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The long awaited Winograd report on the Second Lebanon War (see text of press conference on Winograd findings) has finally arrived. The suspense, if there was any, has ended, not with a bang, but a whimper. The public part of the report noted strategic failures at the military and political levels, but the report is so vaguely worded that everyone can make any claim they wish.

We should put the failure of the Second Lebanon war in context and understand its significance. Failures of individual operations are nothing new and plague every army. IDF has never been immune from such failures, from the Israel War of Independence and throughout each campaign, successful or otherwise.The political decisions made after every war have always likewise not been uniformly optimal, and the decision to go to war has sometimes been questionable. However, never before has Israel seen such a combination of failures at every level, inflated expectations, incompetent military strategy, failure to protect civilians, low morale, failure of national purpose, decisions that disregarded the value of the lives of soldiers and diplomatic and public relations bungling. The Israel government tried to match the most powerful army in the Middle East against an enemy whose main weapon is his mouth, and the mouth won.

The report itself is a continuation of the failures of the Lebanon war and the political reaction to the report is a further continuation of those failures. The report was obviously tailored to serve political interests and protect those in power, at least in the public version. The politicians are each interpreting the report in terms of their own interests. Hassan Nasrallah of the Hezbollah joined forces with Likud and other Israeli opposition leaders in claiming that the report indicates Olmert is a failure and has lost all credibility. Kadima party members insist that the report exonerates Ehud Olmert.

Except for Nasrallah, who can be counted on to say exactly what he needs to say, the comments generally reveal less than the optimal amount of intelligence and acumen. Perhaps the most accurate, intelligent and indisputable comment was made by Limor Livnat, a Likud (opposition) MK, "The report has two parts. It has a first part, and a second part," she said on Israeli TV Channel 1. That is the sort of powerful intellectual insight one can expect from a former Minister of Education. Nobody can argue with that. The other comments tended to be stupider and less accurate.

Everything connected with the report, the war, the failures during the years preceding the war and the media coverage of the war as well, all reflect deplorable phenomena in Israeli society:

1- To take the short term view and not the long term view.

2- To act in one's own personal or party interest rather than the interest of the state, society and the ostensible ideals of our society.

3- To shift the blame to anyone else but the speaker.

4- To entertain delusions and optimistic assessments of reality.

Who is guilty and who is not guilty? Who does not share guilt for the failures of the war?

* Ehud Barak who withdrew from Lebanon without making adequate security arrangements.

* Benjamin Netanyahu who cut defense expenditures to "save money." IDF reserve units, the backbone of our army, were deprived of training time. Expenditures on "luxuries" like Merkava Mark IV tanks that could have withstood anti-tank rockets were cut, and projects to develop defenses against rocket attacks were also scuttled.

* The entrenchment of Hezbollah took place over a long period, during which IDF and the various governments were mostly unaware and unconcerned.

* Ehud Olmert who for narrow political reasons allowed the choice of defense minister who could not command the respect of the military and didn't have the knowledge to do his job,

* Amir Peretz, who accepted the job of defense minister for which he was unqualified.

* The IDF that did not ensure that it had the adequate wherewithal to go to war.

* The IDF that presented and tried to execute a plan of overcoming Hezbollah by air power alone, which could not possibly work based on all passed experience.

* The Israeli public and media, that has carried respect for human life and fine moral values to an absurd outer limit, where the lives of dozens of people are sacrificed to return two captive soldiers.

* Olmert and Peretz who made a questionable decision to go to war without checking the readiness of the army, and then failed to call out the reserves.

* Government and army figures who exacerbated a bad situation by making intemperate victory pronouncements at every opportunity.

* The media, which acted consistently to destroy morale and spread panic in order to increase ratings, while the other side enjoyed completely control of the media. A media broadcast also led to the death of reservists at Kfar Giladi.

* Government and army leaders who completely failed to evaluate the obvious signs that the war was going badly and to take corrective action until nearly a month had gone by. Missiles kept falling on Israel, Nasrallah kept broadcasting his taunts, and yet IDF officers and government officials continued to announce that a quick victory was in the offing, and refused to respond to reality.

