Along the Narrow Path delimited in our times by file transfer protocols and similar informatics’ terms, one may find unlikely allies from time to time, even among Israel’s secular left wing and IDF generals. Two days ago, I published Will the IDF Attack Iran Following an Order from Netanyahu? and met some skepticism from the international community. After all, the idea of IDF soldiers refusing orders looks preposterous from the outside; from the inside it is as trivial as a morning cup of black coffee in an IDF bunker. It is as petty a topic as the amount of sugar added to that coffee; simply, senior officers often compromise with the “refuseniks” so that the shame won’t be published. On August 17, 2012, Israeli Channel Seven published that what it called “people from the left wing” (this channel practically belongs to extremist West Bank settlers) sent an open letter to the IAF reserve pilots chosen to strike Iran, urging them to refuse the order. This is not so far from the more probable refusal scenario I had described the day before. Subsequently, Channel Seven expanded on the issue of the war with Iran in an interview with Brigadier General (reserve) Amatzia Hen, who after saying that the abovementioned “people from the left wing” aim to destroy democracy, dropped a bombshell on the already badly battered Israel. His message was simple: the IDF Home Front Command is not prepared for such a war; Israel will be badly hit.
2010 Carmel Fire
The timing of the interview was not random. Following the recent upheavals in Netanyahu’s government, the Home Front Minister was replaced. Matan Vilnai is out, Avi Dichter is in. The latter is a former Shin Beth Chief turned Knesset Member for Kadima; he is best known for his attempt to legislate the racist Israel and the Jewish Fatherland Law. The interview cannot be considered as a free one. IDF officers must get approval for such an event; in such sensitive cases, the approval must be given by the Minister of Defense himself. It is unlikely that Ehud Barak would have given such approval without asking what the general was planning to say on the issue of a war with Iran. Similarly, it is unlikely that the general would utter an opinion contrary to the one of his boss without getting previous approval from Barak. In other words, the army made its position public, explaining to the new minister what is expected from him. The message was intriguing.
General Hen claimed that nothing has been done to fix the coordination problems found in the Home Front Ministry during the 2006 war with Hezbollah in Lebanon and the 2009 Cast Lead Operation in Gaza. On both occasions severe problems were detected; most of them were related to communications. Different parts of this large body spoke different operational languages. Police and firefighters cannot properly communicate among them; the same is true for communications among these and the different military involved in the ministry’s activities. He claimed this was the main lesson learned by the Americans in Vietnam; and that the successful results of the American army in Iraq were the result of the implementation of a coordinating body led by a general. In the interview, the general called for the creation of a parallel body in the IDF, and actually issued a warning to the new minister, claiming that he will be the main culprit of a future committee set up to investigate Israel’s failure in an upcoming war with Iran. This is quite a strong statement. He strengthened it by bringing out the most recent failure of the Home Front Command, the 2010 Carmel Fire (see satellite picture above).
Bahai Gardens at Mount Carmel
On December 2, 2010, a forest fire began on Mount Carmel, which is partially occupied by the City of Haifa in Northern Israel. It burned for four days, and cost the lives of 44 people, most of them Israel Prison Service’s officer cadets, who had attempted to approach the nearby Damun Prison in order to evacuate the prisoners. Many buildings were destroyed and extensive parts of Mount Carmel were on fire. The event is defined as the country’s deadliest single peacetime event. It is notorious for another fact: Israel couldn’t deal with it.
The Israel Fire and Rescue Services, volunteer firefighters, Israel Police, and the IDF all worked to extinguish the fire, to no avail. The fire was contained only after Greece, Cyprus and Turkey sent firefighting aircraft. The situation was so dire, that Netanyahu asked (and got) help from the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Finland, Norway, and Russia; however their equipment arrived after the event was over. Other countries also offered help. It was a single fire, which didn’t hit any industrial, commercial, or residential center, and Israel couldn’t deal with it. General Hen said that this colossal failure proves that nothing has been learned from previous failures of the Home Front Command and that in the case of a war with Iran, a disaster awaits Israel. Imagine the mayhem if all the industrial areas of the county were set ablaze! In an earlier interview, Matan Vilani, the retiring Home Front Minister, had already warned that the war with Iran will have many fronts.
Bahai Gardens at Mount Carmel
Brigadier General Hen is not very young, as a reserve officer with such a high rank he must be close to retirement age. We can safely assume that he is neither innocent nor a lamb. He sent a very specific message not only to the new minister, but also to the people as well. After all, Channel Seven lacks the coziness of an IDF bunker; everybody listens to them. The message he sent was clear: a war with Iran will cost dear. Coming from a general this fortifies the evaluation made in Will the IDF Attack Iran Following an Order from Netanyahu?; the loyalty of the IDF may not be given automatically to Prime Minister Netanyahu. Under the current geopolitical circumstances, this may be Israel’s only chance to survive.