In March 2006, the Israeli people elected incompetents to lead us. It only took four months for Hizbullah to make us pay a price for our mistake. In the July and August 2006 war, Israelis came to understand that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, then defense minister Amir Peretz and then IDF chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz were together and separately the worst leaders that Israel had ever seen.
Almost from the war's outset it was evident that Israel's leaders were in over their heads. They acted as though there was no difference between running a war and running a political campaign against their political rivals. Hizbullah chief Hassan Nasrallah and his Syrian and Iranian overlords could, they assumed, simply be insulted out of fighting.
The brutal reality of war confounded them.
They had decided to respond harshly to Hizbullah's cross-border attack which left eight soldiers dead and two soldiers – Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser – missing in action. But they never actually realized that they were leading the nation to war. Indeed, through to the bitter end, they insisted that we weren't at war at all. We were simply involved in a "campaign."
They sent up fighter jets to bomb Hizbullah to Kingdom Come. But when the bombing failed to affect Hizbullah's ability to attack Israel with missiles, and when the televised footage of the bombs' destructive force squandered international support for Israel, Olmert and his colleagues lost their stomach for the fight they had never understood. They sent ground forces in willy nilly, to conduct operations with no operational logic. Then they begged America to pull their fat from the fire by negotiating a cease-fire without victory.
The public reacted to their failure with justified rage. Demoralized reservists marched on Jerusalem. The parents of soldiers killed in militarily meaningless actions took to the streets. Recognizing that their careers were on the line, Olmert and his colleagues did what any hack politicians in their positions would do. They appointed a committee and told it to take as long as it wished to decide not to call for their removal from office. The media, not wishing to see opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu and the Likud win an election, supported the maneuver. And so the protests abated and the reservists and bereaved parents sat on the sidelines and waited.
When last April the Winograd Committee issued its interim report, it seemed as though Olmert's plan was backfiring. The committee members, led by retired judge Eliahu Winograd, were dangerously close to missing his point. They actually held Olmert, Peretz and Halutz responsible for their actions. Neither Peretz nor Halutz were able to withstand the interim report which found that they – and Olmert – had failed the test of leadership. And each in turn was forced to resign.
But Olmert held on and quietly conspired against his own committee. With Olmert's backing, the IDF's solicitor-general Col. Orna David repeatedly petitioned the Supreme Court and secured rulings prohibiting the Winograd Committee from recommending that Olmert or anyone else be compelled to resign for their dereliction of duty.
So it should have come as no surprise to anyone that in its final report issued Wednesday, the Winograd Committee failed to point its finger directly at Olmert and call for his removal from office. It should similarly surprise no one that in its continued bid to keep the Likud from power, the media ignored the report's harsh conclusions about Olmert's mismanagement of the war, seizing instead on the commission's refusal to assign blame.
In truth, by demurring from placing a metaphorical gun to Olmert's head, the Winograd Committee did the Israeli people a favor. Its members stated flatly that it is the people's responsibility – not theirs – to decide who leads the country. And now more than ever, it is the public's duty to protest the continued tenure of the Olmert government and force it from office.
This duty is not simply a matter of historical vindication for past wrongs. Olmert and his colleagues must be forced from office not because of their failed leadership in the 2006 war in Lebanon. They must be forced from office because of their mismanagement of this year's war in Gaza.
In its most devastating condemnation of Olmert and his colleagues, the Winograd Commission explained that throughout the war, they never decided – and barely discussed – what sort of war they were fighting. Once the government decided to respond forcibly to Hizbullah's cross-border raid, the commission noted that it had two clear and distinct options for proceeding. "The first was a short, painful, strong and unexpected blow on Hizbullah, primarily through standoff firepower. The second option was to bring about a significant change of the reality in the south of Lebanon with a large ground operation, including a temporary occupation of the south of Lebanon and 'cleansing' it of Hizbullah military infrastructure."
Unable to decide what sort of war it was waging, for 34 days the government moved from tactic to tactic, strategy to strategy, never following through with anything, never realizing that there were consequences for what it was doing. And today, it follows the same model of incompetence in Gaza.
FOR THE past two and a half years Israel has taken no effective action to end the rocket and mortar offensive against the Western Negev from Gaza. And rocket and mortar attacks have quadrupled over this period.
When Hamas seized power in Gaza in June, Israel failed to develop a strategy for dealing with the fact that an Iranian armed, trained and commanded terror group was perched on its border with Gaza and threatened to destabilize its largely undefended border with Egypt.
