During the 34 days of Israel’s war in Lebanon last summer, the Israeli Prime Minister’s Cabinet Secretary conducted constant briefings with the media, repeating over and over the precise war aims of the Israeli government at the time:
1) Israeli army prisoners, Ehud (Udi) Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, kidnapped on July 12, 2006, must be returned to Israel.
2) The Lebanese army must be the only force deployed in Southern Lebanon; Hezbollah must be expelled from Southern Lebanon.
Yet in mid-August, after Israel pushed for and accepted a cease-fire without any of these conditions being fulfilled, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s spokesman conduct a press briefing to announce that war aims had been achieved as soon as the cease-fire resolution been approved by the U.N. Security Council.
This reporter then asked a simple question: How could Olmert contradict the previous statement of Israel’s war aims? No answer was forthcoming. The Olmert government claimed that Israel had achieved its stated war aims by accepting a cease-fire – one that left Hezbollah in place and which did not lead to the return of the hostages.
This led to mass street demonstrations, led by the families of fallen Israeli soldiers and families of Israeli reservists who had been called up for service during the war. The demands of these demonstrations were for an official independent investigation of how the war was conducted and for the resignation of the Israeli government and military leadership.
Olmert agreed to a commission of inquiry – however, not to an independent commission of inquiry. Olmert appointed the commission, whose mandate was to investigate every aspect of decision-making in the war, yet without a mandate to recommend that any Israeli government official or Israeli military official be fired.
The universal expectation was that Olmert’s handpicked panel would criticize the government and the army, without mentioning Israeli government and military leaders by name.
Therefore, the Olmert government and the public at large in Israel were taken by surprise by the intense, personal tone of Olmert’s own commission of investigation.
“We determine that there are very serious failings in these decisions and the way they were made. We impose the primary responsibility for these failures on the Prime Minister, the minister of Defense and the (outgoing) Chief of Staff. All three made a decisive personal contribution to these decisions and the way in which they were made. However, there are many others who share responsibility for the mistakes we found in these decisions and for their background conditions…
“The decision to respond with an immediate, intensive military strike was not based on a detailed, comprehensive and authorized military plan, based on careful study of the complex characteristics of the Lebanon arena….” And the conclusions of the commission were clear and unambiguous:
* “The Prime Minister bears supreme and comprehensive responsibility for the decisions of ‘his’ government and the operations of the army. His responsibility for the failures in the initial decisions concerning the war stemmed from his position and from his behavior, as he initiated and led the decisions which were taken.
* “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. He made his decision without systematic consultation with others, especially outside the IDF, despite not having experience in external-political and military affairs. In addition, he did not adequately consider political and professional reservations presented to him before the fateful decisions of July 12th.
* “The Prime Minister is responsible for the fact that the goals of the campaign were not set out clearly and carefully, and that there was no serious discussion of the relationships between these goals and the authorized modes of military action. He made a personal contribution to the fact that the declared goals were over-ambitious and not feasible… “
Bar Ilan University Prof. Ephraim Inbar, one of Israel’s experts in strategic warfare, went a step farther, writing that “by denying the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) victory, they squandered an opportunity to destroy the bulk of Hezbollah’s military presence in southern Lebanon, settle regional scores, enhance Israel’s deterrence and strengthen Jerusalem’s alliance with Washington.”
Inbar went on to say that “Israel’s intelligence organs had neglected to collect intelligence regarding Hezbollah’s short-range Katyushas. And that Israeli military officials had considered such rockets as weapons of little consequence because of their inaccuracy and small warheads….”
“The war showed Israel’s northern population to be ill-prepared to withstand a large rocket barrage. Most of the short-range Katyushas fell in empty fields and caused little damage, but 25 percent of the nearly 4,000 missiles launched hit urban areas and paralyzed the whole of northern Israel, its main port, refineries and many other strategic installations. Over 1 million Israelis lived in bomb shelters and about 300,000 temporarily left their homes and sought refuge in the south.”
Inbar also questioned why Israel did not strike Syrian targets to signal Israel’s determination to deal with terrorist and proxy threats, enhancing Israeli deterrence.
Olmert, Peretz Still Will Not Resign: More Mass Demonstrations Expected
Even though Israeli Chief of Staff Dan Halutz resigned in disgrace in anticipation of the personal conclusions of the Olmert’s war investigation commission, Prime Minister Olmert and Defense Minister Peretz each announced that, in the wake of the commission’s conclusion, that neither disgraced Israeli public official would resign.
Why? Because the commission did not explicitly demand their respective dismissals. Instead, the spokespeople of Olmert and Peretz issued a barrage of statements to the media that they would follow through on the commission’s recommendations for improvement in communication and coordination between the Israeli army, Israeli intelligence and the Israeli government.
At the same time, Israel’s leading investigative journalist, Yoav Yitzhak, revealed an internal strategic memo issued by Olmert’s “Kadima” political party to all 29 Kadima members of Israel’s Knesset parliament – to blame the Israeli defense forces for the failure, not Israel’s political leadership. Over the next week, the Israeli reservists and families of the 118 Israeli soldiers killed in last summer’s conflict plan new mass demonstrations to demand that the government resign as a result of the war commission’s findings, which place direct responsibility for dysfunctional behavior during the war on the back of the full Israeli government, especially on Olmert and on Peretz.
These planned demos will not reflect a fringe element in Israeli public opinion. Polls taken after Olmert’s war commission findings were published show that 65 percent of the Israeli population demands that the Israeli government resign as a result of the findings of Olmert’s handpicked commission of inquiry into the summer 2006 war in Lebanon.