Officer's criticism of army stirs row
Before retiring from army, Major-General Yiftah Ron-Tal tells ultra-Orthodox weekly disengagement was suicide, IDF failed in Lebanon, and commanders and prime minister must draw personal conclusions. Army chief summons officer to clarification meeting; IDF Spokesperson's Office: Ron-Tal took part in decision making, including during pullout
In an interview with the ultra-Orthodox weekly Kfar Chabad, the officer harshly criticized the management of the war in Lebanon following the disengagement and slammed the top commanders and the political echelon. Following the interview, Ron-Tal was summoned to a clarification meeting by the IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz.
"It is unworthy for an officer on retirement leave, who is receiving his salary from the IDF, to criticize the State of Israel's political echelon," the IDF Spokesperson's Office said in a statement in response to the harsh remarks.
"This is even more severe in light of the fact that Major-General Ron-Tal was a member of the General Staff and took part in all the decision making, including the disengagement process," the statement continued.
In the interview, Ron-Tal rules that "from a military point of view, this war ended in failure and the chief of staff must take responsibility. The IDF had plans for a wide-scale ground operation in southern Lebanon. One of the big questions which will have to be investigated and inquired is why the IDF did not operate in accordance with those plans and took a hesitant course of action."
Ron-Tal is convinced that "the only way to reach a completely clear picture is to establish a state commission of inquiry."
He believes that the chief of staff and all the senior officers, as well as the prime minister himself, must now draw personal conclusions.
The general especially criticized the disengagement plan, which he called "a suicide plan" that damaged the IDF's spirit and preparedness for fighting.
"A state that is ready to give up on parts of its land is similar in my eyes to a suicidal state," he said. "Using the army as a body which evicts communities harshly impairs the army's power – and I hope the injury is not critical."
'Leading pullout an unfortunate error'
The officer was asked during the interview if he had voiced his opinions also while fulfilling his role.
"I expressed my opinion in every possible forum, that the disengagement is a very dangerous move," he said. "Formally, I acknowledged the government's authority to make such a decision. But I claimed then, and I am claiming now, that it was an unfortunate error to make a decision that the IDF would lead the disengagement. Such an act is not the army's duty."
In the interview, Ron-Tal implied that he plans on entering politics. Right-wing politicians have already expressed their joy over his remarks.
Knesset Member Uri Ariel, chairman of the National Union faction, said that Ron-Tal's remarks reflect the opinion of the vast majority of IDF officers.
"Apart from the few who were enthusiastic over the despised plan, including the chief of staff and his spokeswoman, the vast majority of IDF officers expressed their disgust over the mission, but made sure to say so in closed discussions and did not insist that their opinions be heard," Ariel said in response to Ron-Tal's remarks.
Who mentioned a generals' war?
Major-General Ron-Tal served until recently as the IDF's Ground Forces commander. He was considered a candidate for the next Northern Command chief, but was not promoted and chose to leave the army angrily.
Senior IDF officials implied Wednesday morning that the harsh remarks mainly stem from Ron-Tal's personal feelings following his retirement from the IDF and the fact that he was not promoted. They estimated that had he stayed in the army, he would not have dared to criticize plans in which he took a central part.
Sources at the IDF hinted that "the major-general did not offer his assistance to the IDF during the war, as many of his friends had done, and now decided to express his frustration and anger in an unworthy manner."
In spite of the condemnation to the officer's remarks, senior military officials expressed their concern over remarks made by officers inside and outside the system. Some of the remarks made by outgoing Northern Command Chief Udi Adam in light of Halutz's decision to send Deputy IDF Chief of Staff Moshe Kaplinsky to the north during the war, also caused a lot of anger in the army.
IDF officials refused to admit that a "generals' war" had been launched and that many officers have decided "to open their mouth" and say what is on their mind, including criticism.
"There is a culture of discussion," a senior officer told Ynet. "There is a way to say things. Army officers cannot do what they please. This is not a private body and we must fight this phenomenon."
Neta Sela and Ilan Marciano contributed to the report