Left-wing politics from the US to Nepal, via Zimbabwe, South America and Palestine.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Israel's Far-Right in its own Words: Part I

As one of the leaders of Israel's far-right National Union-National Religious, MK Efi Eitam has long been one of the most hard-line political leaders in Israel. While pretty far in political terms from the center of Kadima, he has carved himself a niche of strong influence on the government from opposition. When I saw he gave a long interview to the right-wing newspaper Ma'ariv, I jumped at the opportunity to read the words of the parliamentary far-right as spoken by one of its most prominent leaders.

Eitam contends that the army 'has become soft', that it is listening to mothers and fathers too much instead of doing what is necessary to defend the country. He has a history of strong command in the army, in the Lebanon sector. He was known as a hard-line, no-compromise commander, but was forced out in 2001 as part of the large-scale institutional changes that took place around the withdrawal from Lebanon. In the few short years since then, he has established himself as a political force to contend with.

Here is the first part of the long interview. Part II to come tomorrow, hopefully.

"Just Kill"

According to Efi Eitam [1], we need to seriously consider killing tens of thousands of enemy civilians. It seems we'll have to expel the Palestinians, and Arab Israelis, as he already said, are a fifth column.

Ben Kaspit, Ma'ariv9/15/06
Hebrew original here.


After he called this week for the expulsion of most Arabs in Judea and Samaria, and called Arab Israelis "a bunch of traitors", MK Efi Eitam wants to redefine our morals of combat. His philosophy in short: we must seriously consider killing tens of thousands of enemy citizens, deliberately, in order to subdue an attacking state. Crazy? Dangerous? From his point of view he's "just trying to present an sober alternative."


At the beginning of the week MK Efi Eitam was once again caught out making an 'unintentional remark'. This time, during a memorial for first lieutenant Amihai Merhavia from Eli who was killed during the second Lebanon war, the MK from the National Union-National Religious Party said that "we need to expel most Arabs from Judea and Samaria," and added regarding Israeli Arabs "we have built ourselves a fifth column, a bunch of traitors from the first rank...we will need to expel them from the political arena."

His words were broadcast on Channel 7 and later on Israeli Army radio, and the commotion began, as expected. The words were harsh, even for Eitam. MK's accused him of racism and called for his prosecution. And Eitam? He's in the US anyway, raising money for the Israel Fund. In a long conversation from there, he does not take back his words, but carefully justifies them. They come, in the end, to a harsh admonishment of the Israeli army and a difficult speech full of sharp warnings about the possibility of the state of Israel surviving in this region. No less. Throughout the conversation, Eitam emphasizes the sharp and provocative distinction between "us", the Jews, and "them", the Arabs. Two sides that have no common future, but that instead will come to a fateful clash. It's either us or them.

In order to deal with his reputation as a "hallucinatory" and "messianic" man, Eitam points to his bitter past predictions that have come true to the last detail. It was he who said that our flight from Lebanon will come back to hit us like a boomerang; that a wave of terror will sweep the country; that Palestinians will launch missiles from Gaza to Ashkelon. Now his predictions are even worse, almost fatalistic. It's possible to deal, it's possible to survive, but it will take difficult moral decisions. Perhaps to be careful, or perhaps as part of a sophisticated apologia, he presents the required determinations as questions for us, not as fixed assertions. And it's not certain, he adds, that the final answer will be a positive one.

"We fled, and the knife of the Israeli army got rusty"

"When I left Division 91 [2], I was in fact the last commander who saw the Israeli army fighting Hizbollah. After that came the flight. For a long period we succeeded, using intensive operations by regular and special-forces units and by using special tactics in the field, to prevent Hizbollah from achieving its aims. The daily contact, the fact that we had a constant presence in the field, that there were forces that spent as much as 90 hours in the bushes of the Saloki and the undergrowth of Shakif A-Nimel and Shakif Ha'Tzalhani, the fact that we were in constant contact with them, prevented them from doing what they did later, their establishment in the field, the building of the monster of terror. That they did only after we evacuated the field.

"True, it cost us 20 soldiers each year. Yossi Beilin and Four Mothers [3] decided that that is something the people of Israel cannot tolerate. And then this whole lamentation began, this obsession with causing an occurrence that would supposedly solve the problem. When embarking on such a path, does anyone examine the alternatives? And perhaps the existing situation, the one they want to solve, is the most comfortable of those alternatives?

