The clouds of the coming war are converging upon Israel. But the Jewish State's political
and military leaders refuse to look up at the darkening sky.
The Russian bear has awakened after fifteen years of hibernation. Under the
leadership of former KGB commander President Vladimir Putin, Russia is
reasserting its traditional hostility towards Israel.
On Tuesday, Russian military engineers landed in Beirut. Their arrival
signaled the first time that Russian forces have openly deployed in the
Middle East. In the past Soviet forces in Syria and Egypt operated under the
official cover of "military advisors." Today those "advisors" are
"engineers." The Russian forces, which will officially number some 550
troops, are tasked with rebuilding a number of bridges that the IDF
destroyed during the recent war. They will operate outside the command of
Mosnews news service reported on Wednesday that the engineers will be
protected by commando platoons from Russia's 42nd motorized rifle division
permanently deployed in Chechnya. According to the report, these commando
platoons are part of the Vostok and Zapad Battalions both of which are
commanded by Muslim officers who report directly to the main intelligence
department of the Russian Army's General Staff in Moscow. The Vostok
Battalion is commanded by Maj. Sulim Yamadayev who Mosnews refers to as a
"former rebel commander."
With the deployment of former Chechen rebels as Russian military commandos
in Lebanon, the report this week exposing Russia's intelligence support for
Hizbullah during the recent war takes on disturbing strategic significance.
According to Jane's Defense Weekly the Russian listening post on the Syrian
side of the Golan Heights provided Hizbullah with a continuous supply of
intelligence throughout the conflict.
Much still remains to be reported about the impressive intelligence
capabilities that Hizbullah demonstrated this summer. But from what has
already been made public, we know that Hizbullah's high degree of competence
in electronic intelligence caused significant damage to IDF operations. Now
we learn that Moscow stood behind at least one layer of Hizbullah's
Moscow's assistance to Hizbullah was not limited to intelligence sharing.
The majority of IDF casualties in the fighting were caused by Russian-made
Kornet anti-tank missiles that made their way to Hizbullah fighters through
Syria. Indeed, as we learn more about Russia's role, it appears that Russia's
support for Hizbullah may well have been as significant as Syria's support
for the terror organization. And now we have Chechens in Lebanon.
Russian backing of Hizbullah, like its support for Syria and Iran has been
matched by its extreme, Cold War-esque hostility towards Israel. On Tuesday,
Channel 2 reported that for the past few months Putin has been obsessively
demanding that the government transfer proprietary rights and control to the
Russian government over the Russian Compound, which has served as a police
station since the British Mandate, and other Russian historical buildings in
Putin's demand, which has no legal foundation or diplomatic precedent,
exposes startling disrespect for Israeli sovereignty. According to Channel
2, Russian diplomats have been raising this obnoxious demand at the start of
every meeting they have had with Israeli officials for the past several
months. This most recently reported slap in the face joins a long list of
diplomatic crises that Russia has fomented in the past few months.
In just one example, last month the Russians cancelled the Russia-Israel
trade fair in Tel Aviv on the eve of its opening. Russian businessmen who
had already arrived in Israel and were unable to get flights home the day of
the announcement, were ordered by the Russian embassy to remain in their
hotel rooms until they returned to the airport for the first available
flight to Russia.
Then there is Russia's unstinting support for Iran's nuclear weapons
program. During the latest of his frequent visits to Teheran, Tuesday
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced, yet again, that Russia
opposes all international sanctions against Iran. Indeed, since Iran's
nuclear program was exposed three years ago, Russia has acted as Iran's
defender against every US attempt to galvanize the international community
to take action to prevent Iran from achieving nuclear weapons capabilities.
In 1967 Russia played a central role in fanning the flames of war in Syria.
In the months that preceded the Six Day War, Moscow fed Damascus a steady
diet of false intelligence indicating that Israel was planning to invade. In
the summer of 1973, the Soviets also encouraged Syria to join Egypt in
Whether or not Russia is interested in fomenting the next war, its
intentions are less relevant than how Russia's extreme positions are
interpreted by the Arabs. Judging by Syrian President Bashar Assad's recent
bellicose speeches, it appears that Damascus believes that Russia will
support Syria if it goes to war against Israel. In his latest address
regarding Syria's willingness to go to war if Israel doesn't fork over the
Golan Heights forthwith in "peace negotiations," Assad made clear his belief
that whatever its level of intensity, a Syrian war against Israel could well
advance his interests.
