Blow to pride of Jewish state’s army

OCCUPIED JERUSALEM — Four weeks into an offensive that has failed to stop Hizbollah rocket attacks, the Israeli military has changed a top commander of its Lebanon war effort in a blow to the pride of the Jewish state’s army.

Israeli military affairs commentators predicted on Wednesday the dramatic move would hurt morale in the army’s highest ranks and on the frontline.

In a surprise step on Tuesday, the army’s chief of staff appointed Major-General Moshe Kaplinsky “to coordinate operations in Lebanon” and serve as his “representative” in the headquarters of Northern Command chief Major-General Udi Adam.

Adam has been the top commander of the Lebanon front.

The naming of a fellow general to oversee the campaign was described in a headline in Israel’s Maariv daily as “an effective dismissal”.

On Adam’s watch, Hizbollah seized two Israeli soldiers and killed eight other troops in a cross-border raid on July 12, an operation that triggered Israeli air strikes and ground assaults in Lebanon that have failed to subdue the Iranian-backed group.

“The impression was that he just put out fires instead of taking the initiative,” commentator Ron Ben-Yishai wrote in the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper.

Ze’ev Schiff, a veteran military affairs analyst, said in the Haaretz daily: “Clearly, the change in the command leadership is not good for Adam personally, but it also sends a negative signal to the [army] and the public at large.” Some military analysts noted Adam’s background as a tank officer and questioned whether he had been the right choice to spearhead a campaign that has relied largely on air power, artillery and infantry.

Kaplinsky, the deputy chief-of-staff and a former commander in the occupied West Bank, has a strong background in the infantry.

1973 war

Kaplinsky’s appointment reminded many Israelis of the difficult early days of the 1973 Middle East war, when a retired chief of staff was brought in over the head of the southern front to oversee operations against advancing Egyptian forces.

Amid public criticism in Israel of the army’s failure to crush Hizbollah, Adam apparently made some enemies at home by suggesting in a recent newspaper interview that Israeli leaders had balked at committing ground troops to the campaign.

“The decision when to deploy the ground forces was made by the political echelon. The ministers, at the beginning, did not want to put the troops in,” he said in the interview in Yedioth Ahronoth.

So far, at least 10,000 troops have been fighting just inside Lebanon, meeting fierce resistance from Hizbollah. More than 50 Israeli soldiers have been killed in combat.

Any deeper push into Lebanon will likely be choreographed by Kaplinsky, who once led the crack Golani infantry brigade and served extensively along the northern border and in Lebanon before Israel’s withdrawal in 2000.

Adam will stay on at Northern Command headquarters.

“During a war, the chief of a military command … does not leave the front even if the chief-of-staff thinks someone should be appointed over his head,” Ori Orr, a retired general who served as Northern Command chief, told Israel Radio.

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