The Americans have recently requested and received Israeli assistance in dealing with suicide bombers.

The efficient system of cooperation between the two countries, which was established here before the war on Iraq, made things easier. All General Charles Simpson’s people had to do was walk a few steps from the joint headquarters in the Kirya, say, to the office of Deputy Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, who coordinates the work of the IDF on the subject of suicide bombers, and get all the relevant material from there.

The Prime Minister’s Bureau followed developments with satisfaction. No one there rejoices over the deaths of American and British soldiers in Iraq, but there is quite a bit of the kind of satisfaction that is felt by someone when they are suddenly found to be in the right, over the glow of a huge explosion. “It will be interesting to see how the British react, for example,” a senior state official said yesterday, “the next time we have a mishap of mistaken fire on a suspicious vehicle at a roadblock.”

There is a difference in principle between the plague of suicide bombers that has raged in Israel over the past few years and the phenomenon that coalition forces are encountering in Iraq. Here, most suicide bombers go for civilian targets, in the heart of a civilian population. In Iraq, they blow themselves up at military troops. The profile of the suicide bomber put together here is not relevant to them, but the way to spot a suicide attacker on his way to attack, how to deal with roadblocks, overpowering a suicide bomber or isolating him and all the relevant operations connected with this phenomenon that the IDF and GSS compiled in the past few years can certainly be helpful to what is happening now in Iraq.

Sixteen planning teams worked hard to prepare a plan of operations for the war in Iraq for the Pentagon. You can do that when you’re an empire. At the end of the process, the top officials sat down to pick out the best plans and create one winner out of all of them. After that, it turned out that they had to fix it while on the move. So, for example, the Americans had originally intended to use massive air strikes and make do with 50,000 soldiers who would head for Baghdad and gather the spoils. In consultations Pentagon officials held, it turned out that the plan was too optimistic.

Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, freshly demobilized from the IDF at the time, stayed at the Washington Institute and was summoned for a few consultations. Mofaz too, like other experts, recommended a great increase in the number of soldiers (from 50,000 to a quarter million), to combine air strikes with broad ground operations, to attack Baghdad from many directions and be careful not to wind up in a death trap inside the city. In the end, the Americans are doing precisely that.

They were warned by no few local experts not to rely too much on air strikes. The Iraqi regime is much less sensitive to such attacks, the long-suffering population is used to them, the pilots will attack a lot of desert, raise a great deal of dust but not get much closer to the goal. The key is on the ground, in the Republican Guard camps and the regime’s bunkers.

It took the Americans a few days, but they got the message and got used to the situation. The attempt to wipe out the regime in one fell swoop on the first night did not succeed (or so it seems). The “shock and awe” attack was reduced in scope and focused, the ground forces were reinforced and the ground operation began, combined with an air operation. The improvement in the weather and the Fourth Division’s anticipated arrival (they were not permitted to attack from Turkey) will decide things within the next few days. [… ]

The struggle over “the day after” is at its height. Jerusalem and Washington (two foci), London, New York and Ramallah are the poles of this war. The American administration is torn between two approaches: a minority coalition of Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, backed up by George Tenet, that will push for the road map, as Tony Blair would prefer. Opposite them are the vice president’s hawks, the Zionists in the Pentagon, Congressional delegates, Jewish money and the president, who have already buried the shabby road map and will not care if they push Blair and Powell too into the same mass grave.

The only person who gained anything this week in this whole affair, meanwhile, was Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom. When Binyamin Netanyahu met with Amir Peretz, Shalom sat in Condoleezza Rice’s office and looked at the opening inner door, from which the president himself leaped out. With cowboy boots and a broad smile, Bush Jr. made Condi get up from her chair, sat down in it and had a half-hour conversation with Shalom, during which Bush was the main interlocutor. Outside turned the rotors of the presidential helicopter, which was to take him to an appearance in front of soldiers in Philadelphia, but Bush (who, during the conversation, had promised Israel’s security “in any event”) had been briefed and knew that an investment in Shalom would pay off.

The new foreign minister was perceived in Washington as a “big guy” who brought quite a bit of political strength to his position, along with a strong desire to acquire international standing. The belief that Shalom could be courted by Washington as it tries to slip the “road map” somehow into Ariel Sharon’s sensitive stomach is getting stronger quickly.

A few weeks ago, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon asked his former bureau chief, Uri Shani, to come back home (to the bureau). Shani, happy and lighthearted in his new job, refused. What does he need that trouble now for? In any other given situation, the goings-on in the Prime Minister’s Bureau would make fat headlines. Two central facts allow those close to the situation to control the level of the conflict’s flame: the war in Iraq on one side and the continued successful developments, despite everything, on the other.

On a third side, Sharon’s bureau is a medical miracle. Never was so little done by so few with such surprising success rates. True, nothing really works, no one is really bright, but the business is alive, functioning and sometimes even kicking. That has to do with Sharon’s personality, to his fairly organized management, to his easygoing nature, his relative calm and the strange tendency of the prime minister and most of his assistants not to panic over anything. Not when they shouldn’t, and also not when they should.

The bureau’s most serious mistake, as strange as it sounds, is the prime minister’s military secretary, Maj. Gen. Yoav Gallant. He is a much-praised officer, the leader of a commando unit, a good man, in the reasonable sense of the term. [… ] On the other hand, we can’t ignore what’s happening.

The prime minister’s military secretary is an essential component of authority, especially critical in a country like Israel. The military secretary is in on all the secrets and serves as personal military headquarters for one person, the prime minister. The post requires a complicated set of characteristics. Gallant does not have most of them. The way things are going right now, his performance as the unit connecting the prime minister and the army is lacking.

The IDF is furious with him. The bureau regards him with ridicule. The chief of staff summoned him three months ago and warned him of possible dismissal. That’s not pleasant. An investigation of the facts and witnesses shows a problematic situation. It is not clear who is correct here, but what is clear is that the prime minister has no full military secretary. Gallant has gotten himself a collection of bitter enemies from almost everywhere. They claim he earned them honestly. He claims it’s a matter of settling personal accounts. [… ]

The way things are right now, the prime minister’s real military secretary is Dov Weissglass. If it didn’t come from us, it would be funny. Weisglass is many things, but a military secretary is not one of them. True, on a good day a joke of his in Yiddish could set the mukataa walls tumbling down, but not every brigade commander in the IDF controls the makeup of the Nazareth District Court. The connection between the prime minister and the military exists today via alternate and usually direct channels. This is not healthy. [… ]

This piece ran on April 4, 2003 in Maariv