* IDF and Foreign Ministry spokespersons who were unready and unwilling to counter a poisonous barrage of propaganda released by Hezbollah and its media allies in a well coordinated and masterly effort. As the enemy released one fabrication after another, IDF and MFA personnel were unavailable for comment, did not make available to press or on the Web materials which they had, which could easily have refuted bogus claims of bombed ambulances and the like. It was left to bloggers in the United States to discover some of the worst fakery of the Hezbollah.

* Local government personnel who fled their posts in the north. None of them were disciplined for their action.

* Civil defense personnel who failed to protect the communities of the north.

* The Foreign Ministry, which had to settle for a disadvantageous UN resolution because it had no strategy from the start and no way to implement it.

* The IDF and Defense Ministry staff, whose actions in Gaza show that the lessons of the Second Lebanon war have not been learned.

* The Winograd commission that whitewashed the performance of the army and the government.

The Winograd commission has this to say about UN Security Council Resolution 1701:

24. We should also note that the war had significant diplomatic achievements. SC resolution 1701, and the fact it was adopted unanimously, were an achievement for Israel. This conclusion stands even if it turns out that only a part of the stipulations of the resolution were implemented or will be implemented, and even if it could have been foreseen that some of them would not be implemented. This conclusion also does not depend on the intentions or goals of the powers that supported the resolution.

This assessment might have been excusable at the time the resolution was passed. At present it is clear that the resolution is used by Hezbollah as a shield which protects it and allows it to acquire arms unhindered from over the Syrian border, and at the same time pursue its real goal, which is to paralyze Lebanese politics and take over Lebanon. Hezbollah was not disarmed, contrary to the stipulations of this and other resolutions. The Lebanese army is deployed in southern Lebanon, along with UNIFIL, but both serve at the pleasure of Hassan Nassrallah and the Hezbollah, and are careful to do their bidding and respect their requests. Where Hezbollah bars the way, neither the Lebanese army nor UNIFIL enter. Vast stores of rockets have been accumulated north of the Litani river in a prodigious and proliferating network of underground bunkers. Yet the Winograd report holds this situation up as an "accomplishment."

The major failures in this war were the decision to go to war, the failure to call out reserves immediately at the start of the war, and the failure to react when it was obvious to everyone in Israel and the world that the war was not going well.

The reserves should have been done even if the reserves were not used, in order to ensure that the forces were ready and equipped. There is little doubt that ground forces should have been used from the first, but that might be a matter of opinion. Everyone in Israel was waiting to be called, and wondering why they were not called. The fact that the Golan heights were unprotected from a possible Syrian advance was discovered only by accident. The public press conference of Judge Winograd had this to say about these matters:

13...after the initial decision had been made, Israel had only two main options, each with its coherent internal logic, and its set of costs and disadvantages. The first was a short, painful, strong and unexpected blow on Hizbullah, primarily through standoff fire-power. The second option was to bring about a significant change of the reality in the South of Lebanon with a large ground operation, including a temporary occupation of the South of Lebanon and 'cleaning' it of Hezbollah military infrastructure.

14. The choice between these options was within the exclusive political discretion of the government; however, the way the original decision to go to war had been made; the fact Israel went to war before it decided which option to select, and without an exit strategy – all these constituted serious failures, which affected the whole war. Responsibility for these failures lay, as we had stressed in the Interim Report, on both the political and the military echelons.

15. After the initial decision to use military force, and to the very end of the war, this period of 'equivocation' continued, with both the political and the military echelon not deciding between the two options: amplifying the military achievement by a broad military ground offensive, or abstaining from such a move and seeking to end the war quickly. This 'equivocation' did hurt Israel. Despite awareness of this fact, long weeks passed without a serious discussion of these options, and without a decision – one way or the other – between them.

16. In addition to avoiding a decision about the trajectory of the military action, there was a very long delay in the deployment necessary for an extensive ground offensive, which was another factor limiting Israel's freedom of action and political flexibility: Till the first week of August, Israel did not prepare the military capacity to start a massive ground operation.

