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Winograd: Sins of Commission


The much awaited interim Winograd commission report on the Lebanon war is a disappointment, to say the least. The report takes many pages to tell us about what we already knew last August. Not surprisingly, the same percentage of Israelis want PM Olmert to resign after the release of the report as before.

Olmert, Peretz and Halutz are scape goats, following an ancient custom in this part of the world. The Winograd report is the text of the sacrificial litany that must be recited by the high priest of Moloch before the victims are cast into the Valley of Ben Hinnom.

Olmert, Peretz and Halutz are incompetent. That was evident from the second or third day of the war, and they should have been removed as soon as possible without upsetting the conduct of the war. Actually, had we Israelis not been accustomed to believing in the IDF, and in the axiom that "Someone bigger and smarter up there knows better than us," the incompetence of every facet of Israeli war leadership would have been evident from day 1.

The Winograd commission understood that it was called in to bless the fait accompli. The mess had been produced by a society and a system. The same society that allowed Olmert and Halutz and Peretz to achieve high office, the same society that acquiesced in allowing Peretz to be Minister of Defense for political reasons, had previously acquiesced in the gutting of the Israel defense industries, the cuts in the budget for buying Merkava Mark IV tanks, for training of reserves, for Israeli made (more reliable and less lethal to civilians) cluster bombs, and for anti-missile defenses. This is the same system that is indifferent to the plaints of reservists that they are taking on an unfair burden, that still exempts Yeshiva students from military service, and doesn't particularly care if others weasel out as well.

Now on the seventh day, when the smoke cleared, the same system was called upon to judge the mess it had made, and it saw the mess and it saw that it was bad. The mess was so bad that there was no way to ignore it. Winograd was a product of the system, not even a judicial commission, but a commission that Olmert had empowered to whitewash the conduct of the war. But Olmert had lost too much altitude meanwhile. Nobody is going to whitewash a leader with 3% popularity ratings. Halutz was already out of the picture, and Peretz is waiting to be thrown out by his own party. Winograd knew what they had to do, and they accordingly produced a large volume of bumph leading to the same conclusions that everyone made at the time.

The major errors of the war were evident then and I wrote about them here and here, and elsewhere, and I was hardly alone. It didn't take a great genius to see the problems.

Remember that Ari Shavit wrote this in August:

There is no mistake Ehud Olmert did not make this past month. He went to war hastily, without properly gauging the outcome. He blindly followed the military without asking the necessary questions...

In what way does that differ essentially from the major conclusions of theWinograd report? For example (from the Winograd English press release):

The Prime Minister made up his mind hastily, despite the fact that no detailed military plan was submitted to him and without asking for one. Also, his decision was made without close study of the complex features of the Lebanon front and of the military, political and diplomatic options available to Israel.

In fact, almost every major point that is in the Winograd report can probably be found in that Shavit article, or in articles that others wrote at the time. Everyone saw the same things immediately, but there was no point in writing about them until the guns were silent. And then, everyone wrote.

Major errors of the war that were visible to everyone:

  • The decision to go to war itself, without checking the status of civil defense, or readiness of the IDF, or considering the diplomatic and geopolitical repercussions. There are problems even when we win wars, but we must always take into account the possibility that we will not win.

  • Failure to try diplomacy that would test out alternatives and at least, gain time for mobilization. Confronted with the threat of war and a mobilized IDF, the Lebanese government might have done what they could not do after Israel had attacked.

  • Acting on an incorrect military doctrine. The doctrine that guerrillas can be destroyed by air power was demolished in Vietnam. Halutz apparently never read about that war. This needless bombing caused excessive civilian casualties with no effect, as it always does.

  • Acting on the false doctrine that guerrillas require vital infrastructure that can be destroyed. The point about guerrillas, as IDF should have learned by now, is that they don't have infrastructure and somehow don't need it. What they need, they harden against attacks or tenaciously rebuild. See under Ho Chi Minh Trail, Nathan Bedford Forrest etc.

  • Failure to mobilize sufficient reserves on the first day, even as a precaution and to ensure that there were battle ready troops with sufficient supplies.

  • Empty and boastful Khalam Fahdi (empty talk) about war aims and accomplishments that everyone could see was false. Israel government spokespersons in the last war sounded like Voice of the Arabs radio in 1967. Nassrallah will indeed remember the name of Amir Peretz, and laugh every time it comes to mind.

  • Failure to reassess the situation after 1-2 days when it was evident to everyone that the air war was not working.

  • Halting the attack when 12 soldiers were killed, and giving up the ground that they had died to capture.

  • Forgetting the cardinal rule of Israeli wars - that the response must be planned in advance and delivered quickly, because we cannot fight a long war.

  • Near total failure of civil defense measures, and hardly any steps taken to remedy the problem.

  • Failure of supplies - but this would have been evident and correctable if the reserves had been called up on the first day.

