Israel’s policy of “summary executions”

The following articles are from Jewish Voice for Peace News. A summary execution is one that dispenses with any preliminary hearings or trial, the dead include women, children or whoever gets in the way. (It would be called “murder” if you or I did it). Israel it appears can do what it likes. I suppose that it is because we as Christians were bought up to believe that the people of the Book held the moral highground. The reality is somewhat different:
The three pieces below report on some of the still continuing ramifications of Israel’s policy of what is known in human rights law as ‘summary executions’, the execution of suspects without trial or due process. Though Israel has been secretly performing summary executions for decades, the term ‘targeted assassinations’ was introduced in the early 2000s to (barely) whitewash the practice, when it was openly declared a systematic state policy.
One instance of summary execution by Israel which received extensive attention and coverage was the killing, in Gaza, of Salah Shehadeh of Hamas. As Haaretz journalist Gideon Levy reiterates in his opinion piece, Shehadeh’s assassination – carried out when a fighter jet dropped a one ton bomb on an apartment building – was an assassination of fifteen people including several children.
Human rights, peace and justice organizations, led in the Shehadeh case by the longtime refusers’ group, “Yesh Gvul” (see the petition).
This cumulative, unrelenting action is making a mark on Israeli consciousness. It has repeatedly forced high ranking Israeli officers and officials to confront the fact that their actions are or may be classified by some authorities as war crimes and that they are accordingly suspected war criminals. Several such figures have had to deal with serious threats of litigation against them, as demonstrated for instance in the item below by Haaretz reporter Barak Ravid.
Another, complementary, change of consciousness, driven by the policy of assassinations, is outlined by ex-pilot Yiftah Spector in his interview with Neri Livneh, in Haaretz weekend magazine. Spector, one of the air force pilots who declared his refusal to follow such orders, describes his background and part of the process he experienced up to and following his declaration. Spector’s interview was published along with a new book he has written on these topics.
No anti-militarist, Spector still balks at the term ‘refuser’, but says that “the whole country, myself included, ‘slid’ into war crimes by going along with illegal acts that have been going on for years.”
Both these developments represent a process of significant change in perceptions of, and attitudes towards, the military in Israel. The erosion of its former impunity is visible and ongoing. While public resistance to summary executions is still voiced by a minority, awareness of their criminality is considerably broader and looks like it is here to stay.
Rela Mazali

w w w . h a a r e t z . c o m
Last update – 09:57 09/12/2007
London’s burning for Dichter
By Gideon Levy
Avi Dichter will not be going to London. The Israeli dream of taking in year-end sales, the new production of Othello or the sights of Oxford Street vanished before the public security minister’s very eyes. The Foreign Ministry advised Dichter not to participate in a conference there, because he could be arrested for involvement in the assassination of Hamas leader Salah Shehadeh, when he was Shin Bet security service head. The one-ton bomb used to target Shehadeh in 2002 left 15 people dead.
The day after the horrible assassination, in late July 2002, I visited the homes that were destroyed in the Al-Darj neighborhood in the Gaza Strip. The Israel Defense Forces tried at the time to claim they were “huts,” to explain why it was unaware that people lived there. But they were apartment buildings housing dozens of families. The person who dropped a one-ton bomb on them in the dark of night knew it would kill many innocent people.
Among the ruins, I met Mohammed Matar, a Palestinian laborer who had worked in Israel for 30 years, lying in the rubble of his home, his arm and eye bandaged. In the “targeted killing” planned by Dichter’s Shin Bet, Matar lost his daughter, his daughter-in-law and four toddler grandchildren. The pictures of the horror from the Gazan neighborhood have haunted me ever since. Someone, I thought, must pay for this. Could it be that no one is to blame or responsible for such an act?
