Sunday, August 27, 2006

Time to Boogie?

Anyone touting former Chief of Staff Moshe "Boogie" Yaalon as Israel's Next Great Hope should pay close attention to this story from the Washington Post.

It was a fateful day. The entire Hamas leadership, according to Israeli intelligence, had gathered in a single home in Gaza:
The air force chief was on the line, assessing the likely impact of the bomb. He said there was a problem.

A half-ton bomb wouldn't finish the job, the air force chief said. A one-ton bomb would blow out the neighboring apartment building, which was filled with dozens of families.

Immediately, Dichter and Yaalon began to argue. Dichter favored the heavy bomb; Yaalon wanted to abort the operation. They both had worked for decades in counter-terrorism, had served in the same secret commando unit and had, as Dichter put it, "traveled together without passports deep into Arab lands."

But they had emerged with different conclusions. For Dichter, "the barrel of terrorism has a bottom." If you captured or killed enough terrorists, Dichter believed, the problem would be solved. "They deserved a bomb that would send the dream team to hell," Dichter said. "I said, 'If we miss this opportunity, more Israelis will die.' "

Yaalon disagreed: "We won't get to the bottom of the barrel by killing terrorists. We'll get there through education. Dichter thinks we'll kill, kill, kill, kill, kill. That's it -- we've won. I don't accept that."

While Yaalon said the army had to consider the support of the Israeli public -- unlikely to favor civilian deaths -- and international legitimacy, Dichter said that from an operational point of view, a one-ton bomb made sense. "There is no fair fight against terrorists," Dichter said. "Never has been. Never will be."

The debate lasted for hours, observers said, and grew louder and larger. The prime minister's adviser, Gallant, sided with Dichter. The defense minister, Mofaz, sided with Yaalon. Dichter recalled: "If you didn't have a strong heart, you'd have a heart attack."

"How can we look in the eyes of our pilots if they kill innocent people?" Yaalon argued.

"And if the terrorists walk out alive, and tomorrow another bus explodes, how do we explain it to our people?" Dichter said.


Only once, Yaalon said, did he knowingly authorize a hit that would also kill a noncombatant, the wife of Salah Shehada. Shehada helped found Hamas's military wing, which had asserted responsibility for killing 16 soldiers and 220 Israeli civilians. In 2002, the air force dropped a one-ton bomb on his home. The blast also destroyed a neighboring house, which Yaalon said he had thought was empty. Fifteen civilians were killed, including nine children. It felt, Yaalon said, "like something heavy fell on my head."

When Yaalon makes this kind of decision, he said, it must pass "the mirror test": At the end of the day, will he be able to look at himself in the mirror?

There's more. It's a fascinating article. But the inescapable conclusion, if the report is accurate, is that Yaalon consistently favored the enemy's civilians over our own, however critical the terrorist being targeted.

He may have opposed disengagement (at least behind closed doors), but that doesn't make him a hawk. And neither does it qualify him to join the ranks of Israel's leadership.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Israelis are furiously debating...

...exactly which of the country's political and military leaders must resign or be dismissed.

In the government: Just Olmert? Olmert and Peretz? Olmert, Peretz and Livni? What about Hirschson and Bar-On?

In the IDF: Halutz? Kaplinsky? Adam? Hirsch?

How low should we go?

I have yet to meet an Israeli who believes we won this war. I have yet to find anyone who thinks this government should stay in office any longer than is necessary to replace it. It's not about left or right. This was a war of national consensus, and it has left us with a new national consensus: They must go.

We just have to work out exactly who, and how to get rid of them.

Then we have to figure out who should take their places.

And we have to do it fast, since in the wake of our glorious victory Syria, Iran and the Palestinians are already issuing new threats against us.

There's no time to lose.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Time to mourn

Last week, I attended my first military funeral in Israel.

This week, I attended my second.

The first was in Jerusalem, the second in Tel Aviv. The first family was religious, the second was secular.

The first was for a young soldier in his regular, mandatory army service, barely out of school. I know his father.

The second was for a man my age, an officer in the reserves called up for this war, a father of young children. He was a colleague of mine at work.

There is nothing more heartbreaking than hearing a father say Kaddish for his son.

Except hearing a young wife and mother who faces raising her kids without their father.

There is no war without casualties. Still, Israel's wars have a way of cutting down too many of our best and brightest young men.

There will be other opportunities to discuss the management of this campaign, including the errors made by our political and military leaders. There will be plenty of time to assess its outcome and debate its ramifications.

First of all, we must not forget to take the time to mourn.