Russian influence is also evident in Assad's "peace" rhetoric. His
protestations of willingness to conduct negotiations with Israel are taken
directly from the Soviet playbook. As the reactions the speech elicited from
leaders of the pro-Syrian camp in the Israeli Left like Maj. Gen. (ret.) Uri
Saguy, Education Minister Yuli Tamir, Ha'aretz columnist Yoel Marcus, and MK
Azmi Bishara made clear, all that is needed to manipulate Israeli public
opinion regarding Syrian intentions is a hollow and disingenuous Syrian
announcement: If we abide by all of Damascus's demands, (something Damascus
will never allow us to do), then Syria will give us "peace," and if we don't,
then the responsibility for the war that will ensue will be our own.
What is Israel doing to meet these gathering threats?
First we have our elected leaders. They contend with the growing threats by
denying them, giving in to them and attempting to change the subject. The
Olmert-Livni-Peretz government had no public reaction to the Russian-Chechen
deployment in Lebanon. As far as the Israeli government is concerned, this
issue, like the fact that Hizbullah has returned to its pre-war positions
and that UNIFIL forces are doing nothing to prevent its rapid rearmament,
should be of no interest to the public.
According to Channel 2, Olmert is now leaning towards capitulating to Russia's
demands and transferring proprietorship over the Russian Compound to the
Russian government during his upcoming visit to Moscow.
As to Syria, rather than crafting a Syria policy, the government argues
about the desirability of giving Syria the Golan Heights now or later. Above
and beyond all else, as Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister
Amir Peretz proclaim, from the government's perspective, the best way to
deal with the growing military threats is to ignore them and destroy Israeli
communities in Judea and Samaria.
Our political leaders are not the only ones involved here. It is the IDF's
duty to sound the alarm bells and contend with these threats. But the IDF is
doing no such thing. Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz claims that
he is devoting all of his time to rebuilding the IDF after what he refers to
as its "mediocre" performance in Lebanon. Practically speaking, however,
Halutz is not contending with the threats. In an interview with Yediot
Ahronot on Sunday, Halutz discounted the Syrian developments and maintained
his position that we won the war in Lebanon and are feared by Hizbullah.
Far from contending with the IDF's "mediocrity," Halutz is prolonging it.
The IDF's "mediocre" land campaign in Lebanon was led by Deputy COS Maj.
Gen. Moshe Kaplinsky, Operations Directorate Chief Maj. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot
and Brig. Gen. Tal Russo who oversaw the IDF's special operations. Rather
than contend with these officers' demonstrated mediocrity, Halutz has
promoted them. Eisenkot was appointed the new commander of Northern Command,
and Russo will be promoted to major general and replace Eisenkot as head of
Operations. Furthermore, Maj. Gen. Iddo Nehushtan who commands the Planning
Directorate supports opening negotiations with Syria. Halutz promoted
Nehushtan to his position after he led the IDF's failed media campaign
during the conflict.
Halutz has repeatedly stated that he will resign if he feels that his
authority is no longer accepted by the army. Yet, the primary officers who
have felt the brunt of his authority - Armored Brigade 7 commander Col.
Amnon Eshel and Maj. Gen. Yiftach Ron-Tal - are the most prominent officers
who have forthrightly attempted to point out the reality of the IDF's
It is clear why Halutz behaves this way. If he were to sound the alarm bells
about the rising dangers in the north, he would have to admit that he failed
in his command of the war. Similarly, if he were to bring new blood into the
ground forces' chain of command, he would be effectively admitting that
Kaplinsky, Eisenkot, Russo, and he as their commander, led the war
irresponsibly. Indeed, the only way that Halutz can keep his job is by not
contending with the dangerous military realities that have arisen as a
result of the IDF's defeat in the war against Hizbullah this summer.
It is this policy of denial that motivated Halutz to fire Maj. Gen. Ron-Tal
from the service on Wednesday night for Ron-Tal's statement of the obvious:
The year the IDF devoted to training its forces to expel the 9,500 Israeli
civilians from Gaza and northern Samaria last summer came at the expense of
training for war against Israel's enemies. It was also this policy of denial
that motivated Halutz to bar Eshel from promotion for two years after Eshel
pointed out how incompetently Division 91 Commander Brig. Gen. Gal Hirsh
commanded his forces in Lebanon.
Halutz accused Ron-Tal, who has been on paid leave pending his retirement
for the past seven months, of bringing politics into the IDF for his
statement that the IDF's single-minded devotion to the government's
controversial political program harmed its war-fighting capabilities, and
for his call for Halutz and Olmert to resign. Yet, during his tenure as
Chief of Staff, Halutz has been slavish in his public devotion to the
government's political preference for using the IDF to fight the Israeli
residents of Judea, Samaria and Gaza over preparing for war against Israel's
Any objective observer of the developments in our region understands that
the storm of war is rapidly approaching us. With Moscow's blessing, the
Palestinians, Hizbullah, Syria and Iran are steadfastly preparing for
There is no doubt that Israel can weather the coming storm. But to do this,
we must have political and military leaders who are willing to recognize its