Shehadeh’s assassination became a seminal event for Israel’s critics the world over. It was not different from many other liquidation operations the Shin Bet had planned for the IDF. In July 2006, for example, Israel assassinated nearly all of the Abu Salmiyeh family – Dr. Nabil Abu Salmiyeh, a lecturer in mathematics, his wife and seven of their children – because wanted man Mohammed Def was visiting their home at the time. In the past seven years, 368 Palestinians were killed in liquidation operations of which Dichter was the founding father.
However, the dimensions of the bomb dropped on Shehadeh and the scope of killing it sowed turned it into an icon of the struggle against Israel’s brutal methods of warfare. A damages lawsuit was submitted in a New York district court against Dichter on behalf of the families of those who were killed. Major General (Res.) Doron Almog was forced to remain on a plane when he arrived in Britain in September 2005 and Brigadier General Aviv Kokhavi, a former commander of the Gaza Division, canceled his plan to study in England.
These people and others were marked as war crimes suspects. Unfortunately, this occurred only overseas. Here, they remain ministers and aristocrats, their career and public status untainted, their foreheads unbranded by the mark of Cain. For years, the High Court of Justice deferred discussing petitions against the liquidations, until it finally gave its stamp of approval in December 2006. Another year passed before the state prosecution informed the High Court that it did not oppose forming an investigative committee to study the Shehadeh assassination, five years after the fact – a scandalous delay. In this state of affairs, those who were horrified by these operations could only hope legal authorities abroad would take action to fix what our authorities have chosen to ignore.
Yes, some in Israel believe that dropping a one-ton bomb on a residential neighborhood merits a criminal investigation. They are Israeli patriots no less than those who believe everything is permissible for us in the war against terror. They are not the ones who besmirch Israel’s name – Israel’s actions are responsible for this; these people seek to put an end to Israel’s actions. They would prefer judicial proceedings be held in Israel, but our legal system is blocked before them. Therefore, their eyes are directed abroad.
The Foreign Ministry already has begun to act against the complaints overseas in various channels. It is a shame that this is Israel’s only response. It would have been better to clarify here, among ourselves, the responsibility of these people for such grave actions as the bombing of Shehadeh’s neighborhood. Meanwhile those who believe that the liquidations have brought us to the verge of a moral abyss must look toward London. Thanks to legal authorities there, people like Dichter are finally feeling “a slight bump on the wing.”
w w w . h a a r e t z . c o m
Last update – 02:17 06/12/2007
Dichter nixes U.K. trip; fears arrest for ‘war crimes’
By Barak Ravid
Public Security Minister Avi Dichter canceled a trip to Britain over concerns he would be arrested due to his involvement in the decision to assassinate the head of Hamas’ military wing in July 2002.
Fifteen people were killed in the bombing of Salah Shehade’s house in Gaza, among them his wife and three children, when Dichter was head of the Shin Bet security service. He is the first minister to have to deal with a possible arrest.
Dichter was invited to take part in a conference by a British research institute on “the day after” Annapolis. He was supposed to give an address on the diplomatic process.
Dichter contacted the Foreign Ministry and sought an opinion on the matter, among other reasons because of previous cases in which complaints were filed in Britain and arrest warrants were issued on suspicion of war crimes by senior officers who served during the second intifada.
The Foreign Ministry wrote Dichter that it did not recommend he visit Britain because of a high probability that an extreme leftist organization there would file a complaint, which might lead to an arrest warrant. The ministry also wrote that because Dichter was not an official guest of the British government, he did not have immunity from arrest.
Dichter’s bureau said in response that the minister does not intend to go to Britain on any type of official or unofficial visit until the matter of the arrest warrant is resolved.
Dichter was already charged in a civil suit in the United States in 2005 for his part in the decision to assassinate Shehade. But in this U.S., this is not a cause for arrest.
British law, however, states that a private individual can file a complaint against another person for offenses such as war crimes. According to the law, such a complaint might lead to the court issuing an arrest warrant, or a summons to criminal investigation or clarification of the complaint by the police, or even the opening of criminal proceedings.