"It wasn't ideal, but to me at least it was clear that the alternative is worse. Hizbollah will take control of the field and build up a huge arsenal of its own. The fighting cost Hizbollah a huge price. In the third year of my service in the division they suffered 80 deaths, against a very small number of casualties on our side. They didn't succeed in finding a solution to our technology and the quality of our units. It frustrated them. I can say with certainty that in my third year there, my last year, we had clearly beaten Hizbollah. Cleanly. And then we ran away. The knife of the Israeli army grew rusty. When you use it, it stay sharp, preserves and strengthens its abilities. When you put it back in storage, it grows rusty."

What Happened to the Israeli Army?

You're not answering me. What happened to today's Israeli army, in 2006?

"After I left division 91, in 2001, I left the army. Despite me being the officer who stood for three years in the center of the most intensive combat front, the Israeli army, under Mofaz's [4] command, didn't find me a job. But I don't hold a grudge against anyone for my personal matters, because it's not just about me. Ask yourself where Shmulik Zakai (commander of the Gaza division, who quit on the eve of the disengagement) is today. What happened is that the criteria for promotion of commanders, and to a large extent the way they talked about the fighting itself, went and changed direction. In this war there were many shows of personal bravery and of quality of command at the lower levels. But what happened after we fled Lebanon is that the army underwent a mental change. A change in the simple clarity, without which the the military act becomes something very amorphous, very immeasurable. The simple clarity of combat, that is supposed to achieve a measurable goal."

For example?

"When you are fighting terrorist, you need to kill them. It's simple. There is no other way. This simple clarity also shows itself in the field, in the destruction of the enemy, in timetables, in achieving the goals set for you. If they were not achieved, you know that. That is the basis on which one can improvise and be original. That is the basic foundation, the understanding that war is an act that requires essential achievements, fulfillment of orders, targets and timetables. That thing went and gave way to a much softer terminology, whereby instead of conquering territory you create special effects."

Are you saying the army has become softer? Become nerdy, hi-tech and sterile instead of combative and cruel?

"Something like that. Suddenly you are undertaking all sorts of operations aimed at lowering the enemy's will to fight, tiring it, exhausting it, all these philosophical points you can't track, or understand what they actually mean, where is the victory here, where is the result, where are the bodies of terrorists?"

Where did this come from?

"From two places. First of all, following the fighting in the territories of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip. Additionally it was born from a thought process that adapts itself, politically correct. Words like occupation, destruction, determination, words that are black and white, perhaps extreme, perhaps impassioned, simply disappeared. All sorts of words that carried with them loads that were not politically correct, terms that were against the general post-modern trend, were erased. The new trend is that nothing is definite. Everything is in the eye of the beholder, dependent on the subject matter. In fact, there are no fixed rules, and so there isn't a military profession or a military code. Anyone can express his opinion in the matter even if he has no educational background or military experience."

The Engine is not Connected to the Wheels

"Thus began the post-modern period of the military code. All sorts of other criteria come into play in the appointment of commanders. If you can take a division commander from the last of the people who fought in the 1973 Yom Kippur war and in Operation Peace for the Galilee [5], and who stood against Hizbollah in combat and say that you don't have a job for him, that a message to the entire army. You are saying that combat experience, command experience and knowledge of the job are no longer the most important things. It's more important to be politically correct. And into this terminological post-modernism sneaked a alternate type of job. A alternate command, a alternate leadership, an alternative to experience under fire. It all seems to be an alternative that is politico-military, not military."

"The strength of this process swept up a large part of the most senior commanders in the Israeli army today, including those who were my friends and my underlings, and they are great people from a personal point of view. In the end, it led the army to a state that is more politically correct than an army that aims for contact, for destruction, for victory. That was the problem in this war, not the lack of equipment or reserve units."

How does this Look in the Field?

"I went between the various units in the war, I saw what was going on. The problem was that people didn't know what anyone wanted from them. They didn't understand the mission. The Israeli army as an organization has lost the common professional language. Not just a language of saying what needs to be done, but an immediate chain of knowledge, necessary actions and knowledge of the field. The Israeli army lost all this infrastructure. There were many brave people, I don't remember any time the Israeli army went to war with such motivation. The engine worked, but its connection to the wheels, the ability to enact coordination, has been lost."

Who is to Blame?

"They say the army is a reflection of society. I think that an army must be, always, different from the society in which it resides. It deals with an extreme reality. It cannot be a reflection of society. It has be the body that builds the defenses for the weaknesses of society. I think that to a large extent the army opened itself to the changing moods of Israeli society. It went like a prisoner after management, instead of command - and those are two totally different modes. Whoever thinks that the logistics and maintenance wing of the Israeli army is a factory or a company that needs to get ISO-9000 certification and then everything will just tick away happily is mistaken. To bring water supplies, food and arms it is necessary to be willing to kill and be killed. If that is not defined as part of the war effort and the command responsibility, there will be no logistics. They made changes in the logistical setup of the Israeli army, some of them savings-oriented and very correct from the managerial point of view. Except that they ignored the fact that combat is a different, exceptional and unique situation, which is why its leadership is called command, not management."