  • Failure of intelligence - this came out a bit after the war.

Olmert is ultimately responsible for starting the war and for the halting stop and go conduct of the war and for the poor diplomatic solution. We cannot blame it on Americans and Europeans, who were not helpful in 1967 either. When Israel goes to war, it always goes alone, more or less, and this is understood by everyone. On the contrary, in perspective, in this war, the government had better international backing for Israel than in any other. Even the Arab states were not unsympathetic at first.

Olmert should have understood that the political objectives of the government were to get the Lebanese government and people to confront the Hezbollah, force return of the fugitives, disarm Hezbollah and deploy the Lebanese army in the south. This could perhaps have been best done by ultimatum diplomacy. If that failed, then a lightning campaign with three divisions backed by tactical air power would have put the IDF in a place where the Lebanese government had to listen. Instead, a campaign of bombing non-strategic targets and a lot of civilians that started immediately, followed by an amateurish and halting ground attack, united the Lebanese government and people against Israel, "demonstrated" the military incompetence of the IDF and gave Mr. Nasrallah a free victory.

Halutz is responsible for the air strategy and for not admitting that it did not work. But Olmert, Peretz and others in the government should have understood the consequences of widespread bombing for Israel's image, as well as the fact that you cannot beat guerrillas by an air war. Everyone in Israel except the government understood this after the second day of the war it seems.

As for Peretz, he is guilty of injecting himself, for political reasons, into the most critical position in the Israeli government, with no experience and no qualifications, and Olmert is guilty of putting him there. No matter what was said at the hearings, it is unlikely that any military professional would have listened to any advice Peretz gave in any case. Would you?

But the Winograd report also makes many errors. They had a quantity of mud, and they had to sling it, without really considering if the result was justified or not or if the reasoning was correct. Here are some minor errors made along the way:

c. The Minister of Defence did not act within a strategic conception of the systems he oversaw. He did not ask for the IDF's operational plans and did not examine them; he did not check the preparedness and fitness of IDF; and did not examine the fit between the goals set and the modes of action presented and authorized for achieving them...

Moshe Dayan became minister of defense a few days before the Six Day War. Could he have possibly conducted a "comprehensive examination of the fitness of the IDF," or of the "fit between the goals set and the modes of action presented and authorized for achieving them?" Dayan changed his mind several times a day and nobody could understand why, and in some cases his orders were ignored. Mostly, Dayan seems to have gotten in the way. But the IDF won the Six Day War, so it doesn't matter. As for goals, after the destruction of the Egyptian air force and the first conquests in Sinai, it would be a big fib to say that anyone had a clear idea of the goals, and in fact, people are on record as saying there was no plan.

The high priests of the Winograd commission tell us, "The ministers voted for a vague decision, without understanding and knowing its nature and implications. They authorized to commence a military campaign without considering how to exit it." In 1967 the Israeli government voted to go to war without knowing that the United States had prepared a contingency plan to attack Israel. They did not consider "how to exit it" beforehand, and had no idea that Israel would conquer all of Sinai, the West Bank and the Golan Heights, nor did they have any conception of what to do with the victory even after the fact. In 2007 it may seem "obvious" what should have been done in 1967, but then it did not seem obvious of course.

The ministers in 1967 and in 2006 truly had no concept of the nature and the implications of the war, and they could not have any such concept, and that has been true of almost every war in history. Wars are traumatic events that upset all the base conditions, and it is never possible to foresee the results that may seem obvious in retrospect. Only Ben Gurion understood in 1946 or 1947, or perhaps even in 1936 that there would be a war with the Arab states and the Arabs of Palestine, and understood exactly what must happen in that war if the Jewish people were to survive and form a state. Olmert is not Ben Gurion.

But this sort of error is just kicking people when they are down. It is rude and pointless, but fairly harmless. However, the Winograd commission has in fact, made what might be a very ominous error, that in effect whitewashes the outcome and significance of war and minimizes the problem that the war failures exposed:

Some of the political and military elites in Israel have reached the conclusion that Israel is beyond the era of wars...[T]he conclusion was that the main challenge facing the land forces would be low intensity asymmetrical conflicts.

20. Given these assumptions, the IDF did not need to be prepared for 'real' war.

. Some of the language about "elites" echos the Shavit article. The fib that was slipped in while nobody noticed is that this war with Hezbollah was a "real" war. To say that the IDF was not prepared for a "real" war and therefore fared poorly in the Second Lebanon War is to miss the whole lesson of this humiliating fiasco. The giant was beaten by a midget. Bart Simpson beat the Terminator by making him slip on a banana peel. There was no real war here. The air war was a turkey shoot at the wrong targets. The war on the ground was lost by sheer stupidity of the leaders, not by lack of bravery of the troops for the most part.

