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Maariv’s defense analyst: Rabbis own the IDF

Ofer Shelah, Maariv’s defense analyst, has become a regular feature on Coteret. On November 17 2009 he told the IDF top brass they should have taken into consideration the consequences of allowing fanatical Rabbis into the combat units during the Gaza war and on November 17 2009 he was very blunt in his analysis of the IDF’s culture of lies.

This morning (December 13 2009,) he takes on the defense establishment’s pathetic attempt to bring into line Rabbi’s of affiliated yeshivas who order soldiers to refuse to move against settlements. Shelah all but says outright that these Rabbis own the IDF. Senior officers are afraid of them because of the power they hold over their future political careers. More importantly, their disciples have become so integral to the IDF’s combat forces, that taking them on might spark major disintegration. Here’s a key excerpt (full text after the jump)

In Gush Katif soldiers were spat at, but for the senior staff it was far more important to say that not only was this in fact rain, but welcome rain.

It’s fairly clear why, and its not merely that in each Israeli general’s backpack can be found the scepter of the future politician. The army’s combat units, and particularly the infantry brigades, are full of religious soldiers and officers, in numbers that far outnumber their part in the general population. Some of the hesder yeshivas today are what the kibbutzim and the military boarding schools were in the past. The military knows well that indeed only a minority among the rabbis speak in the fashion of Levanon and Melamed (an internal document following disengagement mentioned the names of two other yeshivas), but harming them could cause others to align with them, and could thus jeopardize the entire soil in which young officers are cultivated, and so it prefers to ingratiate itself to them, with the enthusiastic encouragement of the political echelon.

Who’s afraid of the Hesder Yeshivas?

Ofer Shelah, Maariv, December 13 2009

The history of the security establishment and the hesder yeshivas over the past decades is one of hypocrisy, deception, and tossing of a hot potato from one hand to another. It’s no wonder that Defense Minister Barak sent his deputy, Matan Vilnai, to a meeting with Rabbi Eliezer Melamed of Har Bracha: Barak knows when to avoid a meeting out of which no good will come. Vilnai is the last innocent who is still willing to hold the potato in his hand, while all the others just roll their eyes.

The last straw came in two incidents, related — how surprising — to disengagement, which itself produced a new high in the cynical use of the IDF and its prestige. In the first event the IDF refrained from responding to the damage to the dignity of its officers and uniform at Rabbi Tal’s Torat Hehaim yeshiva in Gush Katif. Brig. Gen. Gershon Hacohen and other officers were assaulted by yeshiva students, their uniforms were torn and their rank insignia ripped off. Rather than insisting that the rioters be arrested, either immediately or within a short while, a humiliating pact was made with them, as part of which the security establishment was to pretend as though nothing had occurred. Etz Hehaim was indeed not a hesder yeshiva, but its students come from the same places, and the message was clearly received.

Then came chief-of-staff Dan Halutz’s statement that the arrangement with Rabbi Elyakim Levanon’s yeshiva in Alon Moreh should be annulled. Nothing happened, of course, and to this day many in the establishment wonder who really frittered away what was, at the time, depicted as an unequivocal demand. The truth is that everyone frittered it away. It’s convenient to draw a picture as though the feeble politicians in the Defense Ministry are willing to have the army humiliated, just as long as they don’t have to quarrel with the settlers. This is a true description of the cowardice of the responsible echelon — from Mofaz, by way of Peretz and Barak, they all fled from the matter like fire and forsook the army’s prestige and status — but it is undeservingly generous to those in uniform, who did not display any less spinelessness.

When the army wishes to make a demand, it knows quite well how to do so, as any official in the Finance Ministry who ever argued with the generals about the budget, can attest. But in the defense ministers’ bureaus no one can recall even one event in which the public threats actually materialized into an unequivocal demand that the arrangement with the Alon Moreh or Har Bracha yeshiva indeed be annulled. It is convenient for the officers to appear as those whose righteous demands were rejected due to political considerations; the politicians swallow the small amount of damage for the sake of continued good relations with the religious right.

Had anyone really wanted to take on the provoking hesder yeshivas, nothing could have been easier. The hesder arrangement not only provides for a significant reduction in service, but for a rather lucrative business: today there are more than fifty such yeshivas, because the government financing assists them in maintaining many students. This could be cut within one split second; the arrangement could be cut off with anyone taking an illegitimate stance. But, as has already been stated, the officers do not really want this, and the politicians do not even pretend to care.

Nobody has any genuine intentions, except for a few officers who for some reason fail to comprehend the rules of the game. The most significant among these, in recent years, has been Director of Human Resources Branch Maj. Gen. Elazar Stern, who demanded that the hesder yeshiva arrangement be annulled for other reasons entirely: his principled opposition to any individual service arrangement, such as the Nahal, which is detrimental to the principle of equal service for all.

The chiefs-of-staff commanding him did not even dream of doing anything. Their efforts were far more noticeable when it came placating the national religious sector following disengagement, which was then assigned to Maj. Gen. Tal Russo. In Gush Katif soldiers were spat at, but for the senior staff it was far more important to say that not only was this in fact rain, but welcome rain.

It’s fairly clear why, and its not merely that in each Israeli general’s backpack can be found the scepter of the future politician. The army’s combat units, and particularly the infantry brigades, are full of religious soldiers and officers, in numbers that far outnumber their part in the general population. Some of the hesder yeshivas today are what the kibbutzim and the military boarding schools were in the past. The military knows well that indeed only a minority among the rabbis speak in the fashion of Levanon and Melamed (an internal document following disengagement mentioned the names of two other yeshivas), but harming them could cause others to align with them, and could thus jeopardize the entire soil in which young officers are cultivated, and so it prefers to ingratiate itself to them, with the enthusiastic encouragement of the political echelon.

As part of the agreed upon game, the army every so often raises the demand that its dignity be safeguarded, and sits aside quietly as this becomes a pilgrimage by the deputy defense minister to the rabbi, who just so recently referred to the IDF leadership as corrupt. Deep inside, the generals also know how right he is.

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