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The Pit: The Dark Secrets behind the Worst Leadership Crisis in IDF History
Book reviewed by Dr. Adnan Abu Amer for Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations
This book was published in the light of the recent crisis which hit Israel on the background of the appointment of a new Chief of Staff and it caused much commotion among the army, the government and the Ministry of Defense. The book tackles the main problems facing decision-makers at different levels in Israel in general, and in the army and the military institution in particular.
The appointment of the 20th Commander of the Israeli Army triggered violent conflict which rocked the circles of decision-making in Tel Aviv on the political, security, military, judiciary and media levels.
This conflict followed the unprecedented and harsh accusations leveled against the former candidate for this position, Yoav Galant, for seizing public lands near his home. It also followed what has been said about a ferocious, secret battle which has been described as “immoral” and which extended over years between Defense Minister Ehud Barak and the former Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi who was accused of setting up an intrigue against Galant after he has won the nomination and confidence of Barak.
Book Title: The Pit: The Dark Secrets behind the Worst Leadership Crisis in IDF History. (in Hebrew)
Cheap and Trite Accusations
The book displays the secrets related to this “scandal” issue as too “cheap” and “trite.” They are not limited to the individual personal level since they have rocked the strongest military institution in the Middle East. This comes at a time when the State is undergoing military and security challenges at the local, regional and international levels and the army is in utmost need to be coherent and united behind a unified command.
The authors relied in their book on 120 interviews and meetings, hundreds of original documents which they got from the army, the ministry of defense and the office of the prime minister. They relied also on thousands of clippings from newspapers, dozens of investigation records which the military police have conducted with a number of accused army leaders and generals. However, they did not receive answers for 60 questions that were raised in different military and security forums in the state!
The authors emphasize that their book which has included all these original sources was faced with an unprecedented attack from the Israeli Military Censor and from senior officers whose names were mentioned in the book. These people demanded the prohibition of publishing the whole book or at least parts of it under the pretext of maintaining the prestige of the army and the state.
The book stresses that the scandals that have befallen the Israeli army did not start with the appointment of the last chief of staff. The scandals came to a peak upon this appointment after a series of violations and abuses of military ethics which occurred in the most important and dangerous army units, particularly the special operations unit.
In addition to the above, the authors unveil a state of hostility and mutual hatred among different army units and divisions. They revealed that there is an atmosphere of intrigue and hatred among army generals. This happens amidst the lack of control by the defense minister over the army. let alone the absence of the prime minister who seems to be ignorant of what is going on inside the army.
Bloody War of the Generals
On top of that, the book blames senior army generals who have “violated” the law and fought bloody battles with the military intelligence service “Aman” and the internal security service “Shin Bet” to acquit their comrades; who were involved in cases of corruption, illegal eavesdropping and achieving personal gains from their military work.
While the book seems to be talking about a mafia lacking any morals or organizational structures, it monitors the intervention of some army generals’ wives in the decision-making process. It monitors also the favoring of one general over another and the work of some generals—who are expecting promotions—as informers for officers whom they consider as their rivals. One officer’s wife has received more than 400 short text messages only during seven months, including sensitive information and secret movements of some senior military officials.
The authors show how some military officers have wrung their hands of any responsibility for military failures that occurred when they were in office. They mention, for example, the case of Ashkenazi who witnessed the abduction of three of his soldiers by Hizbullah when he was the head of the Israeli Northern Command in 2000. He accused the soldiers of being “drug dealers” when he was blamed for negligence and failure to protect them.
The Triangle of Conflict within the General Staff
The book displays a number of administrative mistakes and organizational “lapses” of senior officials in the Ministry of Defense and the army. For example, the letter of appreciation sent by the minister of defense to General Boaz Harpaz, whom he has never seen, where later it was found out that Harpaz was accused of leaking secret documents from the offices of senior military officials. Another officer has disclosed secrets which put the lives of soldiers on the stake in addition to other intrigues set up by high ranking military officials! The book also mentions how a prominent general planted a close officer a “mole” in the office of the defense minister to convey news and leak secret decisions to him!
Further, the authors reveal how some generals used to cut off a part of the financial budgets meant for the implementation of secret military operations in Iraq and Syria to spend it on weekend picnics with their families and children!
The book tackles in details the so-called “triangle of conflict” on the position of the Israeli chief of staff where every candidate received support from a different party. While Galant received support from the minister of defense, Gadi Eizenkot received support from the officers of the military institution whereas Benny Gantz, the current Chief of Staff, won the support of the Israeli-American lobby groups particularly the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) and American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in addition to other parties concerned with the special American–Israeli relations and figures in the American military institution (Pentagon).
The authors disclose the secret behind keeping Galant as Commander of the Southern Region for five years. Ashkenazi intended to deny him any chance to assume any other leadership position, and sought to block any efforts at granting him a decoration or any discretionary benefits for his role in Operation Cast Lead against Gaza. The book says that Ashkenazi has sought to hold Galant responsible for the failures in the war on Gaza on the basis that the latter has supervised the planning and implementation of the operations on the ground.
Amidst the exchange of accusations and the accumulation of rumors pertaining to these officers, the book concludes that whether right or wrong, these rumors and accusations cause major damage to the reputation of the Israeli army. They affect the confidence of the Israeli public while creating some kind of cheap competition within the army.
The book received all that attention on the basis that its authors are not ordinary writers but they are two columnists in the Israeli press. They host together a televised news show besides their extensive connections and relations within the government and the army.
The first author, Ronen Bergman, 39 years, is a notable investigative reporter and a media man who has studied law in the University of Haifa. He worked as a lawyer for a period of time. Bergman holds a M.Phil degree in international relations and was awarded a Ph. D by Cambridge University for his dissertation about the security and intelligence relations between Israel and Africa. He wrote in Haaretz and currently he writes periodically for Yedioth Ahronoth. Bergman is well-known for his specialized writings in security investigations and intelligence articles besides the issues of wars in the Middle East.
The University of Cambridge nominated him for membership in the Project for Security Studies and he lectures in a number of Israeli and British universities on these issues. Bergman won his reputation for unveiling many private secrets particularly those related to the arms trade deals with Iran, Yasir Arafat’s bank accounts and Ashraf Marwan, the Egyptian double agent during the 1973 October war. He won many awards both on the local and international levels. Some of his famous books are: Authority Granted, Moment of Truth, Point of no Return, The Secret War with Iran and By Any Means Necessary- Israel's Covert War for its POWs and MIAs.
The other author, Dan Margalit, 73 years, is an eminent journalist with a long experience which exceeds 4 decades. He earned his bachelor’s degree from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem on the history of Judaism. He became famous after disclosing the secret of Yitzhak Rabin’s bank deposits when he was serving as Israel’s ambassador in Washington. The story disclosed prompted Rabin to resign and raised Margalit’s shares among his fellow journalists. Margalit hosts a televised show entitled New Evening Show (Erev Hadash) on the Israeli television since 1982. He started his career in Haaretz then was appointed an editor in Ma’ariv and currently he writes for Israel Today (Israel HaYom).
He also moderated televised debates between Israeli candidates for the premiership. He is known for his leftist stances and strong supported the establishment of the separation wall in the Wes Bank. Further, he backed the unilateral disengagement plan from Gaza, yet he is skeptical about the possibility of achieving genuine peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. He has written many books, including: Dispatch from the White House, Paratroopers in a Syrian Jail and Commando 101.
Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations, 12/3/2011