Dichter is the first minister to face this problem, which has mainly affected senior officers in the Israel Defense Forces. Transport Minister Shaul Mofaz, formerly chief of staff, encountered a similar problem when he traveled to Britain in 2002 before becoming defense minister. Other officers in a similar predicament included former chief of staff Moshe Ya’alon and former GOC Southern Command Doron Almog.
In September 2005, Almog flew to London and found that a British police officer was waiting in the terminal with an arrest warrant. Almog remained on the plane and returned to Israel to avoid an embarrassing incident.
Israel has brought up the subject over the past few weeks with the British government. Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni demanded in separate meetings with British Foreign Secretary David Miliband that the British government work seriously to change the law that harms former IDF officers. Miliband said his government was working on the matter but did not promise anything.
After the incident in which Almog was almost arrested, a joint foreign ministry-justice ministry team worked to hire a major law firm in London to represent Israeli officers if they were arrested.
Senior officials met with a number of the most prominent London firms, some of which offered to provide the service pro bono. But none of the firms were hired, and the idea was set aside.
Web reference: Haaretz
Last update – 10:24 08/12/2007

Spreading his wings
By Neri Livneh / Photo by Yanai Yehiel
The first time Yiftah Spector saw an Israeli fighter pilot who had been killed was when he was 19. “He peeked at me from between the weeds,” he recalls. “I picked him up very carefully.” A terrible feeling of nausea gripped him.
Forty-four years later, in September 2003, Spector was a brigadier general in the reserves and one of the Israel Air Force’s most renowned pilots, having downed 15 enemy planes and participated in the IAF’s most spectacular operations – from the destruction of the airfields in Egypt and Syria in the first three hours of the 1967 Six-Day War, to the bombing of the nuclear reactor in Iraq in 1981. During his military career he was the commander of two squadrons and two bases, including the huge Tel Nof facility, and served as IAF chief operations officer.
Two-thirds of his peers in the pilots’ course of 1958 fell in battle, and dozens more of his subordinates and friends were killed. All of them are eternally enshrined in Spector’s memory. But he did not experience the feeling of nausea again until that day in 2003 when a Channel 1 reporter asked: “Brigadier General Spector, are you a ‘refusenik’?”
Though he did not initially grasp its full significance, the question itself was enough to make him queasy. He asked the reporter to repeat it. “At the time I was not proficient enough … I was not effective enough at responding, I hadn’t yet completely organized things in my head. I admit that what bothered me most then was not the moral aspect of the IAF, but its combat level. I asked myself why it was necessary to kill 15 children in order to liquidate one terrorist.”
And what about the moral angle?
Spector: “With regard to the moral aspect, I thought at first that there had been a mistake – that maybe the pilots and their commanders didn’t know there were civilians there, even though it’s not so logical to expect that in a densely populated area like Gaza, Shehadeh, of all people, would be in civilian-free surroundings,” Spector notes, referring to the July 2002 operation in which the IAF bombed the apartment building in which Salah Shehadeh, the head of the Hamas military wing in Gaza, resided with his family.
“I told everyone who asked me that a mistake had been made which called for an apology, that mistakes happen in war and innocent people are killed, and that I knew from the IAF that one learns from mistakes and that they have to be rectified. But then I opened the paper and read the interview with Dan Halutz [then the commander of the IAF] and realized that the mistake was mine. When he replied to the question of what he feels when he drops a one-ton bomb on a densely populated neighborhood in Gaza by saying that he felt only a light tremor on the wing, and it passes, and that he sleeps well at night afterward – I understood that this was not a mistake, but moral deterioration. That illegal and immoral operations were being carried out deliberately.”
Spector was the most senior officer who signed the “letter of the pilots,” which was made public on September 24, 2003, and stated: “We, for whom the IDF and the air force are an integral part of our being; who were brought up to love Israel and to contribute to the Zionist ideal, cannot take part in the operations in the center of populated civilian areas; and [we] refuse to endanger innocent Palestinian civilians … The continued occupation is critically harming the country’s security.”
