Israel’s uncritical supporters are on the back foot this morning. The
reason is the unmentionable issue of revenge. The simple truth is that the
Israeli Defence Force felt humiliated by the Hezbollah initial raid that
resulted in the death of three soldiers and the capturing of two others.

There is no question that the raid was illegal but it was brilliantly
executed. It probably hurt the General Staff even more, judging by
comments from one of their former colleagues. Admiral Ami Ayalon, who
is now a member of the governing coalition, described the Hezbollah
operation as “professionally-run” and added “I am a military man with
the proper background and I am telling you that I would have been proud
to command such operations.”

But what hurts most is the fact that the IDF has been
unable to protect its civilian population. After all, that is the literal meaning
of the Hebrew name: the army for the defence of Israel.
So the army tried to provide some consolation. Israeli website News First Class
reported that, following yet another day of rocket attacks, the IDF spokeswoman
consoled the populace by advising them to watch Arab television stations, see
for themselves how Lebanon is being blown
apart and
take courage from that.

But that was Saturday and apparently it
wasn’t enough. On Monday a high-ranking Israeli Air Force officer caused a storm
in an off-record briefing, during which he told reporters that IDF Chief of Staff
Lieutenant-General Dan Halutz had ordered the military to destroy ten buildings
in Beirut in retaliation to every Katyusha rocket
strike on Haifa.

Of all the media it was the IDF’s own
station, Galei Tzahal, that played up the comment. Naturally it took the army a
few hours to deny it, claiming that the journalists concerned misquoted the
officer. There was a deja vu feeling about it: last year the same
station exposed the IDF high command for telling porkies over the Qassam
rocket in the ambulance affair.

Not wishing to be caught out fibbing again, the IDF has not retracted its denial and issued a second statement claiming that
the high-ranking officer did make the comments but was wrong in claiming that
Halutz had issued such a directive.

No doubt we will be told that it was all a
misunderstanding. So Crikey readers and others will have to choose. Would a
senior Air Force officer misunderstand such an order? Maybe he got the number
wrong? But more likely the order was given in a format that was unmistakable to
underlings but could still be denied in a court of law.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey