The outgoing chief of staff, Moshe Ya'alon, will go down in history as one of the best chiefs of staff the Israel Defense Forces has ever had. Ya'alon is the chief of staff who shouldered the heaviest prolonged burden of any of Israel's wars since the 1948 War of Independence. Chief of staff Haim Bar-Lev had to conduct the War of Attrition in the early 1970s, but that was a war against regular armies, fought along the borders. The combat lines in the conflict waged by Ya'alon, as well as by his predecessor, Shaul Mofaz, were on the civilian home front, against Palestinian suicide bombers. In this war, Israel's civilian population suffered more losses than in any previous war, with the exception of the War of Independence. The goal was to impose fear and to cause the collapse of Israeli society.
Anyone who compares Israel's situation a few years ago, when people shut themselves up in their homes for fear of terror attacks and the economy was on the verge of collapse, to the situation today will conclude that Israel's military achievements and its steadfastness in this war were impressive. The terrorist organizations are now in retreat and on the defensive. On the Palestinian side, there is now a leader who believes that terror does not serve his public. Even in Hamas, for the first time there is talk about the possibility of a political solution.
Whether the politicians will know how to take proper advantage of this is another question. There have been debates in the top political-military echelon, and Ya'alon's recommendations were not always accepted. He supported greater openness during the period when Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) was the Palestinian prime minister. He opposed the attack on the Muqata, which was finally stopped due to American intervention. He suggested trying negotiations on the Syrian track, but Prime Minister Ariel Sharon rejected this idea. Ya'alon also opposed Sharon's proposal for the indiscriminate use of artillery fire in the Gaza Strip, and on this, he succeeded in influencing the prime minister.
Ya'alon was not opposed to the disengagement plan, but to the way in which it was carried out. He claimed that with proper negotiations, it would have been possible to receive something in return for this step. He was angry that his term as chief of staff was ended before the plan was implemented, but it may turn out that he was actually lucky in this case.
The military achievements in the war against terror can be measured in additional ways, and not only in comparison to the situation in Iraq. For example, the direct cost of fighting decreased from NIS 1.8 billion in 2002 to about NIS 1 billion in 2004. In the West Bank, there are almost no tanks in operation. The fighting has been done mainly by the regular army. About 45 percent of the reserve combat battalions were not called up in 2004, and those that were served mainly to replace regular units.
The standard of living in the IDF declined during the period of the war, due to significant cutbacks. Experts know how daring the IDF was in removing hundreds of tanks from operation. Advanced technology played an important role in this war, and Ya'alon insisted on establishing the teleprocessing division. That enabled the IDF to achieve what other armies have difficulty in achieving in the war against terror: a significant shortening of the circuit between obtaining intelligence and preventing an act of terror. It is no wonder that foreign representatives, including Americans, come to the IDF and the Shin Bet security service to hear about innovations in the war against terror.
Judging by his farewell speeches, it is evident that Ya'alon has lately been devoting a lot of his time to reading the memoirs of David Ben-Gurion, and to reading poetry. The fact that his mother is a Holocaust survivor sharpens his sense that Israel is responsible for the continued existence of the Jewish people. In his estimate, Israel and the Jewish people will be facing different threats in the future. He too is afraid of the combination of negative demography and terror. He is not worried about the Iranian nuclear bomb in itself; but the fact that it is in the hands of an extremist regime that supports terror, undermines the stability of the region and threatens Israel.