Twenty-nine pilots signed the letter, and even before the end of the interview with Spector on Channel 1 about it, a furor erupted, resulting in the pilots being ousted from the IAF. The signatories were branded enemies of the force, and all of Spector’s mailboxes – physical, electronic, voice – and even his fax were jammed with abusive messages, echoed by newspaper articles in the same vein.
Spector was accused of undermining the IAF’s esprit de corps. One of his comrades suggested that he commit suicide, another that he be executed, and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) examined the possibility of terminating his pension arrangement. He was depicted as an evader and a traitor. But nothing, he now says, broke his heart like the question put to him by his daughter, Noa, then 31: “So, are you a refusenik, Dad? Is that what you taught us?” To this day he denies that he acted the way a conscientious objector might. “It is not a case of objecting,” he explains, “but of refusing.” That is, not a sweeping objection to, or a call for evasion of, army service, for example, but a refusal to carry out specific operations, which can be seen as immoral.
Were you surprised by the reaction of your friends after you signed the letter?
“Yes. I never imagined how hurt they would be by what I did. The main argument against me was that I was accusing the air force of committing war crimes and declaring that they are war criminals. But I was not.”
Were you yourself a war criminal?
“No. I was not, and I think most of us were not. I think the air force and the IDF and the whole country, myself included, ‘slid’ into war crimes by going along with illegal acts that have been going on for years; and the fact that I did not say so from the first day of the occupation is because I am not as wise as [the late Prof.] Yeshayahu Leibowitz. What can I do?”
Late maturation
Now, four years later, Spector is publishing a full and detailed reply to the question of how someone like him could have signed the pilots’ letter, and also why his signature is the only possible outcome of his education concerning the value of conscience and of “purity of arms” (use of weapons only for a mission, and not against noncombatants): old-style Zionism and concern for Israel’s security. The reply comes in the form of a book entitled “Ram vebarur” (“Loud and Clear,” Yedioth Ahronoth Books; in Hebrew), in which Spector tells his story and the story of the IAF.
This is Spector’s second book. The first, published in 1985, described seven days and nights in the life of a fighter squadron at the southern front in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. That book, for which he received the Yitzhak Sadeh Prize for excellence in military literature, was already somewhat critical of the behavior of the high command in the war, but such comments were slashed ruthlessly by the military censors.
He first wrote “Loud and Clear” in English. “A friend of mine, Sam Gorwin, an American poet whom I became friends with when he was a volunteer on [Kibbutz] Givat Brenner, told me that it was high time I sat down and wrote, because I had a story to tell. This was after I felt the need to go public in the wake of the ‘refusal’ episode. I wrote the book in English, and it was very preliminary in character. Afterward I sat down and for more than a year rewrote it in Hebrew, and it came out completely different.”
What did you feel as you were writing?
“It took me back 20 years. I left the air force for good in 1984, and suddenly I found myself going back to my period of service and before. It was sometimes emotionally difficult. In fact, I wasn’t able to do this kind of personally revealing writing, as in the previous book, until I underwent a process of maturing. The older I get, the more sentimental I get, because I think I matured late. I experienced very few emotional events in my life. I almost never cried. No one ever hit me. I never lost a child, thank God. I was not taken prisoner. I have had a very fortunate life, so my emotional maturation came very late.”
Fortunate? You lost your father at the age of one and were passed from one foster family to another.
“You can turn everything into good or bad. I never considered myself unfortunate. ‘An orphan is not disabled,’ as my mother used to say. Our relations were very extreme. I was an only child, with all the burden that imposes on the mother and the child, along with her inability to forgive and her strictness. The result was that I separated myself from her early on. From the moment I developed a mind of my own, I no longer saw her as my mother. The fact that I was a foster child in many families also contributed to the feeling of being an outsider.”
