The people and the U.S. are with the Golan | by Gal Perl Finkel

רשומה רגילה

U.S recognition in the Golan Heights as "part of the State of Israel" is an important political achievement for Israel and Prime Minister Netanyahu, but it is not certain that the way it was done will not escalate a reality that until now has been tacitly agreed upon

Recently, Hezbollah leader Sheikh Nasrallah delivered a speech in which he responded to US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.

"The only option for the Syrians to return the Golan Heights, and the Lebanese to return the Shebaa Farms and Ghajar, and the only option for the Palestinians to accept their legitimate rights is resistance, resistance and resistance," Nasrallah said.

Beyond the border, in Syria and Lebanon, it is hard to believe that there will be tolerance for international recognition of the Golan Heights, which Israel captured in the Six-Day War (and managed to keep in its hands in 1973 and thereafter) as an Israeli sovereign territory. This could constitute a precedent for the possibility that additional areas will be recognized as such. Given that Hezbollah and other Shiite militias have established an operational infrastructure on the Syrian side of the border, as the IDF revealed last month (in a cognitive operation), Nasrallah’s declaration is a clear threat.

Last month, leaders of the Blue and White Party visited the northern part of Israel. Even though the four, Benny Gantz, Moshe Ya’alon, Gabi Ashkenazi and Yair Lapid were mainly focused in trying to recruit votes and supporters, its likely that the north is connected mainly to their experiences from the military service. The former chiefs of staff fought for many years across the border, some against the Syrians, all of them in Lebanon, in the raids of the Paratroopers (Ya’alon and Gantz) and Golani (Ashkenazi) brigades, and operations. Even Lapid, who was a military correspondent in Bamahane, spent (though not as a fighter) a considerable amount of time in his service in the outposts in Lebanon.

During the tour in the North, the four referred to threats by Hezbollah and Syria. In his press conference, Gantz stressed that there is an "Iranian front that sits on the border of the State of Israel, and we will know how to deal with any threat in any arena, as much as necessary." Lapid, for his part, pledged on behalf of the four, "We will never return the Golan Heights."

The person who took care of Lapid’s commitment was Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who in the past was among those who negotiated with the Syrians, in which he was asked to give up control of the Golan Heights. During Netanyahu’s visit to Washington last week, President Trump signed a presidential proclamation recognizing the Golan Heights as part of the State of Israel. For Netanyahu, too, the North is connected to his personal military service as a soldier and commander in the Sayeret Matkal IDF elite unit.

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IN HIS book Autobiography, Maj.-Gen. (Ret.) Giora Eiland referred to the negotiations that Prime Minister Ehud Barak held in 1999 with then-Syrian president Hafez al-Assad and argued that Israel should not agree to a peace arrangement with Syria in which it relinquishes its control over the Golan Heights. Eiland, who like Gantz, Ya’alon and Ashkenazi, participated in raids in Lebanon (in one of them, as a paratrooper battalion commander, he took with him a stubborn platoon leader named Ofer Shelah, now number eight in Blue and White’s list), admitted that he had formulated his insights after his retirement. He noted that he had hoped that the negotiations between Israel and Syria would not grow into a peace agreement in which Israel would relinquish the territory.

In his view, Prime Minister Barak relied on wrong assumptions. First, if the Syrian army moved forces to the Golan Heights, Israel would know about this in real time, which is not necessarily true. Second, it is not at all certain that Israel would understand and correctly interpret the movement of Syrian forces aimed toward war (in 1973, for example, Israel did not understand this). Third, because of the time required for such a decision, the Syrians would be the first to arrive to the battlefield and gain the upper hand.

Another assumption is that an international monitoring mechanism that would enforce the agreement might indeed monitor tanks and cannons, but it would be less effective in detecting sophisticated surface-to-surface missiles with long range and accuracy, and anti-tank missiles, which are relatively easy to conceal but whose impact on the battle is significant.

It is hard to counter Eiland’s arguments – and since the outbreak of the civil war in Syria that undermined the stability of Bashar Assad’s regime, it became clear that other troubling scenarios might also materialize. Iran was allowed to establish military infrastructures in Syria and to act against Israel, which for its part is conducting a long and largely secret campaign to prevent it. As part of that campaign, according to foreign publications, the IAF recently attacked Iranian weapons depots near Aleppo.

WHY DO we need all this noise now? The Golan has been under Israeli control for more than 50 years and no state entity can take control of it without Israeli consent. Moreover, Trump’s statement, which appears to be a finger in the eye of the international community, has only motivated Western Europe, Russia, the Arab countries, Iran and Syria to act against it. The Syrians and their allies from Iran may also decide to "use terror and guerrilla attacks" from the Syrian side of the border, just as Nasrallah declared in his speech.

In the eyes of Israeli prime ministers, only one member of the international community is a heavyweight – the United States. This perception has not changed, and with good reason. American backing, even now, is a powerful credit. In an article on the subject in Israel Hayom, Maj.-Gen. (Ret.) Israel Ziv, who like Eiland served as a paratrooper officer and as the head of the Agaf HaMivtza’im (Operations Directorate), wrote that "Israel will be required to conduct an uncompromising legitimization battle, while increasing efforts to prevent Iranian entrenchment on the other side of the border. The American declaration on the Golan Heights will no doubt help these efforts."

Recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan is important, but the way it was done – not through the UN Security Council and without the broad consensus of the international community – is damaging. It is not certain that the tacit agreement to Israeli control over the Golan Heights, which was the American policy until now, would not have been more effective at this time.

