TEL AVIV (Jul. 12)
Outgoing Defense Minister Moshe Arens, in his last Israel Radio interview before leaving his post, sharply criticized lack of discipline in the Israel Defense Force and questioned the conduct of the military’s top officers.
“I think the army has to get a grip on itself,” he said, “from the top to the bottom, from the chief of staff down to the private.”
Arens, in the weekend interview, addressed the incidents of a fatal crash of a helicopter returning from a successful operation in Lebanon, and the death from friendly fire of an undercover soldier in the West Bank.
Official investigations into the two incidents were completed last week.
The inquiry into the downing July 1 of a Bell 212 helicopter found that the pilot had flown under the authorized elevation and had even “buzzed” naval vessels.
The investigation into the July 8 death of a soldier in the Duvdevan (Cherry) unit, in which a number of soldiers disguised as Arabs had split up into smaller groups to seek out and arrest known terrorists, found that the unit commander had ordered one section to change its place of ambush without notifying the other sections.
“In too many cases, we see that people deviated from regulations and from orders,” Arens said.
The IDF spokesman said there would be no response to Arens’ comments.
But in unofficial responses, military sources said that while the IDF is to be blamed for its inappropriate abuse of power, it is ultimately and constitutionally the defense minister’s responsibility.
HARSH CRITICISM FOR THE LIKUD
The outgoing defense minister admitted that he had had differences with the army chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Ehud Barak, particularly with Barak’s controversial decision to disclose the existence and activities of the underground Duvdevan and Shimshon (Samson) units in the administered territories.
“I was abroad and I wasn’t asked to give my permission for this,” he said. “From this point of view, it wasn’t all right.”
Arens did not restrict his criticism to the chief of staff. “There were too many incidents in which senior officers talked to the media about issues on which the military shouldn’t make any declarations,” he said.
He appeared to refer to former Israeli air force Commander Avihu Bin-Nun, who on several occasions faulted his civilian superiors and expressed his own opinions on strategic matters.
Arens, who had similar sharp words for his own Likud party when he resigned from the Cabinet and Knesset following Likud’s defeat in the June 23 elections, has unleashed a near torrent of unsparing words of criticism, including denouncing some of Likud’s key positions on peace and security and refusal to consider relinquishing the Gaza Strip.
He has also said Israel has to reach an agreement with the Palestinians and “cannot ignore their problem.”
Last week, Arens rejected a request from Jewish activists to convert two army-run settlements in the West Bank into civilian colonies.