In fact, the above, as it was presented to the public at the time was untrue. Israel had only the option of removing Hezbollah, and indeed that was the only option available. The history of Hezbollah, Fatah and Hamas, shows that "s painful, strong and unexpected blow"s (such as the one inflicted on Fatah in Karameh, or the one inflicted on Fatah in the first Lebanon war) only strengthen such organizations, because the fact that they survived any major Israeli military action is considered a victory. There were no "achievements" in the initial stage of the war. Destroying Beirut airport and making everyone in the world sore at Israel is not an "achievement." Therefore, the first part of the Winograd argument has no basis. Point number 16 is true, but we did not need the Winograd committee to spend all that time and money in order to reach a conclusion that could be obvious to a child of 12 by the end of the war.

Winograd further tells us:

38. These truths do not depend on one's partisan or political views. Israel must - politically and morally - seek peace with its neighbors and make necessary compromises. At the same time, seeking peace or managing the conflict must come from a position of social, political and military strength, and through the ability and willingness to fight for the state, its values and the security of its population even in the absence of peace.

39. These truths have profound and far-reaching implications for many dimensions of life in Israel and the ways its challenges are managed. Beyond examining the way the Lebanon War was planned and conducted; beyond the examination of flaws in decision-making and performance that had been revealed in it - important as they may be; these are the central questions that the Lebanon war has raised. These are issues that lie at the very essence of our existence here as a Jewish and democratic state. These are the questions we need to concentrate on.

These points are true, but they are truisms.

The Winograd report proves that you don't always get what you pay for after all. The Israeli taxpayer paid for a serious investigation, but we got bumf instead.

Typically, the mammoth failures indicated by the failures of the Second Lebanon war have been reduced to an empty and worthless partisan debate. This may be the most ominous feature of the Second Lebanon war syndrome.

There is a false belief, encouraged by both sides of the political spectrum, that resignation of the Prime Minister must engender elections. Therefore, the opposition is insisting on resignation, while coalition members are insisting that Olmert must stay in office.

There is in fact, no necessary or logical connection. According to the current Israeli election laws, the resignation of the Prime Minister leads to dissolution of the government, but the President can then appoint someone else to form a government. Israelis did not choose Olmert in personal elections, they chose a policy. There is no constitutional or other reason why Avi Dichter or Shaul Mofaz could not become head of the Kadima party and form a government in place of Olmert.

Nor would anything be gained in any way by putting Benjamin Netanyahu or a different face in office. In his own tenure as Prime Minister, and later as finance minister, Netanyahu demonstrated that he is just as clueless as everyone else about what the priorities of Israeli society ought to be, what the nature of the external threats are, and what must be done to make Israeli society strong enough to meet them. Tzipi Livni, who was also part of the decision making process of the Second Lebanon war and was responsible in part for the miserable UN resolution, is not a promising candidate either.

Resignations will not of themselves solve the problems revealed by the war. The failures are failures of systems and of society. If everyone who was responsible for all the different failures were to resign, Israel would lose most of its political and military leadership. However, Israel has a tradition, that when a major failure occurs - or even a minor but symbolic one - the Prime Minister responsible for that failure resigns. David Ben Gurion resigned when he was not exonerated for his suspected role in the Lavon affair. Golda Meir resigned after the failure of the Yom Kippur war, and Yitzhak Rabin resigned because of a trivial technical violation - his wife had a forbidden $3,000 bank account in the United States. This last seems laughable in view of the major failures of the recent war. The fact that the resignation of Olmert after the war was not automatic is an indication of the real problems in public morality, priorities and values that caused the failure.

Hassan Nassrallah has said that Israel is all cobwebs, and that Israelis will not fight for their Jewish state. He is wrong. "Israelis" in general demonstrated exceptional bravery in Lebanon, and some units demonstrated exceptional ingenuity and daring, performing feats that Americans and other armies only carry out in action movies. But the efforts were often wasted because of poor intelligence, as in the otherwise perfectly scripted raid on Baalbek, which put soldiers at risk to capture the wrong Nasrallah because of flawed intelligence. The bravery of individual soldiers was shown time and again, not least that of the Druze unit that was the first to enter Lebanon and the last to leave.

Fighting terrorists has not proven to be an easy task for any army. The American effort in Iraq is not a great success, to say the least. In the West Bank and Gaza, despite the active involvement of Iran and the Hezbollah, and the obvious dedication and fanaticism of the Palestinian terrorists, Israel scored signal successes. After the initial carnage of the treacherous so-called second Intifadah, most of the terror hits were intercepted, the Karine A arms shipment and others were intercepted, and leaders of terrorist groups were arrested or killed. The Palestinian terror groups only appear "abandoned" suicide bombings. They tried repeatedly, but their people were caught.

