must say, they are right up there with The Guardian UK in terms of presenting as unbiased as possible news and truly present both sides for their opinion pieces.

DivaJood said...

Tina, when I lived there I used to read Ha'aretz - it is an excellent source, unlike the Jerusalem Post (and I have a cousin who works there). Sharon did have a change of heart, and I also held out hope when he left Likud. Sometimes I wonder if his stroke wasn't "induced." But yes, the Israelis are in the same position we are in - warmongering lunatics who have not really served in the military, and they wound up in power. Scary stuff.

sumo said...

I wondered if Sharon's illness wasn't induced either. And I too had hope that he would lead them to a better place in the world. What you wrote opened my eyes about the military...even though it was at the back of my mind...you connected the dots for me. Good post.

DivaJood said...

Sumo, sometimes I feel I constantly wear a tin foil hat; but the convenience of the timing of his stroke just strikes me a bad for peace, good for war.

betmo said...

this certainly puts things into perspective eh? thanks jood for putting this info out there. i did go on record saying that i wasn't against the israeli people but their government- same as here in our country. this just solidifies that belief for me.

karena said...

Civilains in Israel are getting increasingly frustrated and in disagreement with this excursion into Lebanon. They fear the blowback will become unbearable as their military continues these airstrikes. Citizens in war are opposing their leaders. I hope our songs and wails become so loud the music is heard around the world. Tonight, open your window and belt out a song for peace.

DivaJood said...

Betmo, Israel has always been under the "guidance" of the IDF. Previous Generals have also been highly charismatic, and there have been some interesting counterpoints to them. But no real built in system of checks & balances. And now, with Olmert and Peretz knowing that the US is weak diplomatically AND that the US is under the reins of Hawks, it is out of control.

Karena, an Israeli soldier has become a conscientious objector and will not deploy to Lebanon. Israelis, NOT the government, want peace. And, sorry, if I open my windows and sing for peace, people will throw things at me. But I could play Bob Dylan's Masters of War.

The Fat Lady Sings said...

It just hit me that you may still have friends there. Are they all right? Politics be damned - you're going to worry over the people you care about. I hope no one you know has been injured.

DivaJood said...

TFLS, thank you for asking. My relatives in Tel Aviv were all older, the ages of my parents, and grandparents. They are long dead from natural causes. I've not been on the kibbutz in 20 years, and have lost contact - but it is literally within range of Hezbollah's rockets, just 11 K. from Kiryat Shmona. I worry about it a lot.