Still led by Olmert and Livni, who are now joined by Defense Minister Ehud Barak – the engineer of the unilateral withdrawal strategy of ceding land to terrorist groups – Israel cannot figure out what it is supposed to be doing. It has no strategic goal and so it can formulate no coherent plan.
Israel changes its mode of contending with Gaza on a near-daily basis. Sometimes it threatens to launch a ground campaign in Gaza to end the Palestinians' mortar and rocket campaign against its citizens. Sometimes it attacks from the air and declares victory. Sometimes it threatens to stop supplying electricity and fuel to Gaza. Sometimes it threatens to stop its support for Gazan banks.
Then again, sometimes it renews its fuel and electricity supply to Gaza, lets trucks full of cash enter Gaza from Israel, allows Gazans to receive free medical treatment in Israeli hospitals and permits them to work in Israel.
Internationally, sometimes Israel threatens to retake control over Gaza's border with Egypt. And sometimes it asks Egypt or the UN or the EU to take control of the border. Sometimes it criticizes Egypt for enabling weapons and terrorists to move into Gaza. Sometimes it praises Egypt for being a force of stability.
Sometimes the Olmert-Livni-Barak government supports Fatah's reassertion of control over the border between Gaza and Egypt. Sometimes it admits that Fatah terrorists are full partners in the rocket and mortar campaign against Israel from Gaza; that Fatah security forces willingly integrated into Hamas's army after Hamas seized power; and that anyway, Fatah has neither the will nor the means to defeat Hamas in Gaza or anywhere else.
In Gaza today as in Lebanon during 2006, the Olmert government's strategic incoherence has led to public relations disasters. Today in Gaza, as in Lebanon in 2006, Israel's inability to define its goals has made it unable to defend its actions. And so it is stands condemned as its citizens are held hostage to the vagaries of Palestinian mo
rtars and rockets.
THE WINOGRAD Committee properly noted the government's failure to define what it was doing in Lebanon. But it did not explain why the government failed. The source of the government's failure in Lebanon 18 months ago and of its failure in Gaza today is its political commitment to the strategy of unilateral withdrawal from territory. Olmert's Kadima Party and Barak's Labor Party both have embraced this strategy. It is the centerpiece of their governing rationale.
The unilateral withdrawal strategy is predicated on a two main assumptions. First, it assumes that it is the presence of Israelis in a hostile or disputed area which causes terrorists to act. If Israel retreats, the terrorists will melt away.
Second, the unilateral withdrawal strategy assumes that Israel's interest in defeating terrorists is not unique. In the minds of Israel's leaders, all nations share Israel's goal of protecting its sovereign territory and its citizenry from attack. Consequently, the unilateral withdrawal strategy assumes that if Israel withdraws from a terror-infested area like Gaza or southern Lebanon, another authority – be it Egypt or Fatah or the European Union in Gaza, or the Lebanese army or UNIFIL forces in Lebanon – will take over where it left off and fight the terrorists for it.
During the war in Lebanon and since Israel withdrew from Gaza, the guiding assumptions of the unilateral withdrawal strategy have proven false. But Israel's leaders have refused to acknowledge reality. Rather they claim that it is reality, not their policy, that is mistaken. Their daily search for new silver bullets is a manifestation of their denial of reality.
A telling episode touched on in the Winograd Committee's final report drives this point home. After meeting with the American negotiating team on July 28, 2006, Peretz held a consultation with his security brass.
According to the report, (p. 129), "At the outset of the meeting, the defense minister expressed his bad feeling in the aftermath of the meeting with the American team. This came after he was made to understand that a multi-national force would not enter an area [of south Lebanon] that the IDF hadn't first 'cleansed' of Hizbullah forces." Peretz could not countenance the fact that no one will take action to defend Israel that Israel itself refuses to take. And so he didn't. And neither did Olmert or Livni. Throughout the war, Israel's goal was for an international force to be set up to fight Hizbullah for Israel. And low and behold, UNIFIL refuses to fight.
And still today, the government refuses to recognize that suing for an international force then was a mistake. Indeed they are repeating it in Gaza.
Speaking to the media Wednesday evening about her decision to join the protesters demanding that Olmert and Barak resign and call for new general elections, bereaved mother Elisheva Tzemach, whose son Oz was killed in the last stages of the war, explained that she demands the government's resignation not for her dead son, but for her sons who still live. They cannot be commanded in war by Olmert and his colleagues.
Mrs. Tzemach, of course, is right. And Winograd was also right. If Israel wishes to survive in our hostile neighborhood, it is the duty of every citizen to join Mrs. Tzemach, her fellow bereaved parents and the reservists in their demand for new elections. If we remain silent now, we will deserve whatever price we are made to pay for our indifference.