|By: Gideon Spiro|
Censored 2 February 1992
Terror in the General Staff
Introductory comments: in the 1990s I worked as a correspondent in Israel for a German-Jewish monthly. The monthly had (and has) a clear left-wing orientation and is very critical of the governments of Israel regarding the Palestinian issue. The name of the monthly was (and is) “Semit”. After the murder of Hezbollah Secretary-General Musawi, I wrote an article under the heading “Terror at the General Staff”, in which I imagined a meeting of the General Staff of the Israel Defence Force (IDF), with members of the General Staff speaking words that I had written and describing generals in unflattering terms. The article was submitted to the Israeli censorship department, which rejected it for publication. More than twenty years have passed since then. I read the text again and in my humble opinion they are no less relevant today. Among other things, the article demonstrates the stupidity of censorship.
The terrorist attack in which the Israeli army murdered Hezbollah Secretary General Abbas Musawi, his five-year-old son and his wife provoked a sharp discussion at a meeting of the General Staff of the Israel Defence Force. Unlike the outward appearance that Israeli propaganda tried to create, to the effect that this was “an operation that was successful thanks to precise Israeli intelligence”, the action was harshly criticized at the weekly meeting of the General Staff, and one of the participants even called it “terrorism by the General Staff”.
Before I reproduce here some of the words that were said at that meeting, I must provide some background for German readers who might not be well-versed in the realities of everyday life in Israel, and who may still be under the impression that the high command of the Israeli armed forces is composed of a group of just men whose hearts and minds contain nothing but sublime ideals of “service to the Homeland”. Absolutely not. Every week there is a meeting of the General Staff, composed of twenty generals more or less, every one of whom is a prima donna in his own right. Hostility, envy and competitiveness prevail among them, and there are also long-standing settling rivalries between many of them, one waiting for the other one to fail. This is, after all, a group of professional soldiers who make their livings from war and murder. Some of them are stupid, some less so, some are nationalists and some less so. None of them have a particularly friendly attitude toward human life in general, including the lives of their soldiers; even less so toward the lives of Arabs. They are all tyrannical to some degree and all of them are corrupt to varying degrees. They are all terrifyingly hypocritical, especially at funerals of Israeli soldiers, where they utter hackneyed phrases that they themselves do not believe. They are all careerists who seek with varying degrees of intensity to ingratiate themselves to politicians who can help them get ahead. Most of them would not bat an eye if half of the State of Israel were destroyed, just as long as they can take credit for a war that can be marketed as “successful”. This bunch, headed by the Chief of Staff Ehud Barak, has their finger on the Israeli nuclear trigger will not hesitate to press the nuclear button if the order is received; some of them are not too clear on the concept of civilian control of the military and given the right conditions they could stage a military coup in Israel. In short, they are essentially no different from the military leadership of any state in a state of war with its neighbours. Germans recognize their history countless of generals whose qualities match those of their Israeli counterparts described here.
