Today two groups of protesters are gathered outside the Prime Minister's Office. The Movement for Quality Government is demanding the establishment of an official commission of inquiry, headed by a Supreme Court justice to investigate the handling of the war in Lebanon. Down the road, IDF reservists are demanding that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Amir Peretz and IDF Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz resign.
The critical question arising from the separate protests is whether or not the country's current political and military leadership are capable of drawing the proper lessons from the war. If Israel's national and military leaders are incapable of drawing the appropriate lessons, then there is an urgent need to embrace the reservists' demand that both the political and military leaders of the country resign.
Currently, the Israeli public is referring to the latest war as the Second Lebanon War. Yet this is untrue. The latest war was fought on two fronts – Lebanon and Gaza. It was precipitated by Palestinian aggression against Israel from Gaza. By referring to the war as the Lebanon War, the regional nature of the war is ignored. The name does more to confuse than to clarify what just befell us.
In many respects, the ability of the Olmert government and the IDF to learn from their experience can be assessed by how they are reacting to events in the Palestinian Authority as they have unfolded against the backdrop of Hizbullah's perceived victory in Lebanon. Specifically, their refusal to acknowledge the role Fatah and PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas are playing in the current situation is a cause for alarm. This refusal manifests itself in Israel's reaction to both the abduction of Fox News journalists Steve Centanni and Olaf Wiig a week and a half ago in Gaza and the continued captivity of IDF Cpl. Gilad Shalit.
Centanni and Wiig were kidnapped by PA security forces associated with Fatah. When their demand that Abbas pay them money in exchange for Centanni and Wiig was refused, the kidnappers sold their hostages to a Fatah terror cell that currently holds them. That is, Abbas's security forces and his Fatah movement rather than Hamas are responsible for the two men's fate.
Moreover, knowledgeable Palestinian sources state with certainty that Shalit has been held since his abduction in June in Khan Yunis by Fatah and Hamas terrorists. Khan Yunis is controlled by forces loyal to Fatah strongman Muhammad Dahlan.
If Abbas were interested in seeing Shalit released, his forces would be able to free Shalit at any time. But Abbas is not interested in releasing Shalit. Rather, he is demanding that the Hamas government order Shalit be transferred to his control to enable him to negotiate his exchange for hundreds of terrorists imprisoned in Israel. Abbas's dispute with Hamas is over who will get the credit for springing Palestinian terrorists from prison. Hamas is unwilling to give up the glory, and so is Abbas. So Shalit remains in captivity.
Abbas's handling of both hostage situations leads to one conclusion: He is part of the problem. If the government wanted to bring about Shalit's release, it would be placing all the responsibility for his capture and captivity on Abbas. It would have isolated Abbas in the infamous Mukata in Ramallah, just as it isolated Yasser Arafat there during Operation Defensive Shield in 2002. But the government is doing none of these things.
The government is not acting against Abbas and Fatah because it is ideologically unable to define Abbas or Fatah or the Palestinian Authority as Israel's enemy. Olmert and his colleagues require the fiction of Abbas as a moderate leader and the fiction of Fatah as a moderate counterweight to Hamas to justify their planned policy of retreating from Judea and Samaria and their current policy of continuing construction of the security fence and removing scattered outpost communities. Both these policies involve Israeli relinquishment of control over the territorial expanse of Judea and Samaria.
THE STRATEGIC logic that stands at the core of the government's policies is that territory is a liability, that static defenses like the security fence, augmented by the air force and commando units, will be able to defend Israel's cities and towns from attack.
Unfortunately, the IDF shares this strategic logic. This fact was made clear Monday by Division Commander Brig.-Gen. Guy Tzur in remarks before reserve officers about the results of the war in Lebanon. According to officers who participated in the closed meeting, Tzur told them that Israel was better off for not achieving its strategic objective of dismantling Hizbullah in Lebanon.
We won the war in 1967 and since then we have been paying the price of that victory, he said. We won the war in 1982 and for 18 years we were forced to remain in the Lebanese quagmire, he continued. That is – according to Tzur, who claimed that he was repeating a statement made by OC Central Command Maj.-Gen. Yair Naveh – it is not in Israel's interest to conquer and control territory used by its enemies to attack it. Victory, which requires us to hold territory, is by this reasoning, not in Israel's interest.
This was the strategic logic that directed both the government and the IDF in the war in Lebanon. This was the logic that brought the General Staff, Olmert and Peretz to believe that it was possible to win the war with air power and special forces alone. This was the logic that informed the IDF's decision to concentrate the belated ground offensive in the condensed territory of the villages along the northern border and not order the forces to take over the territorial expanses around the villages, which controlled the villages, while quickly advancing to the Litani River. This was the logic that caused the IDF to fight against Hizbullah as if it were fighting terror cells in Jenin.
The IDF reservists who have set up camp across from the Prime Minister's Office and demand the resignation of Israel's top political and military leaders are united in their deep sense of frustration. They share the view that their fighting methods in Lebanon were unsuited to the enemy they faced in battle. They are correct.
The IDF's campaign did not permanently diminish Hizbullah's abilities as a fighting force. It did not stop the missile attacks on northern Israel. It did not bring IDF hostages Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev home. The campaign failed to achieve its stated objectives because it lacked a guiding strategy regarding the control of territory. Olmert, Peretz and Halutz based the war effort on a view that Israel must not control territory. And so they adopted the notion that it would be possible to destroy Hizbullah from the air. When that concept was proven false, it was replaced with the idea that special forces augmented by small numbers of regular combat forces could clean out the villages along the border and so deal a heavy blow to Hizbullah. When that concept proved false in Maroun Aras and Bint Jbail, it was replaced first by paralysis and then by an intellectual breakdown.
THIS BREAKDOWN led to the belated decision to send in three divisions. This was the right decision, but rather than let the troops advance as a massed force and so overrun Hizbullah positions and take control over the heights surrounding the villages before being sent in to clear out the bunkers, the massive forces were deployed as if they were a small force.
The men were concentrated in condensed areas of the villages and not fanned out along the surrounding heights. Their high concentration turned them into easy targets for Hizbullah's anti-tank missiles. The way the troops were deployed suited all of Hizbullah's comparative advantages while bringing neither the IDF's advantage of mass nor its advantage of firepower to bear.
As became clear after the fi
rst several days of engagements, Hizbullah fought neither an offensive nor a defensive war. It did not attack IDF formations nor did it defend its battle stations. Its doctrine is simple: bleed Israeli civilians and IDF units to break Israel's will and humiliate it.
Its success in achieving its aim was manifested by the government's decision to sue for a cease-fire. UN Security Council Resolution 1701 not only cancelled out any tactical advantage the IDF had managed to gain, it paved the way for Hizbullah's rearmament and for the deployment of the UNIFIL force that will act not to dismantle Hizbullah but to prevent Israel from taking any further action to win the war decisively. Yet, still clinging to the view that territory is bad, neither the General Staff, which insists that Israel won, nor the government, which is begging anti-Israel governments in Europe to send their forces to Lebanon, is capable of understanding what just happened.
This brings us back to the demand for the formation of a judicial commission of inquiry. There is no doubt that it is necessary to conduct a serious review of the war in Lebanon and Gaza. But there is no way that such a review can be accomplished by a Supreme Court justice. There are two principal reasons for this. First, an official commission is a legal body and its proceedings are legal proceedings. But the issue of why Israel failed to achieve any of its objectives in the war is not an issue of law. It is an issue of policy and military operations. Judges are no more qualified than the average citizen to investigate these issues.
Secondly, and more importantly, for the past decade and a half, the Supreme Court has been leading the offensive against the notion that Israel should either identify its enemies or defeat them. For the past 15 years the Supreme Court has been constricting the tactical freedom of the IDF in Lebanon, Judea, Samaria and Gaza. It has inserted itself into military planning and political initiatives in a manner that has undermined the IDF's ability to adequately protect Israeli citizens and territory from assault by outlawing tactics that contradict the liberal justices' multicultural and post-nationalist sensibilities. Indeed, it is just these sensibilities, and the fear of Supreme Court intervention, that has tied the hands of successive governments and General Staffs in attempting to confront the growing unconventional threats to Israel emanating from Hizbullah and Palestinian terrorist groups.
From all this it becomes self-evident that both the demand for Olmert, Peretz and Halutz to resign and the demand that an accounting be made of the mistakes that led Israel to its strategic defeat in Lebanon are necessary. It is also clear that the only way that the proper lessons can be drawn is for the current military and political leadership to be replaced by alternative leaders capable of understanding the nature of the threats that surround us. For both objectives to be achieved, the only commission of inquiry that should be established is the inquiry of the citizens of the state that takes place in general elections.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.