But we are facing an enemy that is infinitely adaptive, an enemy who makes their own rules and twists the media into interpreting international law in their own way. We are facing an enemy whose strong points are that they have no regard for human life at all, neither that of the enemy, nor that of their own soldiers and civilians, and who is well aware of our own vulnerability to issues of human lives and captives and is quite ready to exploit it, aided by a sympathetic press. We are facing an enemy that knows exactly what they they want, and that has convinced its people to be ready to sacrifice everything to get it. The leaders of Iran, as well as those of the Hezbollah, want to dominate the Middle East. It should be understood that the war against Israel is only a small part of their plan. The paralysis of the Lebanese government was the real victory of the Hezbollah and their masters.

Above all, it should be understood that Nasrallah and the 4,000 or so terrorists of the Hezbollah do not stand alone. The game that Nasrallah and Hezbollah play reminds me of what used to be a favorite Brooklyn setup. A small boy meets you in the street with a tiny knife and says "Let me hold my dollar." You beat up this little boy, and immediately 20 huge toughs appear out of nowhere and the rest does not go well.

Israel should have been aware, going into the war, that they were not facing just a little terror group, that this group would be armed with sophisticated missiles like the one that nearly sank an Israeli ship, with computers that would assess battle situations in real time, with powerful weapons, and with hi-tech communication devices and fortifications that were nearly impregnable. Israel should have understood that Hezbollah would be resupplied by its Syrian and Iranian masters, and that Syria would feed communications intelligence to the Hezbollah in real time from their Russian operated listening post. Any plan to fight Hezbollah should have taken into account that in fighting Hezbollah we are fighting Syria and Iran. Against these forces, a pointless air attack and a disjointed assault by a few brigades were bound to fail. Indeed, any policy that doesn't take into account the real strength of Hezbollah and its sources is bound to fail. The same logic applies when dealing with the Hamas in Gaza.

We have a wonderful people and a society with great potential. We deserve a leadership worthy of our people.

Ami Isseroff


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Replies: 4 Comments

Oh, and thanks for the reply.

Micha, Monday, February 4th


"Hizbolla is not a country and it did not enjoy the support of the Arab World. Everyone except Iran and Syria would have been overjoyed if Israel had gotten rid of the Hezbollah - especially if it could be done without harming so many Lebanese."

Nevertheless, Israel could not get rid of the Hizbolla even if it did a really good job, unless it went all the way to Beirut and Baal Beck and remained their long enough. This would not have been a realistic goal. What Israel could have done is defeated Hizbolla sufficiently and visibly in the battlefield in Southern Lebanon so that after the war its position would have weakened enough for its political opponents to diminish it.

I think the realistic and desireable way for the war to have gone would have been if Israel would have started with an air attack that would have caused many Lebanese refugees to escape north. During this time the reservs would have been called in full force -- thus increasing the alarm among arabs that Israel is going big. The next step would have been a massive invasion into Lebanon, and the defeat of Hizbolla fighters in multiple battlefields in a short period of time while the army gradualy took over parts of Lebanon. This would have made Hizbolla look bad as far as defending Lebanon is concerned, because they should have failed to prevent the IDF from entering Lebanon and moving forward, destroying their forces and their cities (mostly emptied of civilians), while revealing to the world the Hizbolla bunkers and dead or captured fighters (as opposed to the civilians propped by the Hizbolla). As far as the Lebanese were concerneed they should have beleaved that the Israeli army will continue all the way to Beirut unstopped, and that settlements will be built in the towns of the south while the refugees remain refugees for decades. At this stage the US and Europe should have forced Israel to agree to a ceasefire after a relatively short period of time of actual fighting -- one in which it would have been clear which side was the desperate one and which was the victorous one, while at the same time saving Israel from actually having to continue fighting. This weakening of the Hizbolla would not have eliminated it, but it would have cost it the legitimiacy to continue fighting from Lebanon, while making it possible for its opponents to challenge its position in Lebanon. It would also have re-established the prestige of the IDF as a quik fighting army rather than an lumbering occupying one, while the shortness of the fighting would have spared both the Israeli and the Lebanese civilians the long suffering. Even if the katyushas would have continued till the last day, Hizbolla could not have claimed it a victrory because the focus would have been on the Israeli army going deeper into arab land, defeating their fighters and conquering Lebanon. The Israel haters abroad would not have had enough time to build a capaign, while the western media would have identified more with the winning side (like in the early Iraqi campaign -- if the IDF used its propaganda wing wisely). The Lebanese army would have entered a southern Lebanon where the Hizbolla was humiliated.

