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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Moshe Arens: Missing the forest for the trees

Missing the forest for the trees
By Moshe Arens

Four months have gone by since the finale of the second Lebanon war: a salvo of 250 Hezbollah rockets against northern Israel on the last day, signaling victory by a few thousand Hezbollah fighters against the Israel Defense Forces. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's tactic of stubbornly refusing to set up a state commission of inquiry to investigate the mistakes that led to this defeat has so far worked in his favor. We are being swamped by a series of investigative committee reports, reporting failings during the war at various levels of the IDF, including inadequate communications between the General Staff and the front, lack of sufficient training, inadequate logistic support, mistakes made by individual commanders, and faulty operational and strategic concepts. But the fundamental error committed by the men who led Israel to disaster in this war is being obscured. We run the danger of missing the forest because of the trees.
Throughout the war, Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz clung to the dogmatic concept that Israel should not to be dragged into the "Lebanese quagmire," and willingly accepted IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz's theory that the war could be won by air power alone. Their refusal to order a ground offensive that would suppress Hezbollah's bombardment of the north with small short-range rockets left over a million Israeli civilians exposed to these attacks for over a month. David Ben-Gurion's doctrine that the IDF must immediately take war into the enemy's territory, and that in wartime, the IDF must assure the safety of the civilian population in the rear, was turned on its head, and Israeli civilians became the victims in this unfortunate war.
Although it is argued that Olmert's and Peretz's lack of experience in defense matters was the source of their mistake, no amount of experience will compensate for dogmatic thinking, and there is little reason to believe that now, with the experience of the second Lebanon war under their belt, they would perform better in another crisis. The IDF's involvement in Lebanon for many years; the losses suffered during these years; the hysteria whipped up by the "Four Mothers" organization, which called for the IDF's withdrawal from the south Lebanon security zone; and finally, Ehud Barak's abandonment of Israel's ally, the South Lebanon Army, and the hasty evacuation, followed by the subsequent illusion, despite repeated provocations by Hezbollah, that permanent quiet had settled on Israel's northern border - all these planted in the minds of those given to dogmatic thinking that the "Lebanese quagmire," once left behind, was to be avoided at all costs.
Maybe the Winograd Committee will return the spotlight to where it belongs. But according to press reports, its initial findings will become public only in March 2007, and who knows what trials await Israel in the meantime? Moreover, it would be surprising if its members pointed an accusing finger against the man who picked them for the committee.
So it looks like few, if any, advances are being made in clearly identifying the source of the errors that lead to Israel's defeat in Lebanon and the politicians and military men responsible for them. And yet time is of the essence, since Israel's defeat in Lebanon might very well set into motion further acts of aggression by Israel's enemies.
That nothing seems to have been learned from the mistakes committed in the second Lebanon war is clear from the way the IDF's confrontation with those who launch Qassam rockets from the Gaza Strip into Israel has been handled. In many ways, that situation is a repeat on a smaller scale of the encounter in the north: Small short-range rockets are being launched against Israel's civilian population, and the IDF has not succeeded in suppressing these attacks for many months. Rather than using ground forces to put Sderot out of range of the Qassams, the air force has been given the task of hunting the men who launch the rockets or their commanders. The temporary incursion into Beit Hanun and the subsequent withdrawal has only caused civilian casualties among the Palestinian population, as well as property damage, bringing, as should have been expected, a return of attacks against the western Negev once the IDF was withdrawn. The same lame excuses are being offered: It is impossible to stop every last rocket, there are no magic solutions, there is no "bang and it's over." In other words, you just have to get used to it.
It seems that the very same dogmatic thinking that led to failure in Lebanon dominates the tactics in the south. We do not want to be seen as "returning to Gaza." We do not want to "conquer territory," and we are prepared to let our civilian population pay the price of this dogmatic strategy.
The cease-fire that has been established in the south, which is being honored in the breach by the terrorists, resembles closely the cease-fire in the north. Hezbollah is rearming and preparing for the next round, and the terrorists in the Gaza Strip are rearming and preparing for the next round. Will Israel be prepared when it comes?

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