Address by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert at the IDF General Staff
Photo by GPO 

I have not prepared a written speech, for the simple reason that I have come to speak from the heart to a forum which I consider to be in many ways the central and most important forum which will determine the fate of the State of Israel.

We in the Government can make decisions, and sometimes these decisions are too difficult to bear. Ultimately however, we can make those decisions because we know that behind them stands the Israel Defense Forces.  We always refer to the IDF as "the Israel Defense Forces", while in many instances, we prefer to see it as the "Israel Offense Forces". Not because we are eager to attack or fight, but once this reality is forced upon us, we must make the necessary decisions.

The Israeli character in general, and the character you have projected over the past three years in particular, is that of jumping ahead rather than holding back, of offense rather than defense, of determination to carry out the mission rather than hesitation, resistance or insecurity.  The confidence you have demonstrated and the faith you projected was the basis of strength which allowed us to make decisions which, in part, will be judged by history.  There were, however, fateful decisions, fateful in the sense that without them the national "equilibrium" may have been different than it is today.

Now, Gabi, several minor corrections. I was at the first Golani class in 1963 with a "split" basic training. The first part of the basic training was at the Ben-Ami camp. The only one here who can remember better than I is Ehud because most of you never imagined yourselves in the army when I first enlisted in ’63.  We did three months of basic training with the Golani brigade, in Bustan Hagalil, after which we were divided into battalions.  The problem I had with my hand and foot later disrupted the rest of my military service and prevented me from joining the elite unit I so eagerly wanted to join. My brother was an officer there during the Sinai War and his deputy platoon commander was Maj. Gen. (Res.) Nir Drori z"l. I hope that by next week we will inaugurate a large amphitheater in his honor in Tiberius.  He deserves that. He was a brave commander and a glorious fighter.

This is how I ended up in Battalion 13. The platoon sergeant who filled in for the officer who was absent was Shlomo Ben-Abu, later Shlomo Ben-Ami.  He was very rigid, firm and energetic.

We were the class of November, and I remember it was winter, sometime between the end of February and the beginning of March, in the Galilee. It was cold and rainy and we had to cross, and he functioned perfectly well.  More than thirty years had passed until one day we sat together, I as Mayor of Jerusalem and he as Minister of Public Security, and we kept meeting often over a period of several years, and I did not recognize him. I looked at him and said: Shlomo, were you at Golani’s Battalion 13? And he said yes, and I asked: in ’63-’64? And he said yes, so I told him: you were my platoon commander. And this is how we closed a circle.

My company commander at that time was a man later known not as a military man, but as a military adventurer, Ron Ben-Yishai, who has been writing about military affairs his entire life.  He was our company commander at Golani’s Battalion 13. The boys of Golani back then were great. There are many other stories surrounding people whom we have come across throughout the years in the security, military, industrial and public fields in the life of the State of Israel. It was a special experience for me to join an officers course as a Knesset Member. This was the first and only time a Knesset Member participated in a course which was founded on discipline and the possibility of being thrown out.  I remember that the IDF Chief of Staff was Raful, and something didn’t seem right to him. He suspected that there was some kind of trick, and so he instructed Maj. Gen. Amir Drori – who was Chief of the Training Division and in this capacity was responsible, from 1979-1980, for Training Base 1 – to summon me and find out what it was exactly that I was looking for at an officers course. He asked his deputy to summon me for a meeting.  Amir Drori’s deputy’s name was Eli Olmert.  He called me and said: listen, the Major General wants to see you. I told him I couldn’t because on Sunday at eight in the morning I had to report to the base. This was during the time we were preparing to begin the course.  I told him: ask the Major General to give me permission to arrive late at the base; otherwise I will be ousted for not arriving on time.  The commander of Training Base 1 at the time was Yaya.

Well, I got the permission and I came to see Maj. Gen. Amir Drori here at the Kirya. He asked me: why do you wish to be an officer? I told him: Defense Minister Ezer Weitzman told me that I was going to be an officer, and so I am simply following orders.

This was a particularly exciting experience because for four and a half months, I was joining soldiers in compulsory service.  The only unusual event during the entire course was when there was a vote at the Knesset and there was a possibility that the Government would fall, and so the Prime Minister called IDF Chief of Staff Raful and told him: I need "Eyud". It was Menachem Begin, and Raful called Yaya and told him: I need Olmert, dead or alive; preferably alive of course, but I need him anyway.  So they sent me to the Knesset, I arrived all dusty, in military clothes, they let me vote, I voted for the Government, returned to the boys in Nevatim and completed the course.  Later, I still had the chance to serve in Lebanon in a voluntary framework organized by Banda.  Banda, a former paratroopers officer, an amputee, organized a group of volunteers who agreed to escort convoys.  Back then we had the problem of the "Matzrer" bombings, various roadside explosives. This gave me another opportunity for a few weeks until my public duties, particularly at the Knesset and Government, no longer allowed me to continue pursuing this. I will not go into a lengthy nostalgia. I only wish to say that I have come to know the army from a very special angle.