Defense in Disarray

Israel’s strategic and intelligence capabilities have been seriously handicapped as a result of the prolonged national government crisis afflicting the country and its inert responses to menacing security situations. This state of affairs was urgently laid out for prime minister-elect Ariel Sharon this week in an extraordinary meeting outside the routine briefings, that was urgently demanded, according to Debka-Net-Weekly‘s Jerusalem sources, by Israel’s defense chiefs. The group consisted of the chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Shaul Mofaz, the head of army intelligence, Lt.Col. Amos Malka, the Mossad director Efraim Halevy and the Shin Beit Director Avi Dichter.

They attributed this sorry state affairs to a number of lapses: Israel’s systematic failure to respond either to the movement of Iraqi armored division toward the Syrian and Jordanian frontiers, to the deployment of Iraqi surface missile batteries in the Western Desert, to the constant escalation of Palestinian military aggression, or even to Syrian-backed Hizballah strikes from Lebanon. What they regarded the most damaging was the long absence of a full-time defense minister, or indeed a government, almost a month after Sharon won the prime minister’s election. They reported that the people in the field had operated far too long without the direction of a firm controlling hand and a coherent policy. Complaints were rife that Israel had shown weakness when called on for responsive action. The headlong flight of leading political figures from the job of defense minister in order to duck responsibility for conducting the next Middle East War did not exactly enhance Israel’s deterrent image.

The group appealed urgently to Sharon to appoint a defense minister at once, preferably from the long line of retired generals, without waiting for his government coalition to be fully formed.

After hearing this, Sharon sought the advice of his confidants, some of them former senior intelligence and security officers. They advised him to put a decision on hold or no more than a few days, but said he must insist on manning defense with a minister acceptable to himself. By letting the Labor party foist their choice on him Sharon could be saddled with an unsuitable man whom he could not work with.

Labor’s leading candidate, Binyamin Ben Eliezer is definitely ruled out by Sharon’s circle and the army command, who consider him short of the necessary qualities including that of a competent strategic thinker.

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