Knesset FA & Defense Committee warned government about Hezbolla Rockets
MK Tzachi Hanegbi, Chairman, Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee
During my term as minister, I don't recall that the cabinet ever raised the issue of Israel's options regarding the strengthening of Hezbollah on our northern border. This matter was raised marginally as part of annual reports and projections. No one raised other operative questions, more profound questions, such as what price will Israel be forced to pay with regard to the fact that on the northern border, a formidable force was being built up, financed by Iran, and backed by Syria.
The committee is not a forum that is superior to the decision-makers. Its obligation is to warn of possible future circumstances. The committee identified perpetual malfunctions in Lebanon and found it appropriate to present its findings to the Prime Minister and the Defense Minister.
In February 2004, Yuval Steinitz, the chairman at the time, Omri Sharon, and Efraim Sneh wrote a letter to the Prime Minister and Defense Minister. Sections of the letter are a sort of prophecy that came true and exacted a heavy toll from us.
"Lately, we have heard reports regarding the rockets in Lebanon, and we would like to present to you the core of the concern. Iran, by way of Syria, has created a strategic threat to the State of Israel-a threat that, if realized, will place a full quarter of Israel's population within the range of the rockets from Hadera and northward. This will set off a wave of refugees towards the center of the country and will paralyze the economy of the North. The waning of the enemy's military capabilities could take several weeks. Without a ground operation, this situation requires creative means of managing this, and we caution you on the subject of Israel's inability to remain passive when facing such a threat."
Today, we know that each of these clauses quickly turned into reality. Economic objectives were paralyzed, and the intelligence gap precluded a swift containment of the Hezbollah's weapons caches and military capabilities.
The practical impact of this cautionary letter is unknown, since there was no reply. I also do not know what was thought just before the campaign began, but the following day, the committee met with the Defense Minister, and the protocol suggests that the IDF was supposed to know that there was no possibility that it could intercept rocket fire with artillery fire. According to the committee, there was no preparation for a comprehensive effort to eliminate the rocket fire. On that same morning, rockets and katyushas were fired to an extent that they shut down the entire Galilee and prevented people from living their normal daily lives. The head of the operations unit appeared before the committee and warned that there were no ground forces and it was not expected that there would be; this was the tone that was heard in the committee for most of the first two weeks of the war. The Chief of Staff appeared before the committee and was asked about ground forces. His reply was clear: in the meantime, there was no need to prepare for a ground invasion, and the situation should continue as long as possible. In other words, in order for a ground operation to occur, something exceptionally drastic would need to happen.
However, there was unanimous agreement within the committee that opposing fire was insufficient, but what conclusion was to be drawn from this?
Different opinions were heard-diverse and conflicting; a multiplicity of opinions precludes harmony and consensus, and thus made it difficult for the committee to act as a pressure group, at a time when there was a lack of understanding in the executive branch.
Today the committee is involved in investigating the events in Lebanon: not in terms of assigning responsibility, but rather in terms of bolstering the fitness of the military and of the need to strengthen the training systems of the units. We in the committee are very optimistic, as we met with reservists, and we were moved by their experiences; they told us that the next time they will be called up, the will undoubtedly report for duty.
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