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PASSING THE BUCK ON NATIONAL SECURITY

Is Israel's National Interest Taking Back Seat To Political & Personal Careers?

Did The Fall Of The Iraqi Regime Impact On Poor Performance Of IDF Ground Forces Against Hezbollah?

Ehud Barak | Amir Peretz

Israel is still reeling from the outcome of the Lebanon war. In reviewing internal IDF inquiries into why IDF ground forces failed to route the Hezbollah guerrillas and halt the rocketing of northern Israel, Chief of Staff Dan Halutz admitted that Israel's deterrent has suffered in the Arab world. Meanwhile, speculation is rife that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert may appoint Ehud Barak, a former IDF Chief of Staff and Prime Minister, to replace Defense Minister Amir Peretz. However, coalition politics and personal careers may block such a move.

Truman - 'the Buck Stops here'

On the Israeli domestic scene, Harry Truman's memorable saying 'the buck stops here' is being put to the test in more ways than one. The Prime Minister's office first launched a trial balloon - Olmert was about to fire Labor party leader Amir Peretz as Defense Minister and appoint Laborite Ehud Barak to the post. Everyone agrees the former trade union boss Peretz hasn't a clue about defense issues. In fact, Peretz himself has inferred that it's unfair to blame him for the failures in last summer's Lebanese war because he's not a military man. But Peretz will not give up the defense portfolio unless he gets the treasury. The Labor party with its bevy of former generals also agrees that Peretz is definitely the wrong man in the wrong place at the wrong time. Nevertheless, Labor warns that it will bolt the coalition and bring down Olmert's government if the PM kicks Peretz out of the Defense Ministry. 

With Syria warning of war and Iran threatening to wipe Israel off the map when it acquires nuclear weapons, Barak a former IDF Chief of Staff  would obviously be a vast improvement over Peretz. A new and more conciliatory Barak is widely rumored to be making a political c comeback. But by week's end Olmert's officials, apparently cowed by Labor's threats, were backtracking denying the PM is planning on fire Peretz. So above all, Olmert is  worried about the survival of his government while Labor balks at being bullied by the Prime Minister. Olmert could probably resolve the crisis by letting Peretz have the finance portfolio but that is now in the hands of his party crony Avraham Hirschson. There is a catch; appointing socialist Peretz to the treasury would trigger a tailspin on the country's booming stock market.  But where does the buck stop when it comes to Israel's national interest?

Amir Peretz retorts that Olmert will not dare fire him - it's no more than 'spin' to deflect public attention from the scandal raging out tax officials being 'on the take'. Shula Zaken, Olmert's chief of bureau, has been questioned by the police fraud squad, on suspicion of working behind the scenes in appointing tax officials who slashed millions off the tax estimates of fat cats. So far, the Prime Minister has not been implicated but both he and the Finance Minister may be questioned.  News of the scandal broke on the same day that Teddy Kollek died  in Jerusalem last week. The former mayor raised hundreds of millions of dollars in contributions over nearly  three two decades for his beloved city. Never was there the slightest breath of scandal during his long career. Teddy Kollek was a public official who always knew where the buck stopped and stands as a shining example of civic and national integrity. 

Saddam Hussein & The Israeli Connection

IDF Gen. (ret.) Benkler: 'Handled Properly IDF Could Have Wiped Out Hezbollah In a Week'

Could the fall of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein have lead to the poor performance of IDF ground forces in the Lebanon war last summer? It's very possible. The destruction of the Iraqi army caused a dramatic change in the Geo-strategic threat facing Israel. The Eastern front comprised of the Iraqi and Syrian armies no longer threatened the Jewish state. So back in 2003, the IDF general staff  faced with government pressure to prune its budget carried out a  reassessment of the strategic threats facing Israel. The result was that a nuclear armed Iran became threat #1. But without a common ground border, the threat would be confronted by the Israel Air Force. The Syrian Army was believed to have been hamstrung by rusting equipment while the cold peace prevailed with Egypt to the south and Jordan to the east. As for the Palestinian intifada the IDF and Shabak Security Service had taken the war to the Palestinians after Operation Defensive Shield and contained the suicide bombers from both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. This was considered to be more of a policing operation. Therefore, tank formations were disbanded and reservists were not called up for annual training.

With no ground war looming on the horizon the Israel Air Force became more predominant than ever when it came to budgets and training. This was born out during the Lebanese war when the Air Force performed well in coping with Hezbollah's longer range rockets. But Hezbollah's short range Katyushas launched by small guerrilla squads from inside populated areas was a mission for ground forces. But this Hezbollah contingency had become a blind spot. IDF Chief of Staff , the former Air Force commander, was confident that air power could cope with the Katyushas. But when the hundreds of rockets kept clobbering northern Israel, the IDF was at a loss to adjust and improvise. Obviously, former fighter pilot Halutz was not alone in his cockpit. Where was the rest of the General Staff of paratroop, infantry and tank generals? This is now being examined by the Winograd Enquiry appointed by Prime Minister Olmert. Believe it or not, its interim findings are not expected until the end of February, seven months after the end of the war! Both Halutz and Peretz say they will accept its findings. 

Yitzhak Rabin, Ariel Sharon, Ehud Barak

Olmert has yet to make such a blanket commitment. It is fair to say that if Ariel Sharon had still been in office, he would have banged his fist on the table and run the war differently. For a country facing the threats that Israel does, to be left without a real commander-in-chief is incomprehensible. In this respect, not only Sharon but also Yitzhak Rabin and Ehud Barak were commanders-in -chief in every sense of the word because of their military experience. That is why it is crucial that  there be someone at the top who knows how to run a full scale war war. Despite the fact that Gen. Halutz was a 'top gun' in the Israel Air Force he now seems to be saying that he is learning on the job. Meanwhile, Olmert and Peretz are embroiled with their political survival. But clearly  a lawyer or a trade union are incapable of running a full scale war  - the Lebanon war proved it. So Barak is gathering steam for his comeback by way of the Defense Ministry. But this could be put on hold until May, when the Labor party holds its primaries. Until then who knows? The state is saddled with a prime minister too weak to fire a failed defense minister and chief of staff while everyone continues to pass the buck.

David Essing

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