Jerusalem – The Israeli Knesset Parliament Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee published a report on the New Year about the Summer 2006 Lebanon War, eliciting anger among Israeli reservists who fought in the war and scorn among journalists.
The report was lambasted by its critics for restricting its perspective solely to the military echelon and for having failed to take the political echelon to task.
In the report, the Israeli army was blasted for “blindness, paralysis and weakness, on the tactical and operational levels,” among other flaws.
In response to angry questions from reservists, Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Chairman Tzahi Hanegbi said that the role of political echelon would be dealt with by the Winograd Committee.
One respected Israeli political pundit, Ma’ariv’s Shalom Yerushalmi asserted that the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee report was deliberately designed to help Prime Minister Ehud Olmert fend off calls for his resignation in the aftermath of the Winograd Committee report, which is due to be published in a few weeks.
Mr. Yerushalmi took the committee chairman, Tzahi Hanegbi, particularly to task, and writes: “Hanegbi and his committee’s report insults even fools. How is it possible to examine the body and to remove from the medical diagnosis, the head? How is it possible to investigate the war and to ignore those who determined its goals? How is it possible to make a distinction between strategy and tactics? How is it at all possible to rely on MKs who demanded that Olmert be removed immediately after the war, and today put together a report to save him. Is this serious?…”
The main criticism against the military echelon, mostly the Northern Command and the IDF General Staff, was over the fact that IDF activity was mostly directed at an attempt to stop the Hezbollah fire by means of “counter-fire,” i.e., IAF bombardments and artillery shelling, and that it did not try to win the war by means of a ground operation. “The IDF,” said the report, “failed to achieve its main operational goal in the war: suppressing the Katyusha rocket fire.”
“The IDF’s method of operation basically corresponded to Hezbollah’s strategy,” the report said, “which was based on a static campaign, using small and scattered forces, while refraining from large-scale declared frontal battles.” It described the failure as unacceptable. “By utilizing methods of operation from the enemy’s strategy, the IDF played into Hezbollah’s hands,” they explained. “Practically, the army suffered from blindness, paralysis and weakness, on the tactical and operational levels.” According to the report, during the first stages of the campaign, the IDF sufficed with clearing out and destroying Hezbollah’s outposts along the border, operations which lasted until the end of the war. “The limited raids were not directed at Hezbollah’s main operational deployment and did not affect it,” the report accuses, “and ultimately did not lead to a reduction of rocket fire. In addition to the operation to destroy Hezbollah infrastructures adjacent to the border, a collection of local, small scale operations lacking the ability to crush, and without a joint objective, were carried out.”
“The lack of an approved and updated assault plan and significant gaps in preparing the troops, the methods and the command centers,” it said, “were serious failures by the Northern Command and the IDF General Staff.”
In addition, the committee claims that even after the IDF began to realize that there was a need for a large-scale ground operation in order to put an end to the rocket fire, this was characterized by hesitation, a lack of decisiveness and even skepticism as to the ability of the ground force to complete the mission. Altogether,” concluded the committee members, “Israel did not succeed in defeating the enemy, which numbered only several thousand fighters.”
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is not mentioned by name in the report, nor is Defense Minister Amir Peretz or chief of staff Gen. Dan Halutz, and criticism of the government is only indirect and inferred, and moderate.
At a press conference convened on Monday upon the publication of the report, Mr. Hanegbi said that the criticism was also aimed at the political echelon. “The report is made up of several truths, there is no one single truth,” he stressed. “There were significant achievements in the war, which have great importance, but there is also criticism, whose main purpose is to learn the right lessons.” In addition to the criticism, the committee also presents a series of recommendations for future implementation.
The committee report was signed by all 17 permanent committee members, but some of them had reservations. “It is not possible to present a full report on the lessons of the Second Lebanon War,” wrote Yuval Steinitz, Danny Yatom and Silvan Shalom, “without examining the interface between the political and military echelons.”
The report was perceived by the political establishment as a foretaste of the real report, that of the Winograd Committee. Defense Minister and Labor Party Chairman Ehud Barak commented on Monday on the conclusions at his faction’s meeting. “In Israel, responsibility for the conduct of war and its results belongs to the political echelon,” he said, arousing a wave of speculation about the question of whether the Labor Party would remain in the government following the publication of the Winograd Committee report.
“Olmert does not understand what the reservists and the soldiers are saying to him: take responsibility,” added Likud Chairman Binyamin Netanyahu. “Many did take responsibility, but only the prime minister has refused to do so.”
©The Bulletin 2008