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Ron Ben-Yishai
Halutz played it safe
Chief of staff waits for Winograd Commission to do 'dirty work'

The new series of appointments decided on by top army officials reflects reasonable judgment under the current circumstances.

 

The decisions appear to balance between the IDF's immediate functional needs, the initial personal conclusions drawn through the army's inquiries into the war in Lebanon, and the chief of staff's principled and decisive call not to turn the process of drawing lessons into a display of rolling heads.

 

Halutz has two good reasons not to dismiss commanders that did not function well during the war or to assign them to posts that are akin to dismissal: The first one is practical; Halutz's desire to continue using the commanders who erred because of their motivation to fix their mistakes. They also accumulated experience that may be used by them and the army in the process of addressing the flaws discovered during the war.

 

The second reason is personal: Halutz and the deputy chief of staff as well know that they made mistakes and that they have a significant part in the decisions and failed managing of the ground war.

 

Dismissing division commanders, either officially or de facto, would have been perceived by the army and public as an attempt to cast blame on subordinates who acted in accordance with Halutz's and Kaplinsky's instructions. This would have led to demoralization and resentment among senior commanding officers and drawn public criticism.

 

It appears the army chief prefers that the truly unpleasant job will be done for him by the Winograd Commission, the Knesset's defense and foreign affairs committee, and possibly also the state comptroller.

 

Therefore, the army chief, his deputy, and the other major generals who took part in the discussion on appointments decided to adopt a policy of minimizing morale and functional damages when it comes to appointments of division commanders who took part in the Lebanon war, while resorting to practical considerations in all other appointments.

 

Gal Hirsch unpleased

The appointment that comes closest to dismissal is that of Brigadier General Gal Hirsch. Seemingly, the commander of Division 91 ("Galilee Division") received a senior, important general staff post: Heading the strategic division in the planning branch.

 

In practice, it means that Hirsch was transferred from an operational-commanding track involving combat formations to an office post that does not involve commanding duties or even direct responsibility over combat units or operations.

 

It is doubtful whether this is the post Hirsch would have wished for himself or that the IDF would have designated for him before the Lebanon war. Yet it appears that the army chief is seeking to utilize Hirsch's proven intellectual capabilities as a senior advisor, but not as a commander.

 

This appointment seems to reflect the conclusions drawn by the army chief and his deputy from the inquiries that were already undertaken regarding Hirsch's conduct as a division commander. This decision is of course reversible. There's no regulation in the IDF that stipulates that the head of a strategic division cannot go back to a commanding post and even be promoted to major general.

 

Yet this is not what happened with the two officers who headed the strategic division before Hirsch. It is also possible that the army chief transferred Hirsch to the new post ahead of the possibility that the Winograd Commission would draw severe, explicit conclusions about him.

 

The appointment of Brigadier General Guy Zur as commander of the ground force's main training base cannot be perceived as a dismissal, particularly because even in his new post he serves as the commander of a reservist armored corps division. But those well familiar with IDF nuances can also see dissatisfaction over Zur's conduct as commander of division 162 ("Steel Formation") during the Lebanon war. 

 

The lack of satisfaction is expressed through the new appointment. Division 162 is an active duty armored corps division meant to be deployed in the first line of the IDF combat and assault formations in a war, if one breaks out, on the northern or central front.

 

The division commander is usually an officer slated to be promoted to the post of command chief or a similar operational post. Zur's appointment to the commander of a training base and the commander of a reservist armored corps division constitutes, both for Zur and his superiors, a retreat, or at least the freezing of his promotion.

 

As to the two other division commanders, Brigadier General Eyal Eisenberg, the commander of an elite reservist division, and Brigadier General Erez Zuckerman, the commander of a reservist armored corps division: It appears that when it comes to those two, the conclusions of the IDF inquiries are not absolute or clear enough.

 

This is true particularly regarding the conduct of Eisenberg, whose division fought for a relatively short timeframe (three to four days) at the end of the war. Therefore, the army chief and top military officials prefer not to promote those two commanders but also not to dismiss them.

 

It is possible that the intention here is to wait for the next round of appointments slated to take place in about a year, after the conclusive IDF investigation report is completed along with the inquiries of non-IDF commissions dealing with the army's functioning during the war.

 

It is possible that the fact Eisenberg and Zuckerman command reserve divisions that are not supposed to be called up for combat duty in a divisional framework in the near future also played a part in the decision.

 

Good choices

The other appointments are reasonable and even beyond that. Imad Fares, who was appointed to replace Gal Hirsch at the Galilee Division, is known as an experienced and very decisive field commander.

 

He has a somewhat problematic record because of his impatient personal conduct (he was involved in a violent incident with police.) Yet his commanding and combat experience guarantee results in commanding a division deployed in the first line vis-à-vis Lebanon.

 

The promotion of Brigadier General Aviv Kochavi to head the general staff's operations division is also a good appointment of an experienced officer who proved his commanding and operational abilities during fighting in the second Intifada in Judea and Samaria, and also as the commander of the Gaza Division.

 

The same is true for Brigadier General Noam Tibon who was appointed as the Judea and Samaria division commander. Tibon, the former commander of the Nahal Brigade, is intimately familiar with the area and is a proven expert when it comes to low-intensity warfare.

 

He was able to maintain good and honest relations with settlers and Arabs while serving in the Hebron region. Brigadier General Uzi Moscovich, who will replace Zur as commander of Division 162, and Brigadier General Sami Turjeman, who until now headed the operations division in the general staff, boast a wealth of commanding experience and an untainted combat record.

 

It appears that under the current circumstances, the chief of staff and top generals decided to play it safe. They decided to convey stability and trust in the IDF's field commanders, prevent demoralization, and ensure that if the army needs to operate on a large scale in the near future it would be able to do so quickly and with minimal interruptions.

 

The general staff prefers to postpone the big shakeup, if one will even take place, to a time where it would be required as a result of non-IDF inquiries.

 

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