But the IDF did everything backwards, setting unrealistic goals while not committing the necessary forces and tacics even to achieve the goals of removing the Hizbolla forces close to the border.

" think it would be worth fighting the war to get rid of Hezbollah but as it turned out we are certainly not better off and Hezbollah gained much more prestige and managed to entrench itself better in Lebanon. "

If the only scenario you would have considered satisfactory would have been getting rid of Hizbolla than Israel should not have fought at all. But Israel cannot do that. Israel has to fight wars with limited goals in order to ensure the secure daily life of Israelis.

I don't think Hizbolla is more entrenched. Let's remember that before the Hizbolla's army was visibly stationed near the Israeli border and was the only force in Southern Lebanon. At the same time it sat in the Lebanese government and had license to stage it's own raids against Israel at will, and gain prestige doing so. In a way it was like the privateers of old, licensed by the government to wage private wars. This sitution changed, but not sufficiently, while the harm to Israel's prestige is quite harmful. Worst of all, it seems to al as if Israel doesn't have a credible alternative strategy to occupation. Which means the public will not again support ending Israeli occupation anywhere, not realising that the long term low intensity fighting against delegitimized occupiers is exactly the kind of war arabs prefer to fight.

Micha, Sunday, February 3rd


Hizbolla is not a country and it did not enjoy the support of the Arab World. Everyone except Iran and Syria would have been overjoyed if Israel had gotten rid of the Hezbollah - especially if it could be done without harming so many Lebanese.

I think it would be worth fighting the war to get rid of Hezbollah but as it turned out we are certainly not better off and Hezbollah gained much more prestige and managed to entrench itself better in Lebanon.

Shalom,
Ami

Ami Isseroff, Sunday, February 3rd


Ami I agree with most of what you say. But I think you are wrong about a crucial point.

"Israel had only the option of removing Hezbollah, and indeed that was the only option available."

If that were true than it would have been impossible for Israel to win this war or any other war for that matter. In no war in the history of Israel were we able to eliminate our enemy completely or prevent it from rearming. That's not a realistic goal. In order to achieve that in Lebanon we would have had to conquer all of Lebanon and remain there until we destroyed every shred of the Hizballa.

The only realistic goals a war against the Hizballa could have achieved were: to force is to accept ceasefire on terms that were more favorable to Israel (i.e. that Hizballa would no longer wage sporadic attacks against Israel from Lebanon); to make the threat of another war with Israel credible enough so that the ceasefire would hold for as long as possible; to weaken hizballa's position in Lebanon in relation to moderate forces by reducing it's credibility as the defender of Lebanon; to cause material harm to the fighting forces of the Hizballa, so that the inevitable rearmament would be costly and hopefully lengthy; strengthen confidence in Israel and abroad in the ability of Israel to function.

Some of these goals were partially achieved: there's a ceasefire; hizballa does not seem to want to fight Israel again for now; the moderates and the hizballa are no longer convenient allies and the hizballa has comparably less control in Southern Lebanon. But the abysmal way the war has conducted has harmed Israel's credibility with its own people, with its enemies and with its allies. And although the Hizballa lost the legitimacy to use southern lebanon as a base for raids against Israel (for now), it's prestige -- and as a result the prestige of similar groups -- has increased in Lebanon and beyond. Also, while a break occurred between the moderates and the Hizballa, which is good, the moderates remained too weak (and even weaker) while the Hizballa gained strength.

Of course we could have not fought this war, but that would have had even worse results. The Hizballa would have gained more prestige and more legitimacy to attack Israel from Lebanon in concert with the Hamas. The moderates would have weakened. While Israeli credibility would have been greatly harmed.

Micha, Sunday, February 3rd


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