This Merchandise, Security

When one reads about the reports, the leaks, the letter of resignation of Brigadier General Gal Hirsch, all of which concern how the nation should and should not treat its generals; when one watches the direct broadcasts from Beit Sokolow or from the places where Defense Minister Amir Peretz and Chief of Staff Dan Halutz deliver their speeches, one could think that the word “kidnapping” has a secret meaning, one that cannot be understood by ordinary literate people who lack expert knowledge of encryption and the other secrets of the huge Israeli intelligence system.

Here we have a huge army, which is ostensibly busy day and night in a war of defense against enemies with large quantities of money and sophisticated weapons, from Beit Hanun to Jenin, and preparing for the Armageddon against Iran. An army that is equipping itself with frightening weapons, with cluster bombs, with electronic equipment out of science-fiction films, and even, some say, with nuclear bombs. This same army has been preparing for years for an incident that goes by the code name “kidnapping.”

What is that same “kidnapping”? And what is the purpose of the “kidnapping”? Why suddenly talk about “kidnapping”? And just what does this word have to do with endangering the sovereignty of the State of Israel or the security of its population, and what will happen if that thing called “kidnapping” succeeds, in other words, if the enemies who are also equipped with this strange code word “kidnapping,” manage to carry it out?

But when it turns out that one needs not have a special relationship with a decoder from Military Intelligence in order to understand what is being discussed, when it turns out that “kidnapping” is simply a word that denotes what we are already familiar with in plain Hebrew as kidnapping, in other words, a guerrilla activity designed to kidnap a soldier so that a small organization can bargain with the huge army and its country, then the consumer of security (in other words, the ordinary citizen, who pays taxes and sometimes blood as well) confronts the manufacturers of security (army people, who make a good living from selling this merchandise), and as a good consumer, who is not confused by commercials, has to ask questions that differ from those asked by the manufacturers, who are also investigating the quality of their defective merchandise (there is no other way to describe the Israel Defense Forces’ own investigation of the most recent war).

And so, let us for once ask different questions about “kidnapping,” common-sense questions, since even common sense looks radical during these days of petrifaction. Did anyone in the military ever say, during their discussions of Lebanese scenarios: “Let’s release Samir Kuntar and other Lebanese prisoners (or Palestinian prisoners) before Hezbollah (or Hamas) kidnaps soldiers and we’ll have to deal with their release?” Isn’t it part of the security profession to provide us with security, and not only always to be “stronger”? Did any one of them ever say during their briefings: “How do we lower the level of tension on the border?” (And could perhaps one of them have even said: “Let’s admit the truth: We kidnapped Sheik Obeid and that’s how we finished Ron Arad. Maybe we should change direction?”)

But that apparently is not their profession. And that is precisely the issue. What are we left with? With a scandal of “national” dimensions, which involves a brigadier general who is a champion quoter, who is considered an intellectual, whose greatest strategic achievement was, so they say, the intifada’s Operation Defensive Shield. A man who captures Ramallah and Jenin by storm, who defeated stone-throwers and Fatah and Hamas members armed with light weapons, in their homes, in their neighborhoods; who commanded operations during which the Bank of Ramallah was broken into and its entire contents stolen, libraries were destroyed, computers belonging to poets and literary editors were taken. This general had difficulty dealing with a war of somewhat different dimensions, not against a country, God forbid, and not against a regular army, but against a guerrilla organization that for years planned to kidnap a soldier. And as befits an intellectual, he composed dozens of pages comprising an impressive strategic analysis of kidnapping scenarios.

And the orders were carefully reviewed and sent to various branches of the division in the North, and soldiers and commanders and officers all studied the texts, because “the kidnapping” was foremost in their minds, and now in ours as well, and the failure, alas, the failure stemmed from the fact that Brigadier General Hirsch did not practice what he preached.

Brigadier General Hirsch is the embodiment of the “new generals.” Whatever the historical nature of the IDF battle against the Palestinians, the abuse of the Palestinians during the second intifada is also a significant part of the years of the IDF’s decline. Those army commanders may know how to move divisions, to speak English, to write procedures. They grew up in the shadow of the “real” wars (tank vs. tank in Sinai, the capture of the Golan Heights), but all that is left for them and the tremendous army at their disposal is to strike at poor neighborhoods, to raid frightened towns at night, to frighten young people and mothers, to kill people before the eyes of their families, using 21st-century weapons.

This is what should be described, instead of investigating “the behavior of the senior echelon,” as though the investigation will be followed by a more appropriate response to a kidnapping attempt, as though people on the other side will stop hoping for the release of prisoners, for example.

YITZHAK LAOR is an Israeli novelist who lives in Tel Aviv.


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