Army and State

Border ahead! Halt? – Commanders Setting Boundaries and Transcending Them

​​The Mandel Platform event “Border Ahead! Halt? – Commanders Setting Boundaries and Transcending Them,” held on June 8, was led by participants in the Mandel IDF Educational Leadership Program. It dealt with the connections between leadership, education, and boundaries, and sought to examine how this issue finds expression in different aspects of the IDF. Participants included MK Ofer Shelach (Yesh Atid), Head of the IDF Planning Division Brig. Gen. Amir Abulafia, IDF Chief Education OfficerBrig. Gen. Avner Paz-Tzuk, and Prof. Moshe Halbertal, professor of Jewish thought at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a member of faculty at the Mandel Leadership Institute.

Brig. Gen. Amir Abulafia spoke about the boundary between the freedom to innovate and the need for discipline – an issue that concerns educators everywhere, and in the IDF in particular. “Where should we draw the line between our desire to encourage people to initiate and to be active, and our need for them to be disciplined and to adhere to a rigid framework?” he asked. “This is about managing tension. The question is, what do we want to happen when the order is given? When the order is given, I prefer to manage a herd of galloping horses, and to have to rein in those who get too far ahead.”

MK Ofer Shelach spoke about the boundary between the army and society, and in particular the difficulty for citizens to be included in the military debate. “The decisions that need to be made [about the IDF] are entirely civilian questions: What do we want from our armed forces? Who will serve in them? For how long? These are all social issues.” According to Shelach: “We need to acknowledge the fact that our army is born of a society that has a difficulty with boundaries; it talks about the need to do things in an orderly fashion, but in practice, when it comes to its most major undertakings it doesn’t function like that, and the IDF is one of these.”

The divide between the moral soldier and the war criminal was the subject of Prof. Moshe Halbertal’s remarks. He spoke of lines that must not be crossed, which separate the two, and described three principles that should guide the actions of every soldier: The principle of necessity - is the force that is being deployed being used solely in service of the goals and execution of the mission?The principle of distinction - is the force that is being deployed directed against elements on the other side who represent a threat? And the principle of responsibility - have all possible efforts been made to limit collateral damage that may be unwittingly caused as a result of military action?

In his introductory remarks Dr. Eli Gottlieb, director of the Mandel Leadership Institute and vice-president of the Mandel Foundation–Israel, noted the distinction made by the scholar of leadership Bernard Bass between the “transformational leader” and the “transactional leader:” “The transactional leader preserves the status quo, and conducts relationships with his followers on a ‘give and take’ basis. The transformational leader, on the other hand, stretches the boundaries of the possible, and draws his followers in his wake to places they didn’t know it was possible to reach,” said Dr. Gottlieb. “It’s not easy to work with transformational leaders, but only with them is it possible to scale new summits.”

Dr. Chava Shane, director of the program, talked about the issue of boundaries in the context of education and leadership: “Is a person’s place fixed? And if so, who sets it? The person? Society? The commander? The job definition? The field of operations?”

Following the panel, the audience broke into four parallel discussion groups. These were moderated by program participants, who presented fruits of their labor – documents they had prepared over the course of several weeks preceding the event, on four different subjects: the boundary between the army and society; the boundary between expressing personal opinions and taking the official line; the limits of the use of technology in the IDF; and the limits of the use of force.

The Mandel IDF Educational Leadership Program was founded in partnership with the IDF Education and Youth Corps in 2005, and aims to help senior IDF officers to develop their identity as educators, and to broaden their educational knowledge, conceptual approaches, and practices.​

MK Ofer Shelach: Our army is born of a socie​ty ​that has a difficulty ​​​​​​with boundaries



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