Monday, December 31, 2007

IDF "Problems"

Excerpts from Steve Erlanger's piece on the IDF:-

...But in another challenge for the army, a large proportion of those volunteering for combat units — 30 percent to 40 percent — come from the “national religious” sector, Zionists who tend to wear knitted skullcaps and are frequently settlers. In the past, many fighters volunteered from Israel’s kibbutzim, or collective farms. But now, large numbers are “the new pioneers,” the children of settlers.

They are eager to fight Israel’s enemies. But as Israel contemplates new peace talks with the Palestinians — and an eventual withdrawal from large sectors of the occupied West Bank — the government and army worry that many of those soldiers, and officers, may refuse orders to dismantle settlements.

Col. Aharon Haliva, 40, is the commander of this school, which is almost as old as the state. A former brigade commander in the occupied West Bank, Colonel Haliva is blunt. “The army reflects the society, with all its strengths and problems,” he said. “After the second Lebanon war, people want to be able to believe in their army, which is themselves.”

He said he worried for a time that young people might refuse to become officers after the failures against Hezbollah in Lebanon. “It’s much easier to win battles when you understand why you’re there, and what you’re expected to do,” Colonel Haliva said in a tart comment on that war. “We all want to be part of a strong organization.”

By the time the candidates get here, “they know how to fight,” he said. “I’m not worried about how they use their weapons. I’m concerned with implanting the right values.”

But this school, like the society, is struggling with the great internal challenge of how, if ordered, to remove thousands of Israeli settlers from the West Bank — many more than the 9,000 torn with such national agony from Gaza.

The army draws many of its best combat soldiers and officers from the “national religious.” Here, they make up about 10 percent of the staff officers, 15 percent of the combat support officers and up to 40 percent of the combat officers, the colonel said. “You don’t find them in Tel Aviv, but all over the hills of Judea and Samaria,” he said, using the biblical names for the West Bank. “They are the pioneers of today.”

When there is a pullout from the West Bank, “a lot won’t serve in a disengagement, I’m sure of it,” Colonel Haliva said. “Just as some kids on the left don’t want to serve in the territories.”

He wants his officers “to have more questions than answers.” But it is his job and that of his staff to explain “the importance of what they’re doing, and the reasons they’re being ordered to do it,” he said. “After Gaza, we thought that maybe some of these kids would refuse to become officers, but it’s not true.”

...Mr. Harvith sees himself as a leader. “In two months I’ll command 20 soldiers, and from them there will be maybe two officers, and that’s another 40 soldiers, and another 40 families. We have a big effect on the society.”

First commanders matter, he said. “The way I hold my weapon — it’s the way my first commander held it.”

He is also religious, he said. Would he have pulled people out of Gaza?

“That’s a good question,” he said, then paused. “For me, it’s not just a religious question but a moral question. I do what I’m told,” he said, pausing again. “Except in moral cases, that’s the point.”

Asked where he would seek advice, he said he would first talk to his father, and then to “previous commanders I admired.”

Would he talk to his rabbi? “Maybe my father would,” he said. “You need the right proportion of asking questions and obeying.”

The national religious are estimated to make up some 15 percent of Israel’s population, and they have growing influence in the officer corps. Yael Paz-Melamed, a leftist columnist for the daily newspaper Maariv, warned that the army was becoming “increasingly political and right wing.”

The “hesder yeshivas,” which combine military service and Torah study for some of the most religious candidates, also raise concerns. The hesder yeshivas now turn out 1,200 recruits a year, Colonel Sela said, a 40 percent increase in five years. “We’re not happy with that,” he said. “It’s too much. We want about 900.”

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