Wednesday, August 16, 2006


Observers of the American government are well aware of the resistance of indicted, unindicted or ethically challenged public officials to resigning. They similarly know that public officials refuse to accept responsibility for their failed policies, by resigning. One need look no further than the White House and Congress. A friend assured me that such behavior has become standard in parliamentary democracies everywhere, although I think that British officials, especially cabinet ministers, still resign when their fingers are caught in the cookie jar. So it is not surprising that Israel Chief of Staff Halutz has refused to resign over what, at best, was a lapse of moral judgement -- nothing more than his usual behavior -- and perhaps a dereliction of duty. Halutz sold a stock portfolio on the eve of Israel's war with Hezbollah. His timing was perfect, coming three hours after two soldiers were captured and eight killed, and moments before he would demand from Israel's security cabinet approval for massive bombings of Lebanon. Halutz knew then he would get his way. The government owed him for having helped with the withdrawal of army and settlers from Gaza last year. Since he did not calculate that the war would be so costly to Israel, the sale was probably more a hedge than a speculation. As one comment said, If he wanted to speculate, he would have bought puts on the market.

Grotesque, but not suprising is the way senior army officers and government officials have been falling over one another to stand up for Halutz and condemn those who have problems with what he did. After all, as the government's legal advisor stated, it was not against the law: neither trading on inside information -- that applies to information about particular companies -- nor violations of conflict of interest. That law does not cover the Chief of Staff. Besides, according to his colleagues on the General Staff, Halutz has exceptional ability to concentrate on several things at once. Do they as well? Perhaps they also paused to take stock or sell it before the security cabinet met? In any case, per Halutz's order, the colleagues who praised his ambidexterity, had already cleared their remarks with the IDF spokesperson. One wonder were there officers with a different story who got no clearance.

For rightwing politicians, like Shaul Mufaz and Tshai Hanegbi, Halutz is a kindred spirit. He is as sensitive as they are to the plight of Palestinians and Lebanese civilians and to taking innocent lives in the course of assassinations and other targeted killings. Last year, they commiserated about the slight physical disturbance he reported feeling when bombing Palestinians, as a result of the plane bumping up in reaction to the release of the bomb. I am, however, surprised that Defense Minister Amir Peretz has jumped to Halutz's defense, despite their blaming each other for having fucked up the planning and conduct of the war. Peretz is head of the Labor Party, which once claimed to be a socialist party. Might it be out of role for him to insist on the rights of individual army officers to sell their stocks on the eve of a social solidarity event called war?

The religious nationalists have another problem: They love Halutz because he is a militarist, but despise his having helped uproot the settlers from the Gaza Strip last year. I think they will find a solution based on Deuteronomy 20:6 that excuses from war anyone whose orchard has not yet born fruit. Since Halutz's portfolio had apparently not realized the profit he expected, he would by analogy fall into this category. So he was doing everyone a favor by selling the stocks and joining the war.

A few other questions remain. The portfolio, valued at $30,000, is rather paltry for a high ranking public servant, even in Israel. Were there other sales or does he have foreign assets that did not need hedging? And what does the silence of PM Olmert and some other cabinet members mean? After all, they cannot have much love for Halutz's having sold them the unsound plan of winning a war through air power alone and then accusing them of vacillating when it was clear that ground troops were needed. Okay, they were amateurs, but he made them look like suckers, as well. Maybe, they do not want to pour gasoline on a fire, recognizing that the civil-military relationship in Israel is more frayed than even in 1982, when Defense Minister Sharon and Chief of Staff Eitan deceived the rest of the government about their invasion of Lebanon.

One more explanation. Maybe government officials and other would be critics recall that Halutz glories in "precision" killings achieved through aircraft launching missiles into the target's house or car. So all he needs is just one blindly loyal pilot... Farfetched? Yes, but being a critic of his, I think I'll remain anonymous until he resigns or completes his tour of duty.


Anonymous Montag said...

One good thing, the IDF has fallen back on the good old "stab in the back" myth for why they performed so execrably in the Lebanese Hornet's Nest. They blame the government for keeping them on a too-short leash. This is actually good, because deep down they know it's a lie, but I guess you could call it one of those national lies that keep a country together. I don't think they're too keen on going into Lebanon again--no matter how they carp about "finishing the job"--because they would risk further humiliation, but without even the "stab in the back" to console them.

This happened to us in Vietnam. The military blamed the media, the Peace Movement, the government--everyone but themselves. But we never went back.

10:10 PM  
Anonymous shlomo said...

You have given me much to think about. I have been on vacation so my brain is still a little soft. Thank you, Atik.

10:10 PM  

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