Could it be that it took you years to achieve emotional maturity because you spent most of your life in a macho environment?
“The IAF is definitely a macho environment. But a senior official in some international concern also functions in a macho environment, and the only difference from the IAF is that the concern does not entail risk of life. So in that sense, macho has nothing to do with gender.”
“Loud and clear” is a term used in radio communication in the army, but that is not the only reason it is the book’s title. Explaining the title requires a digression about Ran Pecker, a pilot universally admired in the IAF and Spector’s superior officer in a senior command course “during one of the most beautiful periods of my life.”
Spector met Pecker in May 1967, before Pecker’s extraordinary accomplishment as commander of the 119th Squadron (Mirages) in the Six-Day War. Already then, he writes, “Pecker was a legend in the air force and the IDF, as a fighter pilot and particularly as a team leader … His commanding officers showed their high regard for him openly; his subordinates revered him … He was bursting with captivating physical warmth. In every place and in every situation, all eyes were drawn to him … this rare human phenomenon of unconditional leadership …”
Against this background, Spector was profoundly confused when he heard a rumor to the effect that a few days after the war Pecker, on his own, killed a Jordanian POW who had confessed to being involved in the murder of an Israeli pilot who was shot down. “I was stunned. Ran was a role model for me,” Spector writes.
That same day, during the debriefing of the war that took place at Hatzor airbase – “which was not really a debriefing, but a joyful string of heroic success stories” – Spector, in everyone’s presence, asked about the rumors that were circulating concerning “someone who did something, I don’t know, exactly,” and also suggested that the matter be investigated.
The hall fell silent, and suddenly Spector realized that everyone knew. The commander of the air force at the time, Motti Hod, suggested to Spector that he not be taken in by unsubstantiated tales. Later that evening, Pecker asked him to step outside. He stared at Spector with “piercing, hawk-like eyes” and snapped: “So you heard something. So you start smearing people. What are you whining about to everyone … Is that how buddies behave?” Pecker ended by saying: “With me you are done for and this is your end in the air force and maybe the country, too – I will see to it.”
Spector, who says he still does not know the truth about the incident of the Jordanian POW, thanks Pecker in the book’s acknowledgments. “I sent Ran the book to read and told him that I was not asking for his approval, but that if he had comments he was invited to write them. Ran read the manuscript and replied: Write exactly what you think and what you feel. A real man.”
In contrast to the Pecker story, and to shed light on the book’s title, Spector tells about battalion commander (now in the reserves) Pinhas Weinstein, also from Givat Brenner. In the 1956 Sinai War, Weinstein received an order to kill POWs. “Sir, you can kiss my ass,” Weinstein replied over the communications network. After the war, when he was summoned for a clarification concerning whether he would be charged with refusing an order and insolence toward a commander in the presence of soldiers, he said: “There are things that have to be responded to loud and clear, so every soldier will hear.”
But obstacles arose on Spector’s own way to making things heard: A “ministerial committee” took months to authorize his book’s publication. The committee, to which the military censors referred the book, ostensibly consists of the prime minister and the ministers of defense, justice and foreign affairs.
“After four months in the committee, the book was returned to me with a series of totally foolish deletions. For example, the book mentioned a certain bomb, 500,000 of which were dropped in the Second Lebanon War, and 50,000 of which did not explode at the time, but have been exploding ever since, amputating legs and arms, mainly of children. The committee deleted the name of the bomb. I was also prohibited from citing numbers of units that appear all over the world, including on the official air force Web site. I had to give the units fictitious names.”
Treason or courage
Spector, now 67, has penetrating blue eyes. He arrived for the interview in a battered Isuzu van, dressed in jeans and a sweatshirt. He looks like a farmer. Seemingly, nothing in his background prepared him for the role of refusing, perceived by part of the public as an act of treason and by others as a display of moral courage.
