Israeli army chief can't afford failure in Gaza

Israeli army chief can't afford failure in Gaza

17th January 2009, Comments 0 comments

Just before the Gaza operation started, it must have occurred to Israel's top military commander that the last major Israeli attack - in 2006 on Lebanon - didn't end so happily for his predecessor.

He resigned five months after the Lebanon War in response to a highly critical report on Israel's military and political leadership.

"Israel can't afford to have another debacle like that," says Dutch military historian Martin van Creveld, who lives in Israel. "The last war was almost a catastrophe. But this is being led far better than the last time."
Chief of the General Staff of the Israel Defence Forces Gabi Ashkenazi Photo: US federal government

Impressive career
Lieutenant General Ashkenazi (born in 1954, photo above) has had a lengthy career in the Israeli army. Starting out as a private in the notorious Golani Brigade, he climbed to the highest military circles. When in 2005 he was passed over for promotion to the top military post, he retired, only to make a comeback finally as Chief of the General Staff in 2007.

Mr Van Creveld says the general has an easier job in this war than his predecessor did in the Lebanon War.

"Hamas is much weaker than Hizbollah. The terrain is also much more accessible, even though you have to deal with densely populated cities."

Two differing perspectives on the Israeli offensive in Gaza

One of the objectives of the Lebanon War was to rescue two kidnapped Israeli soldiers (who later proved to be dead), but there is no such aim this time. Even though an Israeli soldier, Corporal Gilad Shalit, has been held prisoner in Gaza for nearly a year.

Mr Van Creveld thinks that Lieutenant General Ashkenazi will be working on this indirectly.

"He'll go Arab hunting here and there. It might later be possible to exchange captured Hamas fighters for Shalit. But the most important aim is to deal Hamas a heavy blow."

Mr Van Creveld thinks that the lieutenant general has no need to fear for his job if this war ends without too many losses on Israel's side, and for the time being Hamas rockets stop falling on Israel. But there's no chance he will gain the status of hero.

"The Israeli army can't prove itself against a much weaker enemy." This is what Van Creveld said in 2002, and he says it equally applies to this war. Apart from whether the reserved, media-shy general actually aspires to such a status.

A Palestinian man inspects the damage where a rocket fired by Palestinian militants - intended for a target in Israel - accidentally hit a building in Gaza City. Photo © Amir Farshad Ebrahimi"That's also one of the lessons from Lebanon. Then all sorts of officers kept chattering to the media. But Ashkenazi keeps a much tighter rein on his subordinates in terms of media policy. He also keeps his cards close to his chest himself."Facebook
When this war is over, the attention is more likely to be focused on Israel's political leaders rather than its military chief. In February there are general elections and it will become clear how the war translates in political terms.

The consequences for Lieutenant General Ashkenazi are harder to gauge. Although he does have his own page on Facebook. Perhaps in the months after the war it will be possible to see whether his circle of Facebook friends has grown, or whether many prefer not to be associated with him any longer.

Hans Jaap Melissen
Radio Netherlands

 Photo credit: Takver; Amir Farshad Ebrahimi

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