The Moral Position of the IDF's Chief-of-Staff

Thursday, July 19, 2018 |  Tsvi Sadan

A few days ago, a government minister leaked part of an exchange between Education Minister Naftali Bennett and IDF Chief-of-Staff Gen. Gadi Eizenkot that took place during a secret cabinet meeting. 

Such leaks are considered a serious threat to Israel's security, and nearly treasonous. That's why many focused their attention on the source of the leak, and the fact that such breaches make it difficult for the government to make important decisions. It's a valid concern, but unfortunately detracted from the severity of the leak's content, which contained alarming revelations regarding Gen. Eizenkot's moral position.

The conversation, which wasn't denied by anyone, allegedly went like this: 

Bennett: Why not shoot anyone using aerial weapons [balloons and kites included] against our communities? There are no legal constraints. Why not shoot at them instead of firing warning shots? We are talking about terrorists in every regard.

Eizenkot: I don't think that shooting at children and youth who sometimes fly balloons and kites [that set fires in Israel's south] is the right thing to do.

Bennett: And what about those clearly identified as adults?

Eizenkot: Are you suggesting dropping a bomb on people flying balloons and kites?

Bennett: Yes. [Again, remember that these balloons and kites are laden with incendiary devices, and are being used to scorch southern Israel.]

Eizenkot: This stands against my operative and moral position.

This conversation cuts right to the marrow of the issue that perhaps more than anything else is dividing Israeli society today – the moral/immoral aspects of our army's fight against our enemies. So much so that when I suggested in one Facebook group that Eizenkot's moral position regarding terrorists comes at the expense of Israeli citizens, one of Israel's most celebrated fighter pilots lashed out at me saying that I am scum bag, and a disgrace to the Jewish people. Leaving aside the foul language, such a reaction is indicative of the depth of this schism between the political left and right.

My own personal opinion doesn't really matter. What matters is that many important people in Israel have already taken notice of the chief-of-staff's tendency to assimilate into the army the progressive agenda of the Israeli left. There are many indications of this, but the most glaring is gender equality. Today, the IDF not only recruits women to combat units like the armored division, it actually celebrates and promotes LGBT agendas that obviously demand the adaptation of new moral position on many issues, including how one views terrorists.

Retired Brig.-Gen. Amatziah Chen, whom I had the privilege of serving under in the early 1970s, is in my opinion one of the most courageous and creative officers Israel has ever had. Among his military posts he served as head of the IDF's department for the study of military mistakes and failures. As such, Chen isn't only a superb soldier, he is also intimately familiar with the army's most problematic issues.

On his Facebook page, in addressing the aforementioned leaked conversation, Chen explained why he thinks Eizenkot's moral position is, in fact, immoral. He first draws attention to the fact that "never before in the history of the IDF has the cabinet had to give instructions to stop terror acts in light of the chief-of-staff's reservations stemming from [his] moral code." Eizenkot's moral reservations forced the cabinet to instruct him to nip in the bud any attempt to fly kites and balloons that constitute a breach of Israel's borders and security and put in danger the lives of its citizens.

In pre-1967 Israel, wrote Chen, "in similar situations like infiltration attempts, gun fire, robbery, etc., a patrol commander, ranking Second Lieutenant, was expected to use all available means to frustrates the enemy's intentions." During the early 1970s, the small unit under Chen's command was able to capture or kill 90 percent of the terrorists in Gaza, without killing uninvolved persons, except for one.

In the 1987 Intifada, Chen tried to convince the General Staff to "avoid the silly tactic of sending small four-to-five man companies" to Palestinian cities and villages. The outcome of such a tactic, he said, is that every time Israeli soldiers encounter a large number of people, they have to abort their mission or save themselves by resorting to indiscriminate fire. It is because of the "stupid containment that [Eizenkot] and his predecessors have infused that our valiant boys are forced to face girls charging with scissors … simply because there is no acceptable means of stopping them."

Lacking the proper tools to fight professionally, which are denied them in the name of taking the high moral ground, concluded Chen, brings the opposite result – soldiers who either abort their mission, or, for lack of a better choice, are forced to cause extensive damage. 

Chen's conclusion, therefore, is that our chief-of-staff's moral position forces the IDF into the questionable practice of using brute force in situations where it could have been avoided if only that "morality" hadn't stood in the way of waging war in a professional manner that shortens conflicts and minimizes casualties. 

In this light, one can understand Bennett's bewilderment, and why those who respond to advocates of Bennett's approach by calling them "scum bags" pose the real danger to Israel's well-being.

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