Access to Officer’s School Has Positive Result for IDF

In today’s New York Times, Steve Erlanger’s article serves as an example of the positive result of access to its commanders and soldiers for the IDF. Historically, the army has been slow and uncreative in dealing with the press, a product of bureaucracy, understaffing, and misunderstanding of the potential power of the press in Western media. When the journalist is granted access only to army spokespeople, who sound polished and rehearsed, the result is the typical article in which the Israeli spokesperson say one thing and the Palestinian spokesperson the opposite.

When a journalist, especially an unseasoned one schooled on the idea that the IDF is a brutal, colonizing force, is allowed to converse with soldiers and junior officers, he is often surprised by the ethical standards of the soldiers and the diversity of people and opinion. A Boston Globe Magazine article by a embedded reporter with a Sayeret Tzanhanim (Paratrooper reconnaissance) reserve team in Defensive Shield in 2002 talked about the soldiers’ civilian lives- schoolteachers, businessmen, and students. Some were liberal, some conservative. The article infuriated those who cannot stomach any positive coverage of the IDF.

In my experience, the IDF is still too old-fashioned, although there has been improvement. There were many instances when a reporter wanted to speak with me, which would have been beneficial for the IDF, only to have his request turned down until it went through the bureaucracy for approval. On the positive side, in my last months as an officer, two busloads of journalists came to our base, part of a tour organized by the IDF and some independent Jewish organizations. They were only allowed to speak with me and my CO, who is very bright and articulate, but they enjoyed the access to a front-line army base and a chance to see a different side of the IDF.

Erlanger writes:

Israel’s defense forces are considered among the world’s best, a people’s army that combines professionalism and informality, and serves as a melting pot for a complicated society with real enemies.

The army is portrayed a place that encourages creativity and independent thought, contrary to many peoples’ image of the military.

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.”

Still, there are doubts. Levi Harvith, 22, is a member of the Golani infantry brigade, like the current army chief of staff. Tall, fit and articulate, he has already served in Lebanon and Gaza.

“We’re in elite units,” he said. “We’re trained in flexible thinking. We want to lead by example, but we’re encouraged to solve problems in more creative ways.”

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.”

Even the national religious, often subtly compared to supporters of Hamas (‘hard-liners on both sides’) come across as reasonable and insightful.

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 importance of the IDF for multi-ethnic cooperation and respect is mentioned. This aspect of the IDF would not emerge were the reporter not allowed to interview regular soldiers and cadets.

Shahar Heimann, 20, is a combat soldier, having served in Jenin, Nablus and Ramallah. He said the cadets were conscious of Israel’s social divide and how it could affect the army.

“Every soldier here sees himself as a company leader,” he said. “We can’t change the whole society, but in a smaller way, by leading our soldiers the best we can.”

He said it was important to mix with officer candidates from “all over the army and the society — the Druse, Bedouin, Ethiopians, Russians.”

“You see all the minorities,” he said, “and you understand their problems better.”

However, the article reminds us of the fallibility and unreliability of the media, especially in the Middle East. Even Steve Erlanger, a veteran reporter, made mistakes in his article. He writes that cadets become First Lieutenants upon completing Officers School, whereas in reality the vast majority become Second Lieutenants. The caption under a photograph of cadets clearly practicing a fire-in-motion exercise at the firing range says they are rehearsing for a ceremony. And Erlanger calls the crater near the Officer’s School, Machtesh Ramon, by the name of the town overlooking the crater, Mitzpe Ramon. Three easily avoidable errors in one article by a veteran journalist in one of the world’s most respected newspapers.

5 Responses to Access to Officer’s School Has Positive Result for IDF

  1. Diane says:

    I’m glad for once to see an article by Erlanger that isn’t an anti-Israel smear. RL has fisked his work in the past with discouraging results. You’re probably right about the value of giving reporters access to rank and file IDF troops, but I think it’s also worth mentioning the likely effect of this kind of article on the enemy. A couple of thoughts.

    1. interesting to learn that the combat units are in high demand among recruits (10 applicants to 1 opening), and that the level of draft dodgers is not really as high as some reports have suggested. This will deflate any sense of triumph over the Israeli spirit (will to fight) that Hamas et. al. might be indulging. Interesting too that half of Israeli women choose to serve even though it’s very easy for them to get out of service.

    2. showing the settlers as reasonable and moral agents working within the system diffuses the enemy’s contention that these are rabid fanatics.

    3. mention of the Druse and the Bedouin in the IDF ranks reinforces the reality that not all Arabs are united in their desire for Israel’s destruction.

    4. in the lede, the detailed description of how all IDF soldiers and officers are trained to fire around the hostage (and their success at doing so) is all very bad PR for promoters of the blood libel that IDF deliberately targets children. (Nicely dovetails with the B’tselem 2007 report, which indicates IDF killings of civilians is about half what it was last year. Excellent news!)

    On the other hand, the quotes that call IDF a citizen army play into the terrorist propaganda that claims all Israeli civilians are legitimate military targets.

  2. lazar says:

    Some brief points-
    Combat units are always in high demand, especially the exclusive ones. Golani has always been desirable, because of the culture surrounding the unit, its special forces, and its long history. 10 to 1 seems very inflated to me. And not all combat units have more people requesting them than spots available- artillery and armor often have to take recruits who requested to be in the infantry.
    Not all Arabs are united in their desire to destroy Israel. But Bedouin and Druze do not consider themselves Arabs, even though most everyone else does (Bedouin certainly are, Druze are in a somewhat murky category).
    By any standard of international law, reservists out of uniform targeted by a combatant who does not wear a uniform, is not not subject to a chain of command, nor fights for an organization that is a signatory of any of the Geneva Conventions, are not legitimate military targets.

  3. fp says:

    this kind of article is so rare vs the overwhelming bombardment of demonization of israelis and jews, and the audience is so ignorant of the subject, so scared shitless of arab terror, so indoctrinated at univs with leftist nonsense and saudi funded profs, and so dependent on arab oil and increasingly owned up by arabs, that it won’t make a difference.

    just as it happened so many times in history, the world badly needs a scapegoat and the jews are there to serve the purpose.


  4. joem says:

    When I read the article, I was struck by Erlinger’s characterization of religious Jews, many of them (gasp!) “settlers”, being one of the major “challenges” faced by the Israeli army.

    .. Yet it also faces challenges, including an effort to recover from a poorly run war, a rise in the number of young people dodging military service and an increase in religious Israelis, many of them settlers, who serve.

    Oh, that’s just terrible. /sarc

    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.

    Right – because like the previous generation of mitnachlim, they are highly motivated to serve and protect their fellow citizens.

    But to Erlanger this is problematic because

    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.

  5. fp says:

    >Right – because like the previous generation of mitnachlim, they are highly motivated to serve and protect their fellow citizens.

    Not sure about that. They are probably more motivated by the sanctity of the land which god gave to the jews.

    It was the real left who was motivated to protect their country and fellow citizens. That left does no longer exist. Instead you’ve got a fake left who cares only about its own “moral purity” by blaming israel and ignoring the barbarism of the enemy.

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