(The article was published in "The Jerusalem Post", April 7, 2019)

 

מודעות פרסומת

Gantz was an excellent commander, it doesn’t mean he’ll be a good politician | by Gal Perl Finkel

רשומה רגילה

Right-wing Politicians claimed that Benny Gantz, as commander and IDF'S Chief of staff, didn't strive for contact with the enemy and achieving victory. That's absurd, but military experience isn't necessarily the only experience necessary for those who want to serve as prime minister

Education Minister and leader of the New Right Party, Naftali Bennett, found the reason why Israel stopped winning battles against terrorist organizations. In a tweet, Bennett brought a quote from a profile published by Haaretz last week about the head of the Blue and White Party, Benny Gantz. In the article, authors Hilo Glazer and Nir Gontarz noted that when Gantz replaced Israel Ziv as commander of the 35th Paratroopers Brigade in 1995, he changed the brigade’s motto that was set by his predecessor. Ziv, a meticulous officer whose term as brigade commander was characterized by a series of operational successes in Lebanon (most of them under the command of officers like Yossi Bachar and Amir Baram), stated that "The aim of the paratrooper is to strive for contact with the enemy, to kill him and win the battle". Gantz, when he replaced him, deleted the word "kill" from that sentence. 

This is the root of the problem, according to the minister, a member of the cabinet and the former company commander in the Maglan unit (where he served under Maj-Gen. Tal Russo, a veteran of the Shaldag unit, the Israeli Air Force Special Forces, and the number two man on the Labor Party’s list). Bennett promised that when he became defense minister, he would fix this, and "Israel will start winning again". It sounds simple and sharp. But the facts are a bit different and should also be taken into consideration.

In an interview with the newspaper Bamahane, Gantz said that in 1978 he "joined the 50th Battalion, which was then called "Parachute Nahal" and was part of the paratroopers brigade and later became the 101st Battalion." Despite his combat background, which included returning from a course in the US Army Special Forces to command a paratrooper company in Beirut in 1982, serving as the second in command of the Shaldag unit and other duties, Gantz was not considered as the kind of officer who could be described as a "killer". That changed when the brigade commander, Shaul Mofaz, unexpectedly appointed him as the commander of the 890th Battalion. Years later, Gantz frequently mentioned that command as the most significant one in his military service. Most of the activity was in Lebanon and in preventing the infiltration of terrorist squads into Israel. In 1988, a terrorist squad penetrated just south of Manara. A force from the battalion and the battalion commander jumped to a spot and encountered terrorists. "We arrive at the area of the encounter, I see a fire exchange in front of me. I unload, I run to them, we shout 'Charge!'. We attack the terrorists, Yoni comes behind me… We kill the terrorists and when I turn around, see that the doctor is treating Yoni in the back. Very fast, was very, very fast. Combat that lasted seconds. Yoni was killed next to me. They shot at me, hit him", Gantz related in a film that noted the commemoration of his radio operator, Yoni Baranes.

As a brigade commander, Gantz was very different from Ziv, the centralized "Prussian" commander. He gave his subordinates plenty of room for action and backing. Some of them found it difficult to adjust, but the commanders of the battalions operating under him thought that this method worked well. On the operational aspect, although the word "kill" was omitted from the brigade motto, it is difficult to say that it was different from that of his predecessor. In 1996, for example, in a series of ambushes carried out by the 101st Battalion, commanded by Yossi Bachar, his soldiers killed five terrorists and returned without a scratch.

Even as chief of staff it was difficult to define him as a vegetarian. Gantz was the one who insisted on hitting Ahmed Jabari, the senior Hamas military wing leader, as part of the first strike that started Operation Pillar of Defense. In Operation Protective Edge, the IDF under his command exerted a great deal of force in Gaza. Gantz managed to remain aggressive despite his declared desire to seek a political solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and his reluctance to educate soldiers with the desire to kill. At the tactical level, when fighting on the battlefield killing the enemy is usually part of the mission.

Even though all of this is known, Bennett chose to accuse him of cowardice and lack of motivation. Someone can still turn this into a slogan like "Stop apologizing, start killing". Very similar to the way that was described by the brigade commander Ziv at the time. But the latter was a combat commander, while the minister is required to see things in the broad, strategic sense. It is certainly simpler than taking responsibility for the government’s policy. For example, the IDF’s restraint in the Gaza Strip is a direct result of the decisions of the cabinet in which Bennett is a member. The Israeli government has no intention of embarking on a broad military operation that is aimed at the collapse of Hamas and the long-term takeover of the Gaza Strip. Hamas, as Tal Lev-Ram wrote in Maariv, determines the level of the flames, and when it wishes to escalate the situation. Maj.-Gen. (res.) Giora Eiland once said that the government decides to attack and see what happens. In contrast to what is happening on the northern front, in the south there is no clear policy, strategy or effort to shape the reality. There were those who recently claimed that Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi leads a more aggressive line against those who detonate explosive devices and fire flare-up balloons. This may be so, however, the IDF uses force in a measured manner.

The fact that Bennett, as well as others, raise populist and erroneous claims against Gantz is regrettable. However, its refutation does not answer the important questions. Gantz was a talented commander in the Paratroop Brigade and in other commands, but this does not indicate that he will be a successful prime minister or politician. The IDF chief of staff gains substantial experience in leadership and command by managing a large system and in organizational politics. Taking into account the economic, social, political and security aspects, the transfer from the military to state administration is not that simple. That being said, Gantz still has a long way to go.

(The article was published in "The Jerusalem Post", March 08, 2019)