"Of for example, the process of de-maturization of the soldiers. Israeli parents and Israeli society have removed the need of our youth to mature. Talk like "we sent the kids", "the kids didn't come back", "I gave a child to the army". The domination of mothers in the army, in the considerations of commanders. The infantilization of our soldiers, when on the other side a 12 year old is sent to his fate and that's that."

"In Israel when citizens die it's not seen as normal, but it is tolerated. When soldiers are killed, it's intolerable. But the situation should be exactly the opposite. Soldiers are those who are supposed to protect the citizens, to fight, to determine, to command us to live with their deaths. There is an overturning of creation here. As a father I understand all this, I'm not cold. During this war I underwent the hardest possible experience for a father, when my son was in Bint Jbeil. You sit at home and the only option you have is that the list of casualties and disasters will get longer, you feel awful. But the army cannot be built like that. Parents are like that and always will be. The army has to be different."

"I told the Prime Minister: don't ask to know every name"

You cannot come out against the Israeli embrace of its army. Every soldier has a father and a mother whose child he is.

"The mothers and the fathers will always be mothers and fathers. But when the army thinks in terms of the long reach of daddy and mommy, it cannot be an army. By definition were are endangering ourselves and must be willing to sacrifice. We must, at some stage, take responsibility for our lives. An 18-year old guy who goes to a combat unit it not a boy. He is a young man, mature, talented, at the height of his years, who makes his decision."

Do you think that the number of casualties in this war affected the decision-making?

"I sat with Olmert a lot during this war. We have a special connection between us. I went into his on one of the hardest days, during the battle in Maron A-Ras, in which five Egoz [6] fighters were killed. We sat in the office, he was getting reports all the time, casualties, missing soldier, fire, rescue. You can criticize Ehud for many things, but he has a warm, authentic human side. He was tense, sitting on the edge of his seat. I told him: 'listen, let me give you a bit of advice, the war just started, don't get into the details. Don't ask to know every name, every detail. It will exhaust you. In the end, when you will need to make the really hard decisions, it will obstruct your way.' He said to me: 'no, I'm like that, I want to know all the details.'"

In all this analysis up to now, you haven't mentioned the fighting ability of Hizbollah, the sophistication, the creativity, the fact that sometimes it seems like we've swapped with them, and that they turned to be daring and brave.

"In division 91 we managed to suppress Hizbollah for years, to not let it do what it wanted, until we ran away. Already then they had excellent anti-tank operatives, who hit the firing slits of our positions with missiles. Already then they had combat spirit. During two and half years in the division, I didn't talk with a single living Hizbollah terrorist. We had to kill them. They fought to the death. They didn't get captured, didn't put their hands up, didn't throw away their guns, didn't run away. In terms of their explosives technology they were better than us. Despite all that, the combinations the Israeli army put before them were winning combinations. New technology, excellent intelligence, the system, the field and the aerial force."

"But intelligence is a function of contact in the field. The moment those advantages fade, the enemy becomes tougher. I remember the patrol in Ehud Barak's line, after we became prime minister. I accompanied him, we drove in my car. He said to me 'I have decided, within a few months we will leave here.' I said to him 'Ehud, that's a serious mistake. You won't leave Lebanon, you will bring Lebanon to us.' He said that I don't understand, that there's a wider vision in play here, that I see everything through the sight of gun."


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Notes:

[1] Efi Eitam is one of the leaders of the far-right National Union-National Religious Party and a member of Knesset.

[2] Division 91 is the division in charge of the Lebanon sector in the Israeli army.

[3] Yossi Beilin is the current head of the center-left Meretz party. Four Mothers was a peace movement calling for the withdrawal of all Israel troops from Lebanon. Sidenote: Four Mothers did not oppose the recent war.

[4] Sha'ul Mofaz was commander-in-chief of the Israeli army until he was appointed Defense Minister under Sharon. While he gave up that position to Amir Peretz of the Labor party in Olmert's government for the Ministry of Transport, he played a central role in the conduct of the recent war.

[5] Operation Peace for Galilee was the Israeli code name for the first Lebanese War, that started in 1982.

[6] Egoz is a special operations unit, considered one of the Israeli army's best and most prestigious.

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Friday, March 16, 2007 1:49:00 AM

 

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