Some 200 former high-ranking IDF officers on Monday threw their weight behind Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon in his spat with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which was sparked by controversial comments made by the army’s deputy commander.
Commanders for Israel’s Security, a group composed of ex-officers ranked brigadier-general or higher, issued a statement saying criticism of the army leadership is damaging to national security and that top IDF officers have the right to give their opinions when it is relevant to military procedures.
“The ongoing attacks on the IDF upper echelon are harmful to our defense and to IDF values,” the statement said. “The damage must stop.
“There is no question as to the authority of the political leadership to determine policy and as to the obligation of the military leadership to carry it out,” it continued. “But senior officers are supposed to give voice to their views on matters of national security and on everything connected to IDF values.”
Netanyahu and Ya’alon have publicly been at odds over a speech by the defense minister in which he urged IDF officers to speak their minds and ignore “political winds.” Officers should be “courageous” not only on the battlefield, Ya’alon said at a Sunday evening gathering of the IDF’s top brass, but also in the briefing room when they believe the army or government are not taking into account the ethical ramifications of a decision.
The remarks were a veiled reference to comments made by Deputy Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Yair Golan nearly two weeks ago, on Holocaust Remembrance Day, that apparently likened “certain trends” in Israel to pre-Nazi Germany.
Golan’s speech was fiercely criticized by many, including Netanyahu, who also scolded Ya’alon shortly afterward in a phone call.
“Independent thought by IDF officers is an important part of the national security of Israel,” the former officers said in their statement Monday. “The defense minister understood well the difference between independent thought and compliance with decisions.”
Netanyahu declared the Golan affair behind him last week, but summoned Ya’alon for a Monday meeting following the defense minister’s speech the day before. Afterward, the two men issued a joint statement saying: “There is no dispute, and there won’t be any, that the military is subordinate to political authority and that officers are free to express their opinions in the relevant forums.”
Shortly after his speech, which drew harsh responses from politicians, Golan clarified that he had never intended to compare Israel to pre-war Germany.