Much rhetorical blood was shed at the General Staff meeting where the Israeli terrorist attack and the military conflagration eruption that followed it were discussed. One target for attacks by his colleagues was the head of the Northern Command, Yitzhak Mordechai. He is an officer who is known for his coarse speech and his violent and brutal treatment to some of his to those under his command, to say nothing of his treatment of the Palestinians when he was the commander of the Gaza Strip. He has also been involved in the past in murders, beatings and other things. One of the generals who seeks to settle accounts with Mordechai is General Amram Mitzna. The Herzelian-bearded Mitzna, who lives in Kibbutz Ein Gev due to his marriage to a woman born in the kibbutz who works there as a teacher, used to enjoy the image of an “intellectual”. A few months before the outbreak of the Intifada he was appointed head of the Central Command, which has jurisdiction over the West Bank. Many in the Israeli public expected Mitzna to play the role of “enlightened occupier”. He was in charge of suppressing the Intifada for nearly two years, during which time he proved to be a complete failure. He did not deliver the merchandise in the form of the suppression of the uprising, but he did reveal himself to be a cruel person. Several of the most serious crimes of the Israeli Occupation army were committed under his command, and the blood of hundreds of Palestinian children who were murdered by his soldiers drips from his hands. He provided backing for acts of murder and terror by settlers, and the latter, who feared him at first, had become among his best friends by the time he completed his term. Mitzna was replaced by Yitzhak Mordechai. All thought that he would be a failure in comparison to Mitzna. Lurking in the background was also other rivalry that exists in Israeli society – tribal and communal hatred. Mitzna is an Ashkenazi Jew, from a community that constitutes the Israeli elite. Mordechai is a son of the Kurdish community, the first Kurdish Jew to reach the rank of general. Mordechai sought to prove that his being from a community that is considered inferior in Israeli public discourse and “primitive and Oriental” in the racist Israeli imagination would not prevent him from reaching the highest levels. And indeed he got there, though his path to the Chieftaincy of Staff was blocked. He demonstrated that Oriental origins by no means prevent a person from treating the occupied Palestinian population with violence and brutality. While Mitzna was committing crimes in the West Bank, was Mordechai busy with his own crimes in the Gaza Strip. A comparative study done by an Israeli journalist between the two showed that despite differences in ethnic background and education, the difference between the two as agents of Israeli colonialism was not meaningful. When Mitzna resigned as head of the Central Command and Mordechai replaced him, there was of course much curious anticipation as to whether Mordechai would succeed where Mitzna had failed. And Mordechai too failed to deliver the required merchandise in the form of the suppression of the Intifada. Despite his unrefined speech and his very un-Herzlian appearance, Mordechai proved that when it comes to controlling a civilian population and suppressing its aspirations, there is no big difference between an Ashkenazi general or a Mizrahi one, an educated one or an ignorant one, an coarse-tongued one or an articulate one. 
Around the time the current Chief of Staff was appointed to his position there was another round of appointments which left the position of head of the Northern Command vacant. Amram Mitzna, had returned from leave for study in the USA and very much wanted the position. But it ended up going to none other than his rival Yitzhak Mordechai!
It is against this background that Mitzna’s harsh criticism of Yitzhak Mordechai’s performance in the recent conflagration in Lebanon is to be understood. He said that the unit that was sent to Shiite villages beyond the Security Zone in South Lebanon to detect Katyusha launchers got in trouble due to incompetent failed execution and reinforcements had to be sent in to get them out. According to Mitzna that whole operation was unwise and the Israeli victims were the result of neglect at Command level. General Mordechai immediately replied very hotly, suggesting to Mitzna “shut your big mouth”, adding that “we have already seen the operations of smart loudmouths like you”. General Yossi Ben Hanan, the commander of the National Defence College, has just returned to active duty after he was absent for several weeks because of his disturbed emotional state. About two months ago he got involved mixed up in a criminal incident when he shot at a pair of lovers because he feared that they were “chasing him”. He was not put on trial, and he didn’t even lose his licence to carry a gun, but the Chief of Staff managed to convince him to take a few months’ leave for psychological treatment. In Israel you have to be an emotionally-disturbed general to be excused from being put on trial and even retain your rank and your position after illegally opening fire on peaceable citizens – an example of the corruption I mentioned before. Now, having undergone a series of intensive treatments from the army’s mental-health service, he has returned to his position and again participating in sessions of the General Staff. Ben Hanan said that the liquidation operation had been for demonstrational purposes (a “display operation”) and that it could have been done with a great deal more professionalism and without harming the target’s wife and child. Ben Hanan’s words were received with wonderment at the General Staff, for he himself had acquired a reputation for ruthlessness towards Arabs, after he did a political about-face to the extreme Right, and is now close to Jewish fundamentalist circles along the lines of a “Jewish Hezbollah”. And Ben Hanan continued to astonish his comrades when he added that the murder of Musawi’s wife and child now exposed Israel to similar reprisal attacks, and public opinion in the world would react with understanding to the liquidation of Jewish women and children after Israel had officially admitted that this tactic was acceptable to it. He then directly impugned the judgement of the Chief of Staff Barak, saying that a man who reached his position on with the help of newspaper ads that described him as a genius, can be expected to exhibit a little more judgement and wisdom. Ben Hanan claimed that the operation was a manifestation of primitive military thinking backed by modern technology like helicopters and missiles. That outburst left his fellow generals astonished and one of them said that you really have to be crazy to have mercy on a Shiite child.
General Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, today deputy Chief of Staff, was formerly the head of Military Intelligence, and he has a small account to settle with the current head of Military Intelligence, General Uri Saguy. He claimed that all the journalistic fawning over the “precise intelligence” was no more than a Military Intelligence public-relations operation. In his opinion no was need for any sophisticated military intelligence operation, because the fact that Musawi and his retinue were travelling to a memorial service for a deceased Hezbollah leader was well-known and not concealed even by Musawi himself. Shahak, who recently married a famous left-wing journalist who works at the newspaper Davar,  is suspected by the leaders of the Israeli Right to be an agent of the Left in the General Staff. He is conducting a campaign to dissociate himself from any taint of leftism, so at General Staff meetings he makes a point of expressing views that are hawkish sometimes to the point of recklessness. He claimed that it had been a mistake not to liquidate everyone in Musawi’s convoy, thereby landing on Hezbollah a blow from which it would not recover. Saguy did not take this sitting down, and said that Shahak’s words were unrealistic and that he even detected a little jealousy over the fact that it had not been he – Shahak – who was in charge of the successful operation.
Southern Command chief Matan Vilnai, the son of a well-known extreme right-winger and a racist in his own right, said that Israel must prepare for a reprisal attack by Hezbollah. He expressed concern that they could target the nuclear reactor at Dimona. The reactor is in Vilnai’s latifundium and he believes that security around the reactor must be reinforced. He recently inspected the security measures in place around the reactor and concluded that there are too many holes through which hostile elements can infiltrate and fire missiles at the reactor. He said that those sitting around that meeting-table know about the nuclear bombs that are produced at the reactor and the danger of radioactive contamination if – God forbid – somebody managed to sabotage the reactor. Therefore he proposed that the standing orders be changed and that the security measures around the reactor be improved and that a security exercise involving a simulated infiltration of the reactor be conducted to check the alertness of those charged with the task of guarding the reactor.
Matan Vilnai’s words raised the hackles of some of those present. General Ran Goren, head of the Manpower Directorate, a son of Kibbutz Merhavia who received a very left-wing education back in the day, which did not prevent him from integrating into the political establishment of the right-wing government and ordering the jailing of Occupation-refusing soldiers, responded dismissively to Vilnai’s words and said that there is no chance in the world that anyone from Hezbollah could reach the reactor or its near surroundings. In his view, Matan Vilnai is rousing sleeping dogs and generating panic for nothing. General Danny Yatom, head of the Central Command, thought that Matan Vilnai’s words should be taken seriously, and proposed an additional possible target for Hezbollah’s reprisal actions: the biological institute at Nes Ziona, which among other things is charged with the task of developing Israel’s biological warfare capability. Imagine, said General Yatom, if someone from Hezbollah managed to infiltrate into the biological institute and cause an explosion that would contaminate Israel with microbes developed there to cause epidemics in the Arab world. It could mean the end of Israel. Therefore he proposed that the security system around the biological institute at Nes Ziona be thoroughly inspected.
The Chief of Staff brought the discussion to a close by saying that he would report on that had been said there at his next meeting with the Defence Minister, who would give him his reply.
(The report from a meeting of the General Staff as appears here is the product of the author’s imagination, and based on a dream he had.)
1. Yitzhak Mordechai later became a Member of the Knesset and served as Defence Minister from 1996 to 1999 and as Transport Minister from 1999 to 2000. In 2001 he was convicted of two of three counts of sexual assault with which he was charged and received a suspended sentence of 18 months. His conviction and sentence were subsequently upheld by an appeals court.
2. Davar, a newspaper affiliated with the Israeli Labour Party, stopped publishing in 1996.
Translated from Hebrew for Occupation Magazine by George Malent