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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.
Remember that Ari Shavit wrote this in August:
In what way does that differ essentially from the major conclusions of theWinograd report? For example (from the Winograd English press release):
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:
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:
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 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.
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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?
Posted by Micha @ 05/03/2007 09:20 PM CST
Posted by Rod Davies @ 05/03/2007 10:30 PM CST
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