Israelis are great soldiers out of necessity, not because of militarism. The former chief of staff, the archaeologist Yigal Yadin, said that “in Israel a civilian is a soldier with eleven months leave.”
Some have called Israel “the modern Sparta.” Others, less benign, “the small Middle East Prussia.”
Because of its geographical location and the genocidal intentions of its foes, Israel can not afford a war of position and attrition, it has to win right away. It must have an army that goes hand in hand with the political leadership.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appointed Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman, a civilian, in place of Moshe "Bogie" Yaalon in“the latest act of the war between Netanyahu and the military leaders and intelligence” according to Ronen Bergman, writing in the NYT.
The latest chapter in this war began after Elor Azaria, an Israeli sergeant, shot and killed a wounded Palestinian terrorist in Hevron. The army condemned the killing and the soldier, while Netanyahu called Azaria’s father to offer his moral support. The Israeli generals read the phone call as a challenge to their authority. The deputy chief of staff, General Yair Golan, choose one of the most sensitive periods on Israel’s calendar, Holocaust Memorial Day, to counterattack, suggesting a similarity between Israel and Germany in the ‘30s. Then minister of defense Moshe Yaalon, a former army chief of staff, defended the general. Haaretz already wonders if “Yaalon will be the new Ariel Sharon”.
In Netanyahu's way of looking at it, the army élite is part of the "hegemonic bloc", which he has defeated many times. In the run-up to the 1999 elections, a large group of retired generals gathered around the figure of Ehud Barak to orchestrate what will go down in history as the “democratic putsch” against Netanyahu, "guilty" of having ordered the generals to “change the disk” on the Palestinian Arabs (a few days ago Ehud Barak re-appeared on television to warn Israel of “fascism”).
In 1997 the main contender against Netanyahu for the Likud leadership was a military man, Yitzhak Mordechai, and Bibi was also challenged by his former chief of staff Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, who later gave the victory to Barak by founding a small centrist party that stole votes from Netanyahu. Another former chief of staff of the Israeli army, Dan Halutz, has joined the opposition party Kadima, while General Amram Mitzna was in contention for the Labour leadership, after defining Netanyahu “dangerous for Israel”.
Today the Left dreams that two former generals, Gabi Ashkenazi and Benny Gantz, will politically unseat Netanyahu.
There’s even a law, made expressly for the generals and promoted by the Left, to reduce from three years to six months the period of leave that an IDF officer must take before getting into politics.
And while Netanyahu flew to Washington to denounce the nuclear deal between the US and Iran, a group called “Commanders for the security of Israel” made up of 180 retired generals and former officials, including three former heads of Mossad, denounced the Prime Minister. “It is the worst manager I’ve ever had”, said the late Meir Dagan, the former director of the Mossad, of Netanyahu. Dagan openly campaigned against the Prime Minister. Later, it turned out that he was secretly in cahoots with the US government to prevent Israel from attacking Iran.
Netanyahu is in conflict with the generals on many issues: the proposals to reduce restrictive conditions for Palestinian Arabs (the prime minister is against) to allegations that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas incites terrorism (the Shin Bet says he helps to fight it) and Netanyahu’s proposal to expel the families of terrorists (the secret service opposed the measure).
Both the Shin Bet and the Mossad also opposed the military campaign against Hamas in Gaza in 2014. Yuval Diskin, the former head of the security services, is today one of the most eloquent opponents of Netanyahu. Diskin said that Netanyahu represents “a threat to the country”. There is bad blood between the heads of the Shin Bet and Netanyahu ever since the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin in 1995. Carmi Gillon, who commanded the services at the time and failed to protect Rabin, declared that Netanyahu was indirectly responsible for the killing of the Prime Minister.
Meir Dagan orchestrated one of the most impressive public campaigns on how to disarm Tehran. On a day sometime in 2010, Netanyahu, together with Minister of Defense Ehud Barak, ordered the army level “P +”: meaning "get ready" to attack the Iranian nuclear plants. A leak from the office of members of the government would later indicate that the attack was foiled by the opposition of the security chiefs, including Diskin. Barak confirmed the report on Israeli television: “At the moment of truth, the answer was that they could not do it” chanted Barak. The army and the secret services never forgave Netanyahu who made them look like wimps.
The last six of the secret service chiefs are also all politically engaged against Netanyahu. Beginning with Yaakov Peri, who commanded the Shin Bet from 1988 to 1995 (now Peri is in the Yair Lapid Party).
For the Obama administration, which has never made any secret of hating Netanyahu, the security echelon in Israel is an alternative government. This is the lesson to be drawn from an article published in Foreign Affairs by David Makovsky, a member of the negotiating team of the Secretary of State John Kerry during his failed peace process. Makovsky defined the IDF as “the guardian of democratic values” and “the Israeli-Palestinian arena stabilizer”.
In June 1967, then-Prime Minister Levi Eshkol expected US support for what would become “the Six Day War” while the Arab armies were massing at the borders of Israel, and the top IDF brass said that going to war was less dangerous than not going. While the country was dying in an unnerving wait, then Major General Ariel Sharon tried to persuade his superior Yitzhak Rabin to stage a coup. But in those days the roles were reversed: the politicians were the doves and the generals were the hawks; today the generals seem to be diehard pacifists. Also reversed was the sentiment of the people: then, the generals were considered untouchable white knights; today they are viewed with suspicion, accused of disloyalty to their elected prime minister and of having clear political aims.
The generals' policy of unilateral withdrawal and dialogue with a gun at Israel's head has proven to be a recipe for disaster for the Jewish State.