In recent years, Israeli summers have been taken up by a deadly intifada, a tumultuous withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and the Second Lebanon War. This year is quiet by comparison, but will be remembered as the summer of military scandals.
While the security situation in Israel is calm, the IDF is undergoing a crisis of morality and ethics.
It began in March when the commander of the Navy was discovered to be a frequent visitor at a Tel Aviv strip club. Then came a spate of resignations and disciplinary hearings for senior generals who lied to their commanders about various infractions, and then the exposure of the violent and abusive hazing ceremonies practised in the Armoured Corps.
The crisis climaxed this week with the revelation that a soldier with a criminal record succeeded in infiltrating Chief of Staff Lt-Gen Gabi Ashkenazi’s office, stealing his credit card number and passing it on to Israeli-Arab criminals.
While the affairs are not directly linked, they are a source for concern because of the implications for the IDF’s moral character. Can a general who lies about a car accident be trusted to lead soldiers into a battlefield, where the highest level of morality is required? This question is particularly relevant following operations like Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip earlier this year, which brought on the IDF an unprecedented barrage of criticism from governments and NGOs around the world.
The infiltration into the chief of staff’s office is also highly alarming. This time, credit card info was stolen. Next time a bomb could be planted.
Over two years into the job, Lt-Gen Ashkenazi still has his work cut out for him. While he has succeeded in getting the IDF back on track in terms of training and operational readiness — two severe flaws discovered following the 2006 war with Hizbollah — it is no less important to ensure that the military keeps to high ethical levels.
In the General Staff briefing room in the Kirya Military Headquarters in Tel Aviv, there is a plaque with a quote from Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion: “Let every Jewish mother know that the fate of her son is in the hands of worthy commanders.”
The IDF needs to remember that this “worthiness” does not come naturally but needs to be proven every day anew.