Sunday, May 1, 2016

21 - Excerpts of Remarks by Defense Minister Pinhas Lavon to the Senior IDF Echelon, July 27, 1954

When I review the period of the past year (June 1953 to June 1954), it turns out that during it our fighting forces executed close to 40 initiated operations, that is three or more per month. These operations were quite varied. They included confiscation, mining, demolition of buildings, destruction of vehicles, hitting villages (sometimes very forcefully), sniping, clashes with the [Jordanian Arab] Legion, shelling, maritime operations, patrolling and more. [- - -] We have witnessed a significant change of the methods involved. Initially the operations were carried out with no distinction, with an emphasis on hitting ordinary men, women and children, but along the way a fundamental change occurred and the military character of the operations became increasingly evident. Planning was aimed at hitting armed forces and inasmuch as possible efforts were made to avoid hitting ordinary civilians, and certainly women and children. [- - -] From July 1953 onwards a significant rise in military competence was evident, and a fundamental change for the better [- - -] was seen in operation after operation. If these operations are made public in the future, they will certainly be added to the glorious and important pages of Israel’s military history.
     However, as against this situation there are also shadows and we must point them out. It seems to me that there was not even one operation in which lapses in discipline did not occur. [- - -] I am speaking about deficient discipline caused intentionally, in the planning of an operation not according to directives. An army is an army as long as it is disciplined. I see here a very serious defect. [- - -] There must be more emphasis on strictness in the precise execution of operational directives. [- - -] We must inculcate people with an awareness that this is not a matter of “private armies.” Men receive directives from the CoS and must execute them exactly in every iota without adding items from their own thinking, or sometimes even changing a directive, to the point where a chasm, sometime small, sometimes big, is created between it and the end result. [- - -]
     Within the public there are many forces – not only youth groups – which strongly oppose what we can call sharp, and gradually becoming sharper, retaliation methods. Within the Cabinet, if I am to be very cautious, the situation is balanced. The international situation is indeed very disturbing. The matter is far from being simple. From an international view point we are walking a tight-rope, on one end of which there is the rising power of the Arabs, and on the other our cursed dependence on the “great powers” with whom we are struggling and [on whom we have] a total dependence – for our food, our arms, our existence.
     I permit myself to say that if, in such circumstances, we have reached a situation in which military actions were approved, when all the operations (Azzun, Nahhalin, Kissufim, the shooting on the Kinneret) were executed not only according to the recommendation of the CoS or the Minister of Defense, if inside the public at large and inside the Cabinet, [even] given such an international situation, we could execute such intensive military operations, which included everything except sheer war, then it seems to me that we have reached the maximum effectiveness in the use of the military arm in the democratic sense, that is, within the framework of democracy, if we [i.e. IDF or the military establishment] do not want to act, unrestrained, according to our own will and compel the Cabinet and the state to face faits accomplis. If we are loyal to the democratic base of our life, which means that the Army functions according to the will of the state, then we have the right to say, with a certain amount of satisfaction, that we have reached the maximum use of military power.
     I will say something which might be misunderstood, but I ask you to understand it correctly. From the view point of  active, initiated military activity we have acted in this year more than in all the years of [the Yishuv’s] struggle [during the British mandate period], more even than what was done in the [first] five or six years of the state. Indeed, we must strongly strive to see to it that this activity will not be not curtailed and that the possibility of serious activation of the military arm be approved by the Cabinet.
     It is no secret that there are disagreements. It is natural. There are disagreements even inside the General Staff; there are disagreements inside the Cabinet on a range of subjects. It would be strange if it were otherwise. The question is: Are the results of the clashes between the different opinions more or less in accordance with our will or vice versa. In the present situation, I take it for granted that, if the CoS were Prime Minister  and Yosef Avidar [Chief Operations Officer in the General Staff] were Foreign Minister, it might well be that in quite a few instances they would have changed the present course of policy. [- - -] We have already seen in several states that when army people become dominant they talk in a different language than before.
     However, we can sum up the last year with much satisfaction as to concrete conclusions. The consensus tilted more towards a more activist position, more militant, and we should safeguard this asset. For it is only with the existence of this asset that we can advance. The talk which is heard and there – I hope it is still not widespread – about “defeatists” and the need for fighting those who do not permit us to act, and “if we were permitted [to act] the situation would different” must be uprooted for the benefit of the army and the state. There are indeed disagreements, but these should be clarified in a correct and healthy way. We must be careful not to introduce this poison, which is very dangerous, because today it is acting against X and tomorrow it would be acting against Y, and next it would start acting inside the Army itself. This poison must be eradicated.
     It is necessary to inculcate into the Army an attitude of respect to the institution of the state. I know that at present these are isolated cases and I am happy that they are isolated. But we are a small state, very small, and when things appear somewhere they can spread very rapidly. Therefore it is better that we take care. We must first initiate an internal struggle against such phenomena inasmuch as they are known, and not cover them up and ignore them.

SOURCE: ISA, Lavon Files.