Spector’s father, Zvi Toledano Spector, was the commander of the ill-fated 1941 naval operation in which 23 members of the Haganah (forerunner of the IDF) set out, in coordination with the British army, to sabotage the oil refineries in Tripoli, Lebanon, which were supplying fuel to the German Luftwaffe and to Vichy France. Contact with the commandos was lost almost immediately – their motorboat was probably sunk by the French – and Spector lost his father before he was a year old.
Spector’s mother, Shosh, decided not to tell him what had happened – only that Dad “went on a long trip.” His foster parents (on a number of kibbutzim) supported this version, and he believed it until about the age of five, when his father’s older brother, Yisrael, who thought the boy knew the truth, told him his father drowned at sea.
Little Yiftah was quick to tell his mother this news, so she would realize her mistake. But she reacted furiously. “The ’23’ disappeared,” she screamed. “Who says they are dead? They are still looking for them.” Thus, he writes, he became a half-orphan, “one of those who look for their father their whole life.”
In his quest to understand who his father was, he met with Yitzhak Sadeh, the commander of the Haganah’s Palmah commando unit, and with Ruth Dayan, the first wife of Moshe Dayan and a classmate of Spector’s father (he still maintains warm relations with her). His father had been named Zvi Spector at birth, but after a quarrel with his father, took his mother’s maiden name, Toledano, and reverted to Spector only after he was married, at his wife’s request.
Zvi Spector was an admired commander and a derring-do figure. Sadeh wrote of him that he “had a streak of cruelty, an un-Jewish streak. He squeezed the trigger without hesitation. But justice was always his guiding light.”
“For me, Zvi Toledano Spector took on the dimensions of someone holy,” writes his son, who could never stop imagining him lying dead in the depths of the sea. Seven years after his death, his young brother, Shaike, was killed in battle in the Negev.
In practice, the pilots’ letter was not the first time Spector riled others by speaking his mind. The Ran Pecker episode is one example. Another occurred in the aftermath of the Yom Kippur War. Spector was then the commander (and creator) of the 107th Squadron of Phantoms, which carried out 760 combat missions in the war without loss of life. He himself flew 42 sorties in 19 days. But despite the unit’s excellent record, Spector views it, as he does the entire war, as a “crushing defeat and a total failure.”
The management of air force headquarters, he says, was utterly chaotic. “True, Benny Peled was a new IAF commander, but that does not absolve him of responsibility, because previously he had been deputy commander. The chaos that erupted in the war was reflected in the way Benny Peled and all the levels below him lost their heads, and I heard the result over the phone. We were given contradictory and illogical orders. I felt that my commanders were not focused and I lost confidence in them. They sounded hysterical and kept repeating the same mistakes. I had the feeling that I and the squadron were on our own.”
He set down the lessons of the war in an inquiry report that his squadron published for internal consumption. But Peled ordered all copies of the report collected and destroyed. When Spector asked for an explanation, Peled told him it was a pity to waste time learning the lessons of the war, and better to prepare for the next one. Unconvinced, Spector stated in the report: “In this war, air force headquarters was the true enemy.”
Did you think the Yom Kippur War was a debacle in real time, too?
“No, not really. When you are in the middle of things, it’s difficult to look at them from a bird’s eye perspective. When you spend all your time thinking about the next war, you don’t invest time contemplating things. I think I may have grasped it intuitively, but ‘formatting’ it took time. In any event, my conclusion was that we failed in every war since 1967. It is only the continuing existence of a myth that is blinding us to understanding that we have an army and an air force that are finding it difficult to adapt to the niche for which they were created. The world has changed since the air force was established. There was a period, in the 1960s, when we achieved a perfect balance between the very small and efficient army and the air force, to suit our needs. Since then the world has changed, but the IAF and the army have not changed accordingly. New methods of war have been invented, such as terrorism, but our military systems, which since 1967 have become very expensive!
very fat and very technological, are not adapting themselves to the changes.”
