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Israel’s war behind the war

The IDF chief of staff, Dan Halutz, at right, reviews troop advances in southern Lebanon on Aug. 12, 2006 with officers commanding Israeli forces in that area. (Abir Sultan/IDF)

The IDF chief of staff, Dan Halutz, at right, reviews troop advances in southern Lebanon on Aug. 12, 2006 with officers commanding Israeli forces in that area. (Abir Sultan/IDF)

JERUSALEM, Sept. 18 (JTA) — More than a month after the guns fell silent, the Israeli government has finally approved a commission of inquiry into the Lebanon war, and the war of the generals is heating up. With careers on the line, more and more politicians and Israel Defense Force commanders are going public and blaming each other for the war’s failures and shortcomings. The public mood and the commission’s findings could have major consequences for Israel’s military and political leadership. Maj. Gen. Udi Adam, who commanded the key northern front during the war, has tendered his resignation and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Amir Peretz and IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz are under pressure to follow suit. Headed by retired justice Eliyahu Winograd, the investigative panel will have all the powers of a full-fledged state commission of inquiry — with one crucial difference: The members of the Winograd panel were appointed by the prime minister, while members of a state commission would have been appointed by the Supreme Court president. Olmert’s critics ask how someone under investigation can nominate his investigators. His supporters counter that the Winograd panel’s independence is beyond question — and, they add, since it’s a government-appointed commission, the Cabinet will be forced to accept its findings and recommendations, even if it means political leaders and top military brass have to leave office. In the war after the war, there are several battlefields. Ex-generals have been firing barbs at the current crop of military leaders; army commanders are pointing fingers at their subordinates, and vice-versa; former holders of key offices are battling the incumbents; and generals and politicians are blaming each other. In interviews over the weekend, former IDF Chief of Staff Moshe Ya’alon, former Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and Gen. Adam sharply criticized the conduct of the war. Last Friday, ex-generals were equally blunt in their attacks on the IDF’s top command in a meeting with Halutz. Ya’alon, who was IDF chief of staff for much of the period during which Hezbollah built up its rocket arsenal in Lebanon, claimed that the army he handed over was ready for war, but that the campaign had been hopelessly mismanaged. In an article in Ha’aretz entitled “No Way To Go To War,” he described the way the ground forces were used as a “catastrophe.” “There was no defined goal. There was no required achievement. They jumped from one idea to the next and introduced new missions all the time without any logic,” Ya’alon declared. Worse, he fumed, the final ground attack was launched when there was no need for it, simply as a kind of photo op. Therefore, Ya’alon concludes, Olmert, Peretz and Halutz all should go. Ya’alon, whose term as army head was not extended by former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, also claimed that officers had been promoted because of their political connections — another broadside aimed at Halutz, known for his close ties to Sharon. Indeed, more than Iran or Islamic terror, Ya’alon sees corruption in politics and the military as the biggest threat Israel faces today. “If we do not act immediately to uproot the corruption from the political and military establishments, our very existence will be in danger. Arrogance and corruption are the existential threat to Israel today,” he warned. In an interview in Yediot Achronot, Mofaz, who was chief of staff and then defense minister for almost the entire period of Hezbollah’s build-up from 2000 to 2006, shrugged off charges that he was responsible for the army’s lack of readiness and the failure to pre-empt Hezbollah’s attack. Israel, he said, goes to war only when there is no choice. As to the army’s readiness, he argued that Operation Defensive Shield against Palestinian terrorism in 2002 showed what the army could do when properly operated. Mofaz also slammed the final ground offensive, a plan that needed several weeks to implement fully but which was given a mere 60 hours at the end of the war before a cease-fire took effect. “I asked Olmert what he would say to parents of soldiers killed in the 60-hour operation at the end of the war, and he replied, ‘A good question. I don’t have a good answer,’ ” Mofaz recalled. Speaking to Ma’ariv, Adam testified that “everything went backwards. Every 12 hours the plans changed. How can you work like that? You are frightened to make a move because no one seems able to withstand the pressure, and every battle in which something goes wrong becomes a national catastrophe.” Last Friday, Halutz held a second meeting with reserve generals, many of them heroes of previous wars. They did not spare him. Most outspoken was a former northern command chief, Avigdor Ben Gal, who said Halutz, the first air force man to become chief of staff, also would be the last. “An air force man cannot command the army and certainly not oversee the operation of the ground forces,” the celebrated former tank commander declared. Halutz has tended to shift blame onto field commanders like Adam or politicians like Olmert and Peretz. For his part, Peretz, who has scant military background and had been in the defense job for only two months when the war broke out, blamed his predecessors for shortages of equipment and lack of ground-force training. Olmert takes responsibility for the decision to go to war, but blames the army for tactical mistakes in the conduct of the ground operations. The irony is that Israeli leaders are at loggerheads over a war that could well have positive ramifications, possibly leading to a quiet border in the North and better relations with Lebanon and even Syria. The angst comes from the fact that Israelis and their leaders know the country cannot afford to be caught short militarily in more testing circumstances in the future. But it’s not clear whether the process of inquiry and recommendation have a cathartic or a destructive effect on Israeli society. Will the focus be on fixing the shortcomings the war revealed or on apportioning blame? Can Halutz, Peretz and Olmert put things right — or will new brooms be needed to sweep clean the IDF and the Israeli political establishment?

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