TEL AVIV (Nov. 19)
Defense Minister Moshe Arens issued a gag order Sunday to end the unseemly vendetta two of Israel’s top generals have been conducting through the media.
Arens announced on television that he has “issued an unequivocal order to all Israel Defense Force officers, regardless of rank, that contact with the media will be allowed only with my approval.”
The defense minister conceded that while he has “no control over the media,” he was determined to put an end to the public warfare between Lt. Gen. Dan Shomron, the IDF chief of staff, and Maj. Gen. Yitzhak Mordechai, head of the Central Command.
Their reported long-simmering feud erupted when Shomron officially reprimanded Mordechai for failing to prevent an infiltration from Jordan that resulted in the killing of a soldier last week.
Mordechai, who refused to accept the rebuke, fired back with public statements denying the charges. He accused the chief of staff of character assassination motivated by their personal differences.
There has been bad blood between the two generals since Shomron was elevated to the top IDF post to which Mordechai allegedly aspired.
Arens pointedly made laudatory remarks about both generals in announcing his ban on statements to the media.
“The IDF has a tradition of learning lessons without compromise. Gen Mordechai is a party to that norm, which is of so much importance to the army,” Arens said.
He added that Mordechai has long been one of the IDF’s finest officers, “especially in his current post,” in which he bears the brunt of handling the intifada.
After considering the findings of a high-level panel that investigated the infiltration, Shomron reportedly summoned Mordechai to his office Friday and told him a “black mark” had been entered into his personal record.
The disciplinary action seemed called for because the fatal incident occurred well after recommendations were issued to improve defenses along the Jordanian border and apparently ignored by the responsible officers.
Nevertheless, Mordechai appealed to Arens. When he learned the reprimand was given with the defense minister’s knowledge and consent, he warned the chief of staff not to make it public.
“If you hold a news conference, I will hold one of my own,” he is said to have threatened.
Without going into specifics of the case, IDF officers agreed the affair should not have been allowed to become public.
Reserves Sgt. Pinhas Levy, in charge of a lookout post in the Jordan Valley, was killed by an infiltrator on Nov. 13. He died less than a week after a clash with infiltrators from Jordan resulted in another soldier’s death.
Because the border with Jordan had been relatively quiet, it was manned largely by reservists who are generally older than other IDF personnel. The border troops have been beefed up with regular troops since the killings.