When did you realize that Israel and the IDF were in a mode of deterioration?
“It was gradual. The act of refusal led me to sit down and think and write in order to pull my thoughts together, so maybe from this point of view, the letter was a quantum leap of understanding for me.”
What did you understand?
“That without a change in IDF policy, I could see no reason why it would not go on deteriorating. Of course, the IDF’s recent chiefs, including Halutz, helped that deterioration a great deal, but in the end the problem starts with a policy that it uses as a tool, which makes the army a body of people who shoot in all directions …
“I think that Herzl-style Zionism is over. The tasks of establishing the Jewish state, with all the symbols, independence, power and an anthem, have been achieved and are by now self-evident. Now the turn has come for Ahad Ha’am [pen name of Asher Ginsberg, 1856-1927], who wanted the state to be good and to be a light unto the nations. We have to think how we go about making a good country, but instead we are continuing to concern ourselves with the Herzlian elements, such as ‘a dunam here and a dunam there,’ the place of the Arabs of Israel – the unimportant things.”
What should we do?
“First, we have to end this conflict, which is already ripe for a solution, and demarcate the only possible borders, namely those of 1967. And at the same time, we have to be full partners in the transformation of the Palestinian state into the most successful Arab state in the world, so we will have a good neighbor. And I agree very much with my beloved, in quotation marks, Ehud Olmert, whom I see as the head of the thieves’ government – but even thieves sometimes get it right – when he says that if we do not make peace now, we can say good-bye to Israel.”
‘A thinking person’
While Spector says that when he left the army, he told his wife that he “had never encountered a right-winger” during his service, that’s not quite true. He met at least one, in the person of the former chief of staff Rafael Eitan, who in fact persuaded him to return to the IAF after he had already left. The first time Spector wanted to leave was after completing his mandatory stint in the career army, after the pilots’ course. His dream was to become a physician, but this irked the commander of the IAF at the time, Ezer Weizman, who persuaded him to stay on.
Two years after the Yom Kippur War, he was posted to air force headquarters in order to engage in instruction and apply the lessons of the war. He was then sent to study at the University of California at Los Angeles, and at RAND, the California think tank. “I discovered that war has other dimensions, beyond downing planes or diving into the depths,” he says. What he discovered was the economic dimension. He was flabbergasted when he became aware of the proportion of the budget Israel allocates to security. “I started to think and reached the conclusion that Israel was in a frenzy of increasing the defense budget and that the IAF was obsessed with quantity and technology. I thought that instead of increasing the number of planes, we should consider an alternative: RPVs [pilotless aircraft] and helicopters.”
When he returned to Israel he was appointed commander of the IAF operations division. He decided to try to change the force, based on his new ideas of using RPVs instead of fighter aircraft, but was ahead of his time. “I was also very impatient, I admit. I didn’t understand that it was impossible to change everything in a day. It was urgent for me to do everything immediately, but I felt no movement in the direction of my ideas. I felt that I was bearing good tidings but, like Jesus – if you’ll pardon the hyperbole because, after all, no one crucified me, but in the end I crucified myself – no one wanted to hear them. It was a process of more than a year, in which I was constantly disappointed in myself for not being able to achieve what I wanted. Until then I had been successful in everything I wanted, and suddenly, after I became operations officer, nothing I wanted was happening. After a year and a half in that post I tendered my resignation and left the IDF.”
Spector and his wife, Ali (Aliza), were then the parents of three children (now four: Itai, 43, a farmer in the Arava desert; Omri, 38, a computer engineer; Noa, 35, a fashion designer; and Ela, 27, a student at the Bezalel art and design school). They took the children and went to work on Kibbutz Tzuba, near Jerusalem – he picking oranges, she in the kitchen. They were happy, and IAF friends came on weekends to sit on the lawn and reminisce.
