Home > IDF, Impunity, Israeli Neoconservatism, Suppression of Dissent > Maariv’s defense analyst on the IDF’s culture of lies

Maariv’s defense analyst on the IDF’s culture of lies

Ofer Shelah, Maariv’s defense analyst, already known for saying what he thinks, has been publishing some remarkable commentary lately. Last week, he was very blunt about the recent signs of sedition among fundamentalist settler-soldiers in the West Bank: The IDF top brass should have taken into consideration the consequences of allowing fanatical Rabbis into the combat units during the Gaza war.

His op-ed today is also remarkable. Bottom line: In the IDF you don’t have to lie because you can do pretty much whatever you want, but if you do lie there won’t be any consequences. Here are the key excerpts, but it’s worth reading the entire article (after the jump.) Note the reference to the Goldstone report.

Would the IDF chief of staff lie?…It is unlikely that anyone here would feel the need to lie, and it is more unlikely that he would have to pay any price for being caught in a lie. The Israeli public accepted the results of Kafr Kana, the Shehade assassination and Operation Cast Lead with a shrug of the shoulders. The other side is always more vicious, it shoots at civilians deliberately, it hides inside a civilian population. We’ve long since stopped judging ourselves by a moral yardstick, and consider this a demand of a hypocritical and hostile world. Had he lied, nobody would have been outraged. Just as no one was outraged by the speed with which the IDF closed the investigations into wrongful acts in Operation Cast Lead—and today Israel is wracking its brain over the serious ramifications of the Goldstone report. In society’s whining self-perception as victims, a lie by the army is considered justified self defense against the criticism of an anti-Semitic world. [In the IDF] you won’t have to lie, and if you do lie, nobody will demand that you go.

Can you imagine the professional future of a mainstream US journalist if he expressed similar sentiments about Israel? We still have at least one thing to be proud of in this country — freedom of expression for Israeli citizens and a vibrant public debate. Not for long though, if the Israeli neoconservatives have their way.

The lie has no price

Op-ed, Ofer Shelah, Maariv, December 1 2009

Germany is an uproar: The Bild newspaper revealed a widespread affair of lies over a bombing in Afghanistan that led to the resignation of the German chief of staff Schneiderhan and the former defense minister Jung. After NATO forces bombed, at Germany’s request, two tankers that were hijacked by the Taliban, an operation in which approximately 70 Taliban members were killed, but also 30 civilians, including children, the chief of staff and the defense minister said that no civilians had been killed. Bild revealed the lie, and the commander of the army and the echelon in charge paid the price.

This begs the question of what would have happened here in a similar case.  First of all, the decision: after all, someone ordered the bombing, despite the fact that with the means that NATO has, as does the IDF, it is possible to discern the presence of civilians and were confiscated to assume that some of them will be injured. The IDF tries to have an orderly process in order to make intelligent decision in such cases. No less, we in Israel rely, with a fair degree of justification, on the commander in the field. In several cases the leaders of the aerial formation were the ones to ultimately decide not to fire the missile.

That said, there were also a fair number of decisions in which it was coldly decided that civilians would be killed. So it was, of course, in the decision to take out Salah Shehade, knowing that his family was in the building. In Afghanistan, it was not possible to hold a lengthy debate, time was pressing; in the history of the IDF there have been many cases in which the trigger finger, in such cases, was quick and hot.

And mainly, as  in the German case, there is an ever-increasing distance between the act and the outcome. Modern aerial combat increasingly takes place by handlers of unmanned aerial vehicles, or by means of sending guided ordnance to a coordinate of 12 computer numbers. The pilot doesn’t actually see; the person who does see is far away. This is how hundreds of Palestinian civilians were killed in Operation Cast Lead.

Would the IDF chief of staff lie, as Schneiderhan lied? History, at least, shows that he would not. Amnon Lipkin-Shahak was quick—some in the Northern Command say too quick—to take responsibility for firing at Kafr Kana in Operation Grapes of Wrath. In the Second Lebanon War a press conference was held a few hours after the bombing that mowed down civilians in the same place. When Dan Halutz said an incorrect detail in a closed briefing about shots at an ambulance in Nusseirat, he did so with the intent of keeping a secret weapon a secret and not as a deliberate lie, the IDF spokeswoman, Ruth Yaron, considered this a veritable breach of faith. This doesn’t mean that the army always speaks the truth, but its record on such matters, particularly in recent years, seems to show that we generally receive a version that is closer to the truth.

This does not necessarily stem from ethics. It is unlikely that anyone here would feel the need to lie, and it is more unlikely that he would have to pay any price for being caught in a lie. The Israeli public accepted the results of Kafr Kana, the Shehade assassination and Operation Cast Lead with a shrug of the shoulders. The other side is always more vicious, it shoots at civilians deliberately, it hides inside a civilian population. We’ve long since stopped judging ourselves by a moral yardstick, and consider this a demand of a hypocritical and hostile world. Had he lied, nobody would have been outraged. Just as no one was outraged by the speed with which the IDF closed the investigations into wrongful acts in Operation Cast Lead—and today Israel is wracking its brain over the serious ramifications of the Goldstone report. In society’s whining self-perception as victims, a lie by the army is considered justified self defense against the criticism of an anti-Semitic world. You should come to Israel , Chief of Staff Ashkenazi ought to tell his colleague, Schneiderhan: here, you won’t have to lie, and if you do lie, nobody will demand that you go.

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