A 'real' war is conducted between real armies: tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of troops in divisions and armies, tanks, airplanes, artillery. The Hezbollah had no tanks, and no major artillery and no air force. After all, this was not 1967 or 1973 or even 1948. There were no fleets of Illyushin bombers and Stalin tanks ready to destroy us, and no American howitzers or Soviet artillery raining death on us. Not even British 25 pound cannon. The Hezbollah had rockets - relatively ineffectual weapons that can cause random terror. Rocketing civilians is only of strategic value if people like Olmert and Peretz are your enemies. If you fire such weapons at people like Churchill and his crowd, you won't make an impression. Mr. Hitler tried it. The rockets were only effective because our civilian population sensed that the leadership was incompetent and ignoring their suffering and making believe everything is fine instead of ameliorating the situation.

Who is responsible for the pictures of the hysterical women in the taxis with their babies, escaping the rockets? The women who "lost it?" The leadership that failed to give them guidance? The stupid television personnel that showed the footage? Were there such weeping women in the Blitz? Perhaps. Did the BBC interview them every day to boost the morale of the British people? Did Churchill ignore their suffering in his speeches? This was certainly not our "finest hour."

The Hezbollah is not an army and this was not a war. They did not have divisions and army corps. They had perhaps 2,000 guerrillas dug in in concrete bunkers. This is precisely the "asymmetrical conflict" that Winograd claims IDF was prepared for. But in fact, IDF was not prepared for it. It was prepared to fight an air war with say, Syria, provided the Syrians would oblige us by not using any ground forces.

That is the really scary lesson of the Second Lebanon war: If this had been a real war, with a real army on the other side, we would not have to worry about the resignation of the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister would be Hassan Nasrallah, and he doesn't resign.

Ami Isseroff

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Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000583.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

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Replies: 2 comments

I realize there's no point in ighting the last war, but I'm stil going to ask: I understand the idea of ultimatum diplomacy in whih Israel would have set a ultimatum date for a massive attack, maybe at the beginning of the week after the kodnapping, using the time before that to start recruiting reserves, preparing the army and the rear, and placing Nasseraala in a position in which he would have been pressured by the other Lebanese factions.


a) Wouldn't such a strategy have resulted in a loss of surprise, especially with regard to the successful air atttack on the long range missles?
b) Wouldn't there be a risk of a lose of momentum and legitimacy, in which the Lebanese government and the Hizballa would have gained more days while the legitimacy for an Israeli attack would have diminished?
c) Was there not a risk of getting the soldiers back but with the Hizballa mainting their previous positions?
In Gaza the threat of a massive Israeli attack caused even the Hamas to agree to stop their massive Kassam attacks last fall (although in Palestinian style, not a complete stop), but in return they have been able to continue their miilitary buildup, since Israel does not want to seem as if it is ending the Tahadia (such as it is).

The Moshe Dayan example you give above is an indication that the failure in the last war was a compounded failure. There are certain problems in the way the Israeli government has been conducting itself going back to 1948. Others go back to 1967. Others to 1973, 1982, 1988, 1990, 1996, 2000, all the way up to Pertetz, Omert and Halutz. In the past, the arrogance of one was offset by the caution of another, the inexperience of one by the experience of another, the blindness of one by the vision of another. But here we had a situation in which an ill informed government couldn't rely on a Prime minister, a defense minister couldn't rely on the commander of the army, and the officers couldn't rely on their generals.

Posted by Micha @ 05/03/2007 09:20 PM CST

Your reference to Churchill and WW2 Britain I feel omits a certain element that does not exist in Israel. That is the draconian Official Secrets Act which was rigidly applied to all forms of media during WW2 and still exists. I rather think that Messrs Olmert and Peretz would dearly like to have the control over the media that Churchill exercised.
Although the British adminsitration gave the impression that it provided open reporting, and readily contrasted itself with Nazi Germany in this respect. It exercised incredible control over what was reported during WW2 to such an extent that cities like Liverpool failed to get the funds after the war for bomb damage because MP's did not realise just how bad it had been. Reporting of bombing of Liverpool was banned so that the Germans did not learn how much damage they were causing.
During the Blitz the British wept, crazed, stole, raped and prostituted. All this was contained in police reports. Also suppressed during the war.
The early part of the war was so desperate that the British grasped any glimmer of hope from the rubble of disaster. They created icons of calm phlegmatic Britons facing off the Germans, often drawn from music hall comedy figures. The whole iconography the propoganda created shaped British self-perception to the extent that the British positively enjoy disasters as an excuse to get together and to demonstrate our superiority to "Jonny Foreigner". We are much more proud of Dunkirk than the eventual victory.. but actually it was a bloody disaster.
I think you Israelis are far less kind to your leaders in the face of catastrophy than we are. So it went wrong... learn from it and don't make the same mistake again.

Posted by Rod Davies @ 05/03/2007 10:30 PM CST

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