A year later, Rafael Eitan (“Raful”) showed up in the orchard. “If there is one person who I am sorry will not be able to read the book, it is Raful, who, despite looking like a block of wood, was a reader and a writer,” Spector says. The two first met in the mid-1960s, when Spector, then a young lieutenant, was sent to direct air support for an exercise of the Paratroops. With his thick, toughened farmer’s hand, Raful, the brigade commander, shook his hand at the end. In 1979, when Eitan came to the kibbutz orchard, he was chief of staff. “You are coming back to the IAF,” he informed Spector.
The IAF commander, David Ivry, offered Spector the task of integrating F-16 aircraft in the force and also commanding the Ramat David airbase, “by virtue of the 107th Squadron” (Spector’s successful team of Phantoms). Spector was persuaded. “The price was shutting up, leaving the circle of those who influence the agenda of the IAF.” But the temptation – establishing the squadron of the prestigious new plane – was overwhelming. “But in another two or three years, I am leaving,” he told Ivry, noting that he had no chance of becoming IAF commander. Five years later, after also serving as commander of Tel Nof, he left the IDF, without ever being mentioned as a candidate for head of the air force.
Why did you not have any chance of becoming IAF commander?
“In principle, the way it should work is that you become commander of the IAF because you have the ability to be a leader of aerial forces. Ran Pecker, for example, was such a person, with an exceptional ability to lead people into battle. You also have to be a strategist in your mode of thinking. You have to know how to build up the IAF. Benny Peled, for example, knew how to do that, but he was not a strategist. And, of course, you have to be a politician.”
Who were the best IAF commanders?
“I can tell you who influenced the air force, and how. For example, [Eitan] Ben-Eliahu was a tremendous pilot, in my opinion better than me, and he was also an excellent commander, but nevertheless he had no influence on the development of the IAF … Ezer Weizman, who was an expert at fudging things, had a major influence on the spirit and morale of the IAF. Motti Hod and David Ivry excelled in effective tactical management, Benny (Peled) influenced organization and technology, and Dan Halutz contributed to the loss of the military and moral way. True, he was not solely responsible, but he made a great contribution.”
Despite his harsh view of Peled’s performance in the Yom Kippur War, Spector later maintained warm relations with him. “Even though he was a person of angles and complexities, he was also very warm and very smart, and wisdom always wins me over. He could shout at you like a wild man, and then go and be nice. To see and analyze things through his prism was wonderful, and I say this without connection to the fact that in the Yom Kippur War he was at a loss and almost inflicted disaster on us.”
You note a few times in the book that you are not a politician. What do you mean by that?
“The answer consists of several elements, each of which is sufficient to turn me into a bad politician. First, I am a thinking person and not a reactive one, by which I mean that the world is created from within me and not as an internal projection of external shadows. I am also more connected to the people under me and to my tasks than to the people above me. I prefer clarity to niceness, and that hurts people, because to blur things or not go all the way makes human contact a lot easier, but the end result of the blurring is not good.”
How much of a matter of principle is the political thing?
“There are extreme examples. Take Dan Halutz, who is an extreme example of a person who got where he did solely through politics. He is the embodiment of lack of professionalism: Shoot first and then draw the bull’s eye around the bullet. He is not the only one who used bombs generously and without a defined goal – that is characteristic of the IDF leadership in recent years – but he is the embodiment of that approach. We saw the result in the Second Lebanon War: a chief of staff with no tactics, no strategy no leadership. Halutz is the extreme example of a person who once had basic skills, but specialized exclusively in the political and PR, to the neglect of all the other elements.”
Does that have anything to do with the arrogance of pilots?
“I don’t think he is especially arrogant. I met him once in my life, not in a personal setting. He is charming, multitalented, definitely intelligent and smart. The outstanding element in his personality is not so much the arrogance as the ass-licking. In the past decade of his service in the army, the man specialized in using his tongue, both mechanically and also verbally … and as a result he got where he got when he was no longer a soldier, and his lack of abilities